4-2-2013 Day 87 Kruger Park, Africa

The ship arrived at Maputo, Mozambique this morning.  This is our starting off point for our overland safari to Kruger Park in South Africa.  So, we only experienced a small part of this city and country as we drove through it toward South Africa.  It is a very poor country and much of this is due to its Civil War after becoming independent from Portugal.  While it has modern buildings in some of its downtown areaP1140202 (I saw this on the sail in) most of the city was shabby looking with heavy traffic on unpaved roads.  Litter was everywhere.  Here is a typical scene all along the roads on the way out of town. 

We stopped on the border before crossing into S. Africa and stood in line to proceed through Immigration and Customs and have our passports stamped.  There were military personnel everywhere warning us not to take pictures.  We repeated the process again just minutes down the road before we could enter S. Africa.  We felt like we were in a “no man’s land” in between countries.  The contrast betweenP1140212 Mozambique and S. Africa was vivid and immediate upon crossing into the latter country.  Dry, scrub brush land scattered with litter turned into green lush fields with good roads and no litter. 

It was a 2 hour drive to the southern section of Kruger National Park and another hour to Lukimbi Safari Lodge where we would spend three days and two nights.  Our vans were comfortable and not overly crowded.  There were three vans for the 24 guests and our ship’s escort, Leslie.  The only couple we knew before leaving were Martha Sullivan and her husband, Bob Brady. 

A few interesting facts about Kruger National Park.  Probably the most amazing thing is its size – around the size of Germany.  It is nearly 5 million acres of wildlife, plants, historical and archaeological wonders. There is evidence that prehistoric man roamed this region between 100,000 and 500,000 years ago.   It was established in 1898 (under the name of the Sabie Game Reserve) by Paul Kruger to protect the wildlife of S. Africa, especially from poaching.  It became Kruger National Park and opened to the public in 1927.   It is a malaria area so we started our malaria pills two days prior to coming.  And finally, it is home to about 147 mammal species, more than 507 bird species, 114 reptile species, over 49 fish species, 34 amphibian species, 227 butterfly species and 336 tree species.

As we approached the southern gate entrance to Kruger, we spotted P1140223our first wildlife off the side of the road – a mother elephant and her baby! [Didn’t get that great a picture so saving my better elephant pictures for later!]  Within the first ten minutesP1010486 of being back on the road to our lodge, we saw warthogs and a White rhino.  There are two types of rhino – the Black which is very rare and the White (Square-lipped) which is more commonRed-billed Hornbill.  They are considered to be one of the “Big Five” – a term originally used by hunters which refers to five of the greatest African wild animals as well as the most dangerous to hunt.  Continuing on, we saw this Red-billed Hornbill just standing on a rock by the road.

We were off to a great start and we hadn’t even arrived at our lodge.  We were staying at a private reserve (Lukimbi) within a reserve (Kruger.) It just meant that there were private roads that only guests could use on the Lukimbi reserve.  Years ago the fences that separated Kruger from neighboring reserves were removed, allowing wildlife greater access to natural resources as well as increasing the game viewing opportunities for tourists.

P1020225Lukimbi Safari Lodge is a luxury lodge with 37,000 acres of wilderness.  Raised walkways lead to 16 large suites, all with stunning views of the Lwakahle River and open plains beyond.  We wereP1140234 fortunate that we were the only guests during the three days we were there.  Upon arrival, we were greeted with cold towels and cold lemonade (very welcomed as it was a warm day) whP1140740ile getting our instructions about our stay there.  The lodge is spacious with many living/seating areas with a huge fireplace, a large dining room, a library, TV room (there are no TVs in the rooms), pool and spa, gift shop, and a gym (never saw it.) 

We were later in arriving than anticipated so we had a late lunch around 2:30 and then went to our cabins to freshen up before our first game drive at 4:30 p.m.  Lunch was a delicious buffet of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as a delicious Asian salad with P1140745P1140746venison.  Our cabin was wonderful and we only wish we haP1020294d more time to enjoy it.  We were #7 so we were near the end of the long wooden walkway from the lodge.  Every cabin was placed to give the ultimate privacy.  Here are a few pictures of the inside – the best part were the views!  There was also an outdoor shower with the same great view!

