The 3rd day of my 5-day safari tour was spent inside Kruger National Park. On the other days, the tour took me to private game reserves on the outskirts of the main park. This time we would be going in for a full day of safari adventuring!
This post will be filled with photos and anecdotal stories to provide some context for various animal sightings throughout the day. The goal of the day was to see as many of the "Big 5" animals as possible. We missed spotting rhino but were lucky enough to see buffalo, elephant, lion, and leopard! I saw many more animals, too, such as wild dogs which are super rare!
Our safari vehicle encountered so much throughout the day, including a run-in with a very disgruntled (and aroused!) elephant. It was during that encounter I learned the meaning of "Elephants have 6 legs."
The Ride Into Kruger
My 5-day safari tour package included transport, a guide, and all fees covered for 1 full day inside Kruger National Park. I woke up very early in the morning wearing layers because the day was going to be spent zooming around in an open-sided vehicle. This meant the cold winter morning and evening air would be whipping around us as we took off across the park to catch rare animal sightings.
We entered the park at Orpen Gate—one of several major entrances to Kruger. I immediately noticed one major difference between the park and the reserves—the size!
Kruger National Park stretches over 7,500 square miles. I could feel its vastness right away.
The park has big open paved roads with much less dense shrubbery around it. Throughout the park there were many areas where the open African savannah spreads for miles and miles out from the road. You could see forever across the landscape! This is not always possible inside the reserves which are much smaller and denser.
This is the place for those massive, picturesque African safari landscapes.
I was glad I bought and brought along my extra telephoto lens for my camera. When needed, I was able to zoom in on animals that were far in the distance.
Buffalo And Friends
The first big 5 sighting was a buffalo. It was roaming around by itself near the Orpen gate entrance. I hadn't seen any buffalo in the previous 2 days, so it was very exciting to see one on our ride in. It felt like a good omen for getting to tick off each of the big 5 that day.
"Well, that's one down! 4 more to go!"
Here are photos of many more friends of the buffalo that we saw on our way into the park.
Rare Wild Dogs
The day before we went to Kruger, the English guy who was originally in our group told us all about his day in Kruger. He mentioned seeing wild dogs that were right near Orpen Gate.
I had pretty much counted on not seeing them. Wild dogs are super rare and endangered. There are only about 100 of them in the entire park!
Only about an hour into our safari tour, our guide pulled onto a side road. There was a car parked on this road indicating something to see.
Sure enough, there was a huge pack of wild dogs!
Our driver inched up closer to them as they slept in the shade next to the road. When the other car left because we were blocking their view, the driver got even closer to the dogs.
This was the first time I actually got a little frustrated with our driver. Knowing how endangered these dogs are, I was pissed that he rolled up so close to them. The wheels of the vehicle were feet from their little noses!
Of course the dogs got up and moved.
They live in an enormous park where there are only 100 of them. Clearly we were invading their space. My animal ethics bells were ringing—this was not good. I understand the tour wants good reviews from people who want photos and to see the animals clearly, but the proximity was unnecessary.
I'm glad I got to see these amazingly rare and beautiful animals. But I'm very sorry that our driver invaded their space so heavily.
Elephants Have 6 Legs
Next up, we came upon our 2nd member of the Big 5. And wow, he was big! This bull elephant was happily chewing some grass, putting on a show for several safari vehicles full of tourists when we showed up.
Not long after, he got a little frustrated by all the attention. Again, these animals are free to roam in the vastness of this protected park. But encountering safari vehicles is a bit annoying for them.
Every time he moved, our driver moved alongside him. This bull wanted to get across the street but we and the other safari tour vehicles weren't making it easy.
And so he decided to let us know who is king, to which our driver said, "Elephants have 6 legs."
To see this bull in action, check out my video below. Just a warning: There is explicit content! ;)
Lunch And Baboons
After the elephant encounter, we stopped at Satara Camp for lunch. On the way in, we encountered a whole bunch of baboons. It seemed they knew what time is lunch just like the vervet monkeys back at the lodge. They were rambunctious and decided to block the road for a little fun.
See the video below for an unexpected moment...
Yup. This is the wild where anything goes!
After all the "monkeying around," we had a chance to sit and relax and have some very authentic local cuisine—pizza! (I am obviously joking) The pizza was actually very good!
We drove North of Orpen gate along Olifants/Satara Road. This is where we encountered lions – the 3rd of our Big 5 encounters.
Although a bit off in the distance, we could make out at least 1 liones and 1 male lion taking some shade as they watched a distant herd of antelope. Of course, I immediately referred to them as Simba and Nala.
I’m so glad I had my extra zoom lens for this! The photos may be a bit grainy but I love that I could get photos this close when they were so far away!
Then, across the street there was some more lion action playing out. A couple of impala were squawking at some bushes as the rest of their herd moved on. We wondered why they were doing this and that's when we saw it.
Emerging from the bush came 2 lionesses.
The lionesses looked at the impala, debating their chances. Ultimately, they decided to go back to the shade. I guess the impala won—this time!
Check out my video below of the lioness-impala faceoff!
More Prideland Friends
For the rest of the day, I saw many more African safari animals. In particular, I saw many unique types of bird.
I also saw more of Simba and Nala's friends, such as warthog (Pumpaa!) and hornbill (Zazu!) plus tons more bird species.
Leopard At Sunset
As the sun began to drop in the sky, I knew our time was running out. We had seen 3 of 5 of the Big 5. I had yet to see any leopard or rhino during my entire 3-day tour!
That's when we heard a rumor at the souvenir shop near the gate. There were lions and a leopard nearby!
We found the lions and the leopard as we approached the border near the Timbavati Game Reserve. The lions were hidden well in the bushes. But the leopard was in clear sight, silhouetted against a gorgeous African sunset.
Although the leopard was far away, I am so grateful to have seen one in the wild. Where it was, it could remain safe and comfortable away from our gaze. Seeing a leopard is more common than seeing wild dogs in the park, but it's not as common as lions.
And to see a leopard in a tree is really special!
This was such a beautiful sight to see at the very end of a great day in Kruger National Park—like the ribbon on a day-long gift!