The low rumble from the lion’s mating call vibrated my seat. I couldn’t see him; I could only feel his grumble and it sent chills down my spine.
The guide who was driving us in the open vehicle pulled a sharp left, stopping only a few feet away from the male lion. He shone his bright light on the lion, illuminating his entire golden face and mane. The lion looked at us for a few seconds before turning away, uninterested.
I imagined the lion getting up and sauntering over to the truck for a better look, its muscular back illuminated by the head light. There was nothing blocking us from the lion, incase he wanted to get a better “sniff” at what was going on inside of this gigantic machine.
The guide shifted the light to the female lion, who was a few feet away from the male. The light made her fur look smooth and golden. She seemed indifferent to the male, who was trying quite hard to get her attention.
We watched the two of them for a while before moving on. We coasted silently through the darkness, unseen but heard quite well. I looked out into the open, on the normally yellow fields now painted white by the moon’s light.
I pictured the wild animals sleeping next to one another with one ear open, wondering if we would run into any night lurkers walking on the road.
Eery animal calls broke the silence, ones that would make even the bravest person shudder at the thought of being trapped outside in the wilderness.
The truck suddenly ground to a stop and shone its light towards the side of the road. It was a night lurker. An elephant to be exact. The trucks light first glistened off the ivory of the beast’s tusks, betraying its presence. It munched on a tiny tree, one it could easily crush if it wanted to.
The elephant ignored us. I wondered why it was by itself.
The rest of the night safari was accompanied mostly by sounds, not sights. The excursion made me appreciate the nighttime more, but also made me appreciate being able to lock myself in a comfortable house, away from the wildlife.
The full day safari the next day started at 6 a.m., just in time to be up with the “early birds.” I had seen 2 of the big 5 the night before (African lion and African elephant, the White/Black rhino, African leopard, Cape buffalo were left), and was hoping to get lucky enough to see at least 4, if not, all 5.
Before we even entered the park, I immediately laid eyes on a white rhino, the largest endangered species of rhinoceros. The beautiful creature chewed on some branches right inside of the fence, on the outskirts of Kruger National Park.
We slowed down as we passed it, observing it in its natural habitat.
We drove around for an hour or so through the fields of South Africa before spotting some African buffalo. Their horns reached upwards towards the sky; their massive bodies pounding the ground with every step they took. Some of the buffalo turned to look at our truck as we cruised past them, and and one or two stopped to stare curiously.
Elephants grazed in the distance, their long trunks picking at leaves atop thin branches which they then brought into their mouths to chew on. They are beautiful animals; their massive leathery, wrinkled, gray bodies stood out against the green and tan fields of nature.
A rhythmic, dull thumping of footsteps, reminiscent of Godzilla’s, suddenly caught my attention. An elephant was in the middle of the road, stomping around, weaving in between other trucks who stopped to gawk at this gigantic animal. I couldn’t help but laugh. How many thousands of people come here every year to watch this animal, entirely unbeknownst to it, mill about lazily and munch on vegetation? The elephant was a local celebrity, and it could not appreciate the fact.
Its trunk swung left, and right, matching the metronome motion of its tail. In turned right and walked towards a large amount of hippos, who were stationary and soaking in the sun. Their wet bodies glistened in the sunlight, watching this scene unfold from afar.
It was an incredible experience to be able to see these animals in their natural habitat, and I highly recommend going on a safari in Kruger National Park if you are in South Africa.
Information: The night safari is from 5-8 p.m., and is around $45 a person. The full day game drive is around $117 a person; more if you want a private tour. Make sure you dress warm for both safaris, since you will be out in the open at night and very early in the morning. Organizing a tour is the easiest and safest option. There are a ton of other excursions you can embark on, these were only just a couple!
Accommodation: I stayed at the Timbavati Safari Lodge, which was amazing. If you end up staying here, though, be careful: there’s a leopard that roams around the grounds at night (just don’t look it in the eyes. That means war). They serve breakfast and there’s a restaurant on the grounds.
Food: Be prepared to eat some strange food here, especially food that is very gamey (such as kudu and zebra). I tried ostrich, warthog, and wildebeest during my stay, and actually loved them all!
Shop: I purchased a “Save the Rhino” bracelet and a “United Against Malaria” bracelet at Kruger National Park. The first goes towards helping save rhinos, which are being driven to extinction by poachers, and the other goes towards helping those in need of malaria-prevention tools and treatments and to increase awareness for the epidemic there.