Nkumbe Lookout point during my first ever trip in Kruger

My First Time in Kruger – and one Safari Essential to never Forget.

I am sure everyone that has been to our stunning game reserve has memories of their first time in Kruger. Unless your parents brought you as a baby – in which case I consider you to be very lucky – you then probably have early childhood memories.


I still remember my first time in the Kruger vividly. I traveled with Nella: A KLM colleague who became a dear friend. After a week in Cape Town, where I had to get used to driving on the left-hand side of the road (my goodness we had a few hair-raising experiences there), we rented another car in Johannesburg and drove to Malelane Gate. Our first night we ever spent in the Park was in the quaint little satellite camp of Malelane.

Sometimes, I wish I could see the Kruger through my ‘first-time eyes’ again. Everything