The lions didn’t care about the accumulation of cars parked in front of them. Their gaze seemed rather focused on the small group of hyenas that we had just passed, a hundred meters away. Or were they weighing their hunting options against the herd of antelope grazing a little further away.
This was also the theory of this man, alone, in his Jeep filled with camping equipment. He had decided to bring his car to a stop in front of the potential prey of the lionesses and the male, rather than near them. He was hoping to witness an epic hunt.
The one who looked like a regular on safari in Kruger Park, South Africa, had explained to us the reason for this crowd of cars in front. A friendly and common courtesy when an animal is seen, which allows visitors arriving in the meantime to know where and what to look for.
Kruger Park, one of Africa’s most popular safaris, is renowned for its self-driving accessibility. The national park is about a four-hour drive from Johannesburg, which is usually the place to pick up your rental car.
Enjoying the park’s abundant wildlife costs C$34 per day, per adult. With an assortment of accommodations to suit all budgets within its borders, Kruger makes it possible to enjoy the African big five (lions, elephants, leopards, African buffaloes, rhinos) — and more — without emptying the bank. And to experience magical moments with animals as mythical as they are diverse. All with or without guided tours, which can significantly increase the bill.
For this journalist traveling with his wife, these few minutes near lions, active in the early morning, were the highlight of four memorable days in Kruger Park in early February. The car engine is turned off. We let the sound of nature in action fill our ears. As the big cats — or the elephants, or the giraffes, or the zebras, or the kudus, or the baboons — make their way through the silent bodywork toward the tall grass, time seems to stand still.
Part of the fun of Kruger Park, even before stepping inside, is planning your own itinerary. Roads bordered by bodies of water are preferred. The animals come to drink there, or to bathe there. Like these imposing hippopotamuses, dangerous up close, but friendly from afar.
All camps are equipped with gas stations, restaurants, shops and markets to restock. The main roads are concrete, in excellent condition. We are far, very far from Papineau Avenue in Montreal. The maximum speed is 50 km/h. But that’s if you’re in a hurry. To maximize your chances of great encounters, leave early and don’t go faster than 30 km/h. And don’t hesitate to back up if a branch looks like a lion sitting in the distance. If a big rock looks smooth like the back of a hippo. If the foliage is the color of the fur of a leopard lying in a tree. We believed in that one so much.
Especially since during the summer and the rainy season, from November to April, the vegetation is denser. Observation of animals is therefore more complicated. But have no doubt: they are indeed present, even for the untrained eyes of tourists living their baptism of safaris. The low season also offers an excellent advantage, that of a lower influx of visitors. We were able to book everything with a few days notice, whereas for the high season (May-October), you have to plan your trip up to a year in advance.
Nature is nature. You can be lucky seeing the big five on your very first day (we can attest to that!). Accumulate stops during a particularly satisfying journey. Or else spend hours and hours driving without ever detecting anything (this too, we can testify to it).
No worries. Or hakuna matata, as Timon and Pumbaa sang. The memory of these meetings alone is worth the detour. To your binoculars!
Unless you’re traveling at extreme speeds like Maverick in Top Gun, you don’t usually go to South Africa for just a few days. Cape Town is, in our humble eyes, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Its mountains, excursions and vineyards will amply fill a good week of activities. Then drive the Garden Route from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth to enjoy the coastal beaches and the Addo Elephant Park (also home to the big five, albeit in fewer numbers), among others. And who says South Africa says recent history linked to apartheid. In this regard, the historic township of Soweto, on the outskirts of Johannesburg, is not to be missed. Not to mention that when entering or leaving Kruger Park, the scenic drive to the Blyde River Canyon is among the most beautiful landscapes in Africa.