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Lovely as this was, we were off to see the true beauty of this place.  So off we went in our  Land Rovers that had elevated seats so everyone had a great view.  While they held 9 passengers we only had 6 plus our guide/driver (Gideon) and our tracker (Michael) who spent most of the time on theP1140252 little seat in front of the truck.  We had a sunny clear day to begin our trek.  And we saw so much in the 3 1/2 hour drive.  One of the first sights was this dunghill (called middens) that Gideon got out to explain.  It was made by a rhino, and it is his way ofP1140254 marking his territory, so he will go back to this spot to defecate.  If another rhino tries to use the same spot, they will end up fighting each other.  They are very territorial animals.  By this site, we saw a dung bug enjoying his “meal.” 

Here are some pictures of some of the animals we saw.

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We saw the first of our MANY impalas.  Here is a handsome male with great antlers.  Then we saw this family of rhino.  The male was very protective and made sure we kept our distance as the mother and baby passed us by.  Then we spotted this male elephant who was “musking” which means he was looking to mate.  You could smell the excretion from his glands and he was not in any mood for us.  We were stopped to take pictures of him (which he did not like) and so he started out from behind his bush.  I snapped this picture from the back of our truck as we hightailed it out of there.  We then found a single male lion which we started to follow.  We heard from other trucks that there P1010850were a group, so we knew ours was heading to join them.  This picture shows how close they were to one of our trucks just ahead of us.  And then the trail of male lions going to join their friends.  Here is one just enjoying the end of the day with his fellow males within 20 yards from him – and we were just 10 yards from all of them.  They weren’t bothered by us at all . . during the day.  At night, that’s another story.  We were safe in our trucks.  We would see this fellow again it turns out – he had a red gash under his left eye – and that’s how we later recognized him. P1010882 A truly noble beast.  It was close to sunset and so we had to move on, but just in time to see this lone giraffe munching the leaves from this tree.

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The sunset was beautiful tonight and we had a “sundowner” which is a stop for snacks and drinks as the sun sets.  However, because we were having such luck finding great animals, it was almost dark by the time weP1140411 finally stopped.  All four or our trucks gathered together and wines and dried fruit and nuts were served, and we enjoyed time at the end of the day together out of the plains of S. Africa. 

We thought the drive was over, but we still were on the search for nocturnal animals.  Michael shined this huge spotlight as we drove looking for animals.  As we turned a corner, we came upon the “not so happy” male elephant we had encountered earlier.  It was obvious he had not found his female friend yet because he was still in an angry state and made it well known that he wanted us out of there.  Gideon put our truck in reverse so quickly and we backed all the way down the road as quickly as possible.  The elephant stood its ground in the middle of the road with his trunk held high trumpeting his displeasure. 

Back at the lodge, we had a special African feast outside around a huge fire pit.  Dinner was announced by the playing of drums as we mad outP1140417 way to the special outdoor area, surrounded by decorative stucco walls. One of our first courses, lentil soup, was cooked in a pot over the fire. This was followed by a variety of vegetables and game meats such as bush pig, ostrich kabobs, and some type of antelope.  It was all delicious.  They had a dessert bar, but we were too full to even try it.  It had been a long day and we were all tired and ready for bed.  

We were walked back to our cabins by our guides and found that the netting around the bed that I thought was decorative was actually to beP1140415 used seriously.  The room glowed in the low lights (so as not to attract insects) and was most welcoming.  We were told not make sure our doors were locked securely and not to go outside.  We had heard  the story of a woman (not in this lodge) who had disregarded that warning and thought she could go quickly back to her cabin to get a sweater because of the cool evening.  She never made it – she was attacked and eaten by a pride of lions.  So, we had no problem staying put inside.  So, we climbed inside the netting (there were already insects clinging on the outside of them – and a huge preying mantis!) and were asleep in minutes.  An amazing first day of our safari!

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