What is it about the Kruger National Park that just seems to get under your skin? Wildlife journalist Brian Jackman summed it up perfectly when he said “Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is worst of all.”
For me, it wasn’t until my third time in the country that the bug truly set in. I had visited South Africa for the first time in 2007 with my husband to meet his family. We’d done a customary ‘Kruger trip’ – a one day visit to the National Park to see the wildlife of Africa roaming free. It was incredible; an abundance of wild animals and nature’s story playing out in front a wondrous backdrop that came straight out of the pages of National Geographic.
The following year I suggested a trip back to ‘see the family’. This time however the trip would include a 3-day stay in the Kruger. For the first time, we would overnight in this wilderness, fall asleep to the unforgettable sounds of the bush and wake up to a sunrise and the promise of a full day of adventures searching for animals and covering mile after mile of glorious landscape.
Upon returning back to Australia, it was only perhaps 6 months later that I felt my first pangs of missing the Kruger. The longing to see the umbrella thorn stretched out above the golden savannah, the coo-coo-coo of the turtle dove calling to me at what seemed to be every hour of the day; the smell of the thatch roof in the heat of the day when we checked in to our bungalow for the night. I was unable to get these sights and sounds out of my head. The bush was calling to me and an innate, unlearned response was calling back. It wasn’t simply a calling to see an animal in the wild – it was a sense of peace, a belonging with nature, a calmness and appreciation of the natural world that gave way to a tranquillity that I had not experienced before. I was hooked.
What followed was almost 10 years of toing and froing. Twice yearly holidays in South Africa which stretched to 2 week stays in the Kruger National Park. 2 weeks of glorious serenity and mindfulness which were replaced by tears and broken-heartedness at the sight of the exit gate at the end of our stay. My days back in Australia would be filled with planning. Hours spent watching Sanparks webcams, pouring over my Kruger Map, logging on to reservations to check availability at the rest camps and essentially, counting down the days, hours and minutes until I would return.
My happy ending came when in 2016 when I bit the bullet and decided that I had to be in closer proximity to this paradise. With that decision, came months of planning and organising which culminated in our arrival in Hoedspruit, a delightful 35 minute drive from the Orpen Gate entrance to the Kruger National Park. I now have what I’ve dreamed of; unlimited access to the best place on earth, a place where I can reclaim my sanity at the drop of a hat. Truth be told, I still spend some of my days going through my map book, checking availability and planning the next trip but what can I say? It’s a bug that’s gotten under my skin but I’m in no hurry to find the cure.