When my boyfriend approached me with the idea of doing a walking safari in Kruger National Park, I thought he was insane. I’m sorry? Why can’t we just stay in the safety of our vehicle with an internal locking system? Do you want to die? I didn’t particularly like the idea of my tombstone reading: ‘Rest in Peace – Listened to her boyfriend and was maimed by elephants’. But he was insistent. ‘Oh, it’ll be great, we’ll be on the ground with the animals!’ THAT’S WHAT I AM WORRIED ABOUT. Car = Safe. Ground = Not Safe.
Now, he wasn’t suggesting we just park up and get out of the car to look at the cute cheetahs. That is very much not allowed. However, there are guided tours organised by the park, where you start reeaaaaally early in the morning, before the park has even opened, and go for a walk with the rangers, learning about how to track the animals etc. When this information was given to me, I felt slightly more at ease. When I was told that the rangers had rifles and over 20 years of experience, I felt as relaxed as I could ever imagine possible.
Up And At ‘Em Before The Dawn
We were up before dawn and had to meet the guides at 5:15 am. So, so early. It was already worth it though, the sunrise was absolutely stunning over the park, and we started to see lots of animals already as we drove towards where we were going to start our walk. What was really cool was that we saw a clan of hyenas, what wasn’t so cool was that the guide stopped the engine and told us to get out…literally right next to the hyenas.
ARE YOU CRAZY? – Was what we were all thinking, but when a man with a rifle tells you to do something, generally you do it. So, there we were on the side of the road, freezing our bottoms off at 5:45 in the morning, with two armed South Africans and a load of hyenas staring at us. Oh, joy of joys. Now I felt safe.
After the safety talk, which none of us could really concentrate on because one of the hyenas had stayed behind (obviously to keep an eye on us – the others wandered off somewhere), we went into the bush, in single file, completely silent. My boyfriend is a military man so he was completely at ease and thoroughly enjoying the experience, especially the risk factor… absolute lunatic.
I, on the other hand, wanted to wee myself, and I jumped internally at every small snap of a twig or tweet of a bird. As we were in single file it was difficult to see what was going on ahead, so we all had to use the hand signals in order to keep everyone informed. About 20 minutes into the walk, a hand went up and everyone stopped. Sure enough, the hyenas we had seen earlier were incredibly close AGAIN and were quite curious about us. What ensued was a 5-minute staring session between the group of humans and the group of hyenas. After that, they were off again. We continued on our walking safari.
And We Walked And We Walked And We Walked
An hour went past, and we had been walking in silence the whole time, occasionally stopping so that the guide could show us some interesting poo or footprint in the ground. They had heard a baby rhino calling but had decided not to pursue, as the bush was too thick at that point and it was too dangerous. Thank goodness. Face to face with an angry mummy rhino? Not on my bucket list. We continued on until we reached a dry river where there was apparently a hole they wanted to show us…I wasn’t too sure why until we got quite close to it.
We were about 2 metres away from the hole when the ranger put his hand up, telling us to stop. Then, he mimed clicking a camera, and we all knew to get our cameras out. I had just switched mine on when BAM! A hyena looked up and ran out of the water hole that he had been digging TWO METRES AWAY FROM US! We had tread so quietly he hadn’t heard us coming, and we were SO CLOSE! I caught the moment on film and it is one of my favourites from the whole trip.
Have you seen someone munched on by a lion?
After the third hyena encounter of the day, we sat down for some breakfast, and it gave us some time to chat with the guides properly and ask them about all their experiences with animals etc. All the cool questions were asked: have you ever been charged by a rhino? Do warning shots really work? Have you seen someone munched on by a lion? I mean, you’ve got to ask the questions. After this, we continued with the walk, we only had an hour left and wanted to see some more animals.
We were in luck, in the final 20 minutes of the walk, we came across a large group of giraffes, which were very interested in us. They stopped to look and tried to get a better angle to see us better, I am certain if they had cameras, they’d be taking pictures of us too. After the giraffes we were shown huge elephant prints, which were quite recent, I was glad the jeep was in sight.
Overall, a truly exciting experience. The adrenaline you get, especially when you get close to seeing something, is so much more than you get just sat in the car. A walking safari is a truly worthwhile experience; the guides are so knowledgeable, and you can learn so much about the animals and ecosystems in the area. Add a walking safari to your ‘South Africa To Do’ list, even if you are a scaredy-cat like me. I’m still alive!