Walking in Kruger National Park: The Tale of the Swishy Trousers

Quite a few of our holiday experiences are in South Africa. As I come from there originally, I often play tour guide for our family.

I always like to include things that are different and on our first trip to Kruger National Park in 2014, I included a guided bush walk as part of the itinerary – aka THE spreadsheet.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Kruger National Park – its the largest National Park in South Africa. Sizewise , its the slightly larger than countries such as Qatar, Lebanon and Kuwait. Its double the size of Puerto Rico and Cyprus. So, its big. You can’t drive through it in one day. Because if its size its home to lots of animals – so its one of the prime game viewing locations in Africa.

OK – back to the story.

We were staying a lodge just outside the Park, quite close to one of the 9 entrances and luckily enough one of them – Crocodile Bridge – was one of the rest camps offering bushwalks.

We opted for the morning walk, which meant a really early morning start as we needed to get to the rest camp by 5:00 am. I must point out that we went in August and as it was winter, it is really cold in the early mornings, especially on the back of an open vehicle.

After the signing of indemnity forms, we were introduced to our rangers – we had 2, one to walk ahead of us and a second to backup the first ranger and to take us to safety if there was an issue. Both had rifles. It dawns on you at this point, that it’s not just any average walk.

Couple of rules explained by the head ranger aka Ranger 1. Don’t talk, don’t make noises, switch your camera sound settings off ‘no nice tunes please’, walk in single file, listen to the rangers. If something happens and we encounter one of the bigger animals: get behind him because he has the rifle.

Point taken.

So, on the back of a landrover (safari jeep), we drove into the park for about 30 min to get to a suitable place to walk – as it turns out, this means, anywhere where the lions were sighted yesterday. Eek.

Then we saw a lion walking down the road. Ranger 1 got very excited. We followed the lion for a bit as he walked on the road and then he disappeared into the bush.

“Right”, said Ranger 1, “We are going to park here and follow him on foot. Hopefully he will lead us to the rest of the pride’’.

THE lion….a bit blurry but in 2014 we had crappy cameras.

Gulp. Double eek.

Brief introductions with some other tourists as we weren’t in a chatty mood when we left the rest camp. The walking group is maxed at 8 people, so including us 3 (my 14 year old stepson was with us), there were 2 couples – one German and the other were Canadian honeymooners. The Germans were seasoned travellers or just very good at hiding that they were completely freaked out. The Canadians were looking a bit green.

So, off the vehicle we all got. Waiting for the rangers to prepare themselves and give us our final briefings before we headed off into the bush as the sun rose.

Heading off into the bush

After about 20 min, the rangers alerted us to some noises ahead, told us to duck down and be very quiet. We heard some activity and the lions clearly on a kill, eating quite happily.

Unfortunately for us we had people with very loud trousers. You know the ones that make that swishy noise whenever you move, which meant the lions heard us and legged it.  Yip, along with all the other animals….or so we thought.

Up again and walking. A good half hour later, Ranger 1 suddenly told us to duck down again and get behind him as 2 rhinos came crashing through the bushes. We never actually saw them and they didn’t see us either – but we heard each other. (that was enough trust me!)

Everywhere the ranger went so did we. It was like a comedy show in some ways, a little snake movement through the African bush.

We moved away unscathed and continued into the bush. The swishy trousers got louder – a nervous attempt to ward off any other animals.

Then, we stopped for snacks. Yes, provided by the rangers – some mini cheddars, biltong (like jerky) and fruit juices. We had our mini break surrounded by curious impala who had not been deterred by the swishy trousers.

Some curious impala…clearly envious of our mini cheddars!

After our break, we started on our return to the vehicle…..the rangers were telling us about the fauna and flora and we stopped to see a Lilac Breasted Roller – that’s a bird if you didn’t know 😊 – happily flying through the sky and demonstrating why its called a roller. Beautiful.

Lilac Breasted Roller up close…

Further along, we came across some animal bones, which the rangers told us was the remains of a poached rhino. This is a massive problem for the national parks, poaching of rhinos for their horns, which are smuggled out to the Far East via Mozambique (the South Africa border with Mozambique is very close to Kruger National Park). Very sad moment.

The rangers showing us the remains of a rhino poached for its horn

From there, it was about 15 min through the bush back to the vehicle, and we didn’t encounter any other animals (due to swishy trousers).

Our walk ended back at the main rest camp at Crocodile Bridge.

I think all of us thought this was just a gentle walk in the bush. It is so much more and clearly not for the faint hearted but its such a great way to experience the real bush and the wild where humans have to adhere to different rules. The rangers were (and still are) fantastic – so knowledgeable about the bush and they kept us safe throughout.

And we enjoyed it so much, we did it again in 2017!

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