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    Kruger National Park – Day 1, Part 1

    Kruger National Park is a wildlife lover’s dream. It’s long been on my ‘bucket list’, and piggybacking on a trip to Cape Town I was fortunate to spend an afternoon and 1 full day immersed in the wilderness. Equipped with my 150-500 mm Sigma and my workhorse 24-85mm Nikkor, I was ready for some wildlife photography!

    I entered the park driving a stick rental car, on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, through the Numbi gate. A gruff guard toting an automatic weapon told me to check in with the ranger – “Welcome to paradise” he said – after which I walked across the street to a stand and purchased the “Kruger Park Map & Guide”, with a very helpful map of the park, and a checklist of all the animals one could (be expected to?) see. Beyond that, neither the brochure nor the park ranger gave much guidance on what to expect. It was very much, “Welcome to the park. Don’t get eaten.” With that sound advice, I punched my first night’s stay (Pretoriuskop Camp) into my iPhone, and started driving.

    First contact!

    As Kruger is a huge – bigger than Connecticut! – natural wilderness area, I expected animal encounters to be few and far between. Lion Country Safari this was not. But in less than 5 minutes, I spotted some Zebra just a few feet into the brush off the side of the road, and excitedly started snapping. In retrospect, looking at that first picture, my enthusiasm was obviously misplaced. But I was was the lone human being within many miles, with wild Zebra just a few feet away from me. I am embarrassed to admit that I spent far too much time trying to catch a glimpse of Zebra butt through gaps in the brush. A few minutes later I spent similarly embarrassingly long time with a herd of impala, also known as the Kruger ‘Big Mac’ – because they are so common they are the snack of choice for the park’s carnivores.

    An hour later, after spending some quality time with a Red-Billed Oxpecker (Example), I came upon a dirt road that led up to a small loop (Route S-10) around a nondescript, rocky hill. You can see the hill in the second picture below.

    After making this turn to the right of the hill, I saw a beautiful Greater Kudu, and then turned a corner to see this:

    A beautiful, stunning, bull elephant, eating grass amongst the rocks. And he wasn’t alone. Just behind him, generally elusive and adorably wrinkly, with tiny tusks, a toddler elephant. And behind the toddler, a herd of maybe 12-15 elephants. Just hanging out on the side of the hill, for me to enjoy. Leaning out my window, with the herd maybe 100 feet away, I clicked off hundreds of pictures, and was in heaven.

    Twenty minutes later, the bull would be chasing me down that very dirt road. But I’ll save that story for part 2.

    Gallery of Kruger photos

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