Kruger National Park

DSC_0264After a whirlwind 20 days, we are back from our honeymoon – exhausted but relaxed at the same time, and so grateful for a once-in-a-lifetime trip!

We had high expectations for our trip, obviously, but those expectations were blown out of the water. South Africa + Mauritius had a bit of everything – safari, tropical beach, mountains/national parks, adventure sports, glamorous city life, charming countryside villas…(blogposts to come for other segments of the trip)! It was the most “us” honeymoon we could’ve taken, and we will cherish these memories forever.

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traffic jam thanks to this pride of lionesses
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a lioness stares into our car
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a giraffe crosses the road.

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One of the things that is on so many people’s bucketlists, but was never really on mine, was taking a safari. Now, I cannot WAIT until our next one – already planning a safari in Botswana or Namibia for our 5-year anniversary! I did not realize how romantic a safari would be – so much better than a typical beach honeymoon (although we still loved our time in Mauritius).

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one of the most exciting animals we found on our self-drive were hippos, always at a distance, but amazing to see nevertheless
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super excited to see our first baboons…then realized they were everywhere

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a jackal at daybreak
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a male lion, post-mating (and was only an arms’ length away from our open-air jeep)
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a really angry elephant that chased us
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M’s favorite animal!
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grumpy-looking buffalo

To get to Kruger, we flew from JNB to Nelspruit, a small airport around 1 hour away from the town of Hazyview. We almost drove from JNB to Kruger, but thank God we didn’t because that drive would’ve been horrible after a long flight to South Africa! It was worth the money to fly into Kruger, especially since you do still have to drive once you arrive at the airport.

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a European roller
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lioness crossing the road at night
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ostriches are WEIRD

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a lot of hyena cub pictures begin here..they were so cute and were playing next to our jeep without any fear at all!

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Momma looked on disinterestedly

After renting our car from Nelspruit Airport, we drove around an hour to the town of Hazyview to spend the night. I am really glad we did our safari closer to the beginning of our trip, because we were still pretty jetlagged, which was perfect for early-morning wake ups. Our wonderful first night “glamping” in Hazyview was so affordable, only around $80 for a 4-star chalet with a private guard.

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right after this was taken, a hyena strolled by, realized we weren’t good to eat, and walked away.
we saw a bunch of cheetahs at a distance- one was injured from a recent hunt

The next morning, we both woke up around 4AM, so decided to make the most of it and drove to Kruger! Our safari lodging was in the park, so we had to self-drive through the park anyway. It’s actually really affordable to do Kruger if you stay outside the park and get day guides. We saw most of the activity early in the morning – we got there when the park just opened, around 6 AM, and spent the next 7 hours driving through Kruger and stopping at amazing animals we saw. We entered through Paul Kruger Gate (entrance fee around $7 pp for a self drive) and did the Skukuza to Satara drive. The roads are tar, so very easy to drive, but you still see AMAZING wildlife (we ran into a pride of lionesses almost as soon as we entered the park!)

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on our last day, the elusive leopard was just SITTING ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD
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…and stared at us, wondering if it should pounce into our Jeep
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and decided that we were too much work

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After our self-drive, we checked into Hamiltons Tented Lodge for the next few days. Staying at a reserve is very expensive, but worth it! We didn’t splurge for a Sabi Sands reserve, but we were so glad to go with a “tent” rather than a lodge (it was still hundreds of $ a night, though). In the morning, we were awoken by elephants trumpeting across the river, and at night baboons slid gleefully down the outside of our tent. The tents had all the amenities of a 5-star resort though (outside shower, but a hot shower, for example) while feeling like we were truly “out of Africa”, and we had our own private butler making our meals, and a wonderful guide, Tambo, who took us around twice a day.

We thought we would have so much free time, but those days at the lodge were jam-packed! Every morning we would wake up for a 5AM game drive, then go back to the lodge for breakfast…then a quick nap until lunch!…then another game drive from 4 PM-around 8:30PM – then dinner! We saw so many amazing animals – 4 out of the BIG 5 (Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo, Lion – we saw the 5th, the Rhino, on a separate game reserve on the Garden Route). Almost everyone we talked to said they never see all the Big 5 in one trip, so we considered ourselves very lucky. Since we visited in the summer, the bush was thicker and game harder to see, and Kruger is MASSIVE so there would be stretches of time before we would see anything – but that just added to the excitement every time we found an animal.

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a bushbuck at twilight

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baby wildebeest
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warthog and jackal friends!

This was one of the best experiences of our lives – and so, so different from a game reserve (which was still wonderful – more to come on that later – but so different from truly feeling like you are in the WILD). Kruger NP is a malaria-risk zone, so definitely take your malaria pills – neither of us had any side effects, while the Europeans we met on our trip all did have side effects, so check which version of the pill you’re prescribed.

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hippo mom and hippo baby!

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