We landed just after 9am. It had been an excellent flight due in no small part to a very fortunate family upgrade, so I got a very good sleep as we flew over nearly the whole of Africa. The kids meanwhile got a much larger seat, nicer food, and had a thoroughly marvellous time. They didn't have to drive at the other end!
|Research somewhere over France
It took an age to get through immigration, but picking up the car was straightforward and perhaps by 11.30am we were on our way. I had heard various horror stories about the drive, and with my offspring in the car I was keen not to get waylaid or crash, and so was super alert and drove extremely cautiously. I needn't have worried, it turned out to be very straightforward - we stopped exactly where we intended to stop to top up the fuel and get water and provisions, and mostly took exactly the roads we wanted to take. The coal trucks that support South Africa's stuttering power grid are a right pain in the backside though, not only are they incredibly slow, but there are thousands upon thousands of them.
|Malalane - our first view of the Kruger
At around 4pm we pulled up at the Malelane Gate where a security guard checked that we had accomodation booked and then waved us across the bridge. Naturally we stopped on the bridge to look at the river, erveryone else was for some reason...... Oh sweet Jesus, that'll be a Hippo then. And immense Crocodiles. It was so odd - we had spent half the day in the car and not really seen anything unusual at all - the first hour of driving had been downright regular, urban sprawl giving way to a featureless agricultural landscape with power stations on every the horizon. Gradually this had given way to some much nicer open country, and there had been a few hills, but the only real clue that we were in Africa had been the immense Aloes (probably marlothii) by the side of the road. We hadn't seen a single animal and birds had been virtually non-existent. Then we had turned off the main road and driven through a gate and onto a bridge and all of a sudden we were in AFRICA!! It was like somebody had flicked a switch! But wait, what are those birds!! Egyptian bloody Geese!! (and they would turn out to be one of the commonest birds in South Africa by far!)
We carried on the Park buildings on the other side where I went inside and did the registration. Birds around here were Hadada Ibis, Southern Red-billed Hornill, Blacksmith Lapwing, a Water Thick-knee, and African Palm Swift. It was intensely perfect, perhaps the stress melting away now that the dangerous part of the first day was over, a feeling that the holiday could now truly start, complete with a cast of near mythical animals as far as Londoners were concerned.
It was to get better though. With about 45 minutes to go before the gates to Berg-en-Dal closed for the evening we returned to the car and headed that way. We had not gone that far when my keen eyes spotted a large grey shape on the opposite hillside. Elephant!! Oh my god this place is mental! It was probably about a mile away but we were super excited as only a first time visitor can be. A short while later we came across one by the side of the road and got even more excited! Of course by the end of day two we were at the "Oh, another Elephant" stage, but I will always remember that first sighting. Birds on this drive included a couple of Grey Go-away-birds and a Crowned Lapwing, also to become very familiar over the course of the next few days. We also spotted Fork-tailed Drongo, Lilac-breasted Roller, Magpie Shrike and best of all, a pair of Bataleur which I did not yet realise were common as muck and so were also put into the mythical bucket next to the Elephant and Hippo.
We reached the camp with a few minutes to spare and got settled into our bungalow. Then we went shopping, loaded up on wood, cold beer and Wildebeest steaks and had one of the best barbeques, sorry, brais we have ever had. We had only been in Kruger for about two hours by this point but it was already one of the most epic holidays ever as far as the three of us were concerned. We could scarcely believe that we had made it and were here. The previous evening we had been in London, and now after having seen Elephants we were sat next to a sizzling grill with strange shrieks coming from the bush as sparks drifted up into the night sky. Brilliant.