Kruger’s Grand Reopening : Lions, Lions, Lions.
Today was one of those days I’ll always look back on and say, “that was a magical day”.
Today was the day Kruger reopened after being closed for two and a half months. We are blessed to live on Kruger’s doorstep, at Crocodile Bridge Gate, and we ‘ve had so many wonderful visitors during lockdown but I’ve missed my daily drives in to Kruger. I’ve missed the wonderful, friendly staff, the rest camps, and picnic spots, and all of the wildlife that hasn’t visited.
I woke up bright and early today, packed a flask of freshly brewed coffee, and a picnic and headed out our gates. There was quite a que of cars and after getting in line (I didn’t prebook) I waited. We were welcomed by the camp manager, and head guide, who checked temperatures and handed out the new and improved forms to be filled in (with an entire health questionnaire on the back).
It was a crisp morning, and then the sun began to rise over the sugar cane on the neighbouring farm. Excitement filled the air. I drove through the gates, and on to Crocodile Bridge, it felt good to be back. The entire scene was picturesque, with the old railway bridge and placid river making for a beautiful candid moment.
After saying hi to all my old friends, and receiving my permit, I was finally in. I poured myself a hot cup of coffee, and off I went on my adventure. I took the S28, and duly noted that the game was more nervous than usual around my car. Both the wildebeest and warthog came galloping across the road in front of me.
The S28 was smooth, and I could see that it had just been graded. I was delighted. On this route I came across elephants, buffalo, and an array of other plains ,game, as well as some beautiful birds of prey, bateleurs, marshal eagles and vultures, which sat on many of the dead trees along the way.
I stopped in at Lower Sabie, for a coffee – to – go and went to see the view over the beautiful Sabie River. The winter sunshine glistened on the water, while some buffalo lay in the river, and the occasional hippo peeked out of the water, having a good chuckle. Life felt almost normal, almost free of covid in that moment.
I stopped by Sunset Dam, because… tradition. You cannot go to Lower Sabie, and not stop by there. The water level has dropped but there was an abundance of game around quenching their thirst. Enormous crocodiles sunned themselves on the outer banks, while a pod of hippos floated in the dam, herds of impala and zebra passed through, as well as warthogs.
There were so many places that I wanted to explore today, but I thought I’d save those for a later time (like tomorrow!), and rather enjoy the routes near to Crocodile Bridge.
A friend of mine, who I passed along the way, told me there were lion cubs on the S130, at a pan not far from the tar road, so on my way back to Crocodile Bridge, I stopped by there just in case. And, it turned out that luck was in my favour.
I had just stopped there for not even a few minutes, and was photographing some warthogs who were having a drink, when I heard a mighty growl behind me, and then a family of warthogs and some impala came charging out of the bush, with a lioness hot on their tails.
Just then the two little cubs, came out from the bushes, and lay under a small tree behind the pan. They were absolutely adorable. They didn’t linger for too long before running off, to follow their mom. But it was one of those, ‘I cant believe what I’m seeing moments’. I was thrilled.
I drove along looking for them, but they must’ve moved in to the thick bush, and out of sight. I turned around and went back to the pan, which was now taken over by a herd of elephants. It was incredible how fast the scene had changed, never a dull moment in Kruger.
I tried to continue along the Gomondwane Loop, but after about 5kms I came across a thorn tree that had been pushed over by an ellie, and there was no way for me to pass without scratching my car to pieces, so I turned around.
Kruger is looking absolutely beautiful. It still has some water; the leaves have turned to beautiful auburns and bronzes, but the bush isn’t too dry. There is an abundance of game, and the roads are covered in Elephant Dung and branches and twigs. Out of all the animals of Kruger, I do believe the elephants enjoyed this lockdown the most!
At Vurhami, I found four lionesses lying in the shady riverbed, with an elephant bull just behind them digging out water, although there really wasn’t much need as Vurhami (Gezantfombi dam) still has some. To my surprise, the ellie didn’t chase the lions away.
By lunchtime I thought I’d throw in the towel for a few hours, and head home to catch up on some work, and then come back a couple of hours before gate closing, but Kruger had other plans for me. As I arrived at the gate, my friend called to tell me, one of ‘my’ boys was lying on the rocks at Hippo Pools.
So that’s where I spent the rest of my afternoon, until gate closing, with the handsome prince who was perched on the rocks above like a true king. Apart from a few monkeys that were sat in a tree nearby alarm calling, and the grunts and groans of the impalas, the bush was silent, still. I’ve never known a tranquility like I do when I am in Kruger.
I was in my happiest place, sitting with the young prince, as golden hour began. I watched the sun go down, and 15 minutes before the gate closed, I sadly departed the scene.
As I drove along the S25, I marveled at the smoky blue and pastel pink sky and the giraffes strolling along the horizon, I was enjoying the chatter of the guineafowls and the cool evening air, and then I noticed, I was the only car on the road. In that moment, I felt as if I was the only human being in Kruger, and euphoria set in.
It really was the most magical day, one that I’ll remember for always, and from what I can tell others who were in Kruger today, felt the same... quite a few shared their wonderful lion sightings with me today. Some even had 7 separate sightings!
As I sit here and write this, the lions are softly calling outside my house, singing their sweet lullaby, which will have me asleep in no time, where i'll dream of Kruger, and lions, and all things wonderful... Tomorrow? Round 2 ;)