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Fabulous Sightings at Kruger’s Skukuza Rest Camp

Tehnaz Dastoor

After the 3 day TIE Charter Member Retreat in Cape Town successfully concluded, my husband and I took a 2.5-hour Airlink flight to Skukuza’s single strip 2-roomed, quaint International Airport, in Kruger National Park, from where we were driven to the Skukuza Rest Camp, a short 10 minutes’ drive away.

We specifically chose a public National Park as we had visited many of the private and luxurious (rather expensive) ones in Kenya, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana over the years. This child-friendly rest camp is mainly for those interested in communing with nature and enjoying the thrill of spotting the Big 5 in their natural habitat, albeit with certain amenities such as spa treatments and a wonderful restaurant serving some stupendous game and delicious vegetarian fare. The accommodations varied from campsite tents, rondavels to luxury riverside bungalows with a number of day-time activities thrown in.

Once we were rested, and readied ourselves we took one, of several pre-dawn and pre-sunset safaris into Kruger National Park with a terrific guide, Israel, who informed us that: he “was small, like the country”, but proved to be an excellent tracker of animal hideouts. Over the next few days, we were lucky enough to spot what could only be described as some stupendous sightings – we observed a leopard, leaping up a tree with his warthog kill, eyeing us suspiciously and another slithering just above the ground tracking an impala for his dinner. During our drive through the park we also witnessed a family of spotted hyenas, the mother, nursing its pups, who intermittently climbed out from under their rock-den to play with their mother; and enjoyed the sighting of a playful baby rhino who kept coming up to our vehicle, eyeing us and running back to his mther for support.

On other days we were fortunate to see up close a young male elephant feeding on the tree leaves walking perilously close (or so we thought) to us. Such a magnificent, yet almost terrifying sight for those unfamiliar with these large mammals in their natural habitat.  Staring wide-eyed at the 2 male lions walking majestically in front of the vehicle to cross the road was our dream come true. As this was the end of winter, and the dry season, their golden fur soon blending with the fauna of the park. As if this wasn’t enough on our final trip we were fortunate enough to spot a pride of lions, interspersed among the tall grass, the male roaring majestically in the otherwise quiet of the park.

On each trip, Israel asked us which animals we favored, and whatever was the request for the day Israel would ensure that by ride’s end our wishes were granted. We spotted two graceful giraffes from a distance, languidly feeding on the branches of the trees. Impalas were Israel’s favorite animals and we were witness to several herds of these lively creatures leaping and bounding through the grasslands. A large herd of cape buffaloes walked behind our vehicle, a warthog was spotted running away from us its large tusks preceding it, a hippo waddling in a muddy pond, hiding from the sun’s rays, and a white-tailed mongoose and large civet cat were among the numerous wildlife were we fortunate to catch during our 3-day visit to Kruger. However, had we stayed on for another day, we would have had the opportunity to see cheetahs, zebras and wild dogs which we missed on this trip.

Besides the game drives there are a number of activities which one can indulge in Skukuza. There are twice daily Guided Bush Walks where smaller groups walk through the wilderness with their guides, spending time tracking, viewing and learning about the bush. There are opportunities to observe animals at close quarters, study their tracks, to take a closer look at the different species of birds, types of trees as well as the flora around. Additionally, wildlife documentaries can be viewed in the amphitheater every evening at 6 pm. Further, for those looking to completely de-stress and unwind, Skukuza also offers a world class spa facility which captures the stillness of the bush. AM Spa has 4 luxurious treatment rooms that can host both couples and singles alike. There is a 9-hole golf course available for golf enthusiasts and a 158 delegate conference facility for corporate retreats.

Our resort was aptly named the Skukuza Rest Camp as we got plenty of rest between our 3-4 hour pre-dawn and pre-sunset game drives commencing at 5.30 am and 4 pm each. As we walked through the camp, the constant aroma of braai being cooked by most of the campers reminded us of where we were – in beautiful South Africa.

We could fondly observe the mischievous vervet monkeys playing with any edibles left on the verandahs, or unwind by the riverside and watch the numerous Greater Blue-Eared Starlings perched on the rails, the large monitors camouflaged at the muddy banks, hear the laughter of children playing by the swings or just catch up with life.

TRAVEL TIPS:

Getting there: There are two daily flights (45 minutes in duration) from Johannesburg and one daily flight (2.5 hrs in duration) from Cape Town to Skukuza.

When to Visit: Game viewing is best during the dry winters months, however the wet summer season with its full waterholes ensures numerous sighting.

What to take: Adapter plugs for your chargers, and wifi service is only available at the restaurant and its surroundings. Carry ample sun screen, and even during the winters, the days can get hot (so cotton shorts and t-shirts) and the evenings cold (jackets).

Where to Eat: The Cattle Baron Restaurant for fine dining and the Take-away for breakfast on-the-hop are perfect options.  For those wanting to braai (i.e. bar-b-que), the grocery store has everything you may need. Another dining option is the Selati Station Grillhouse which was under renovation during our visit.

Other options: There are a number of smaller rest camps with fewer facilities for those who enjoy camping, cooking their own meals and living in the outdoors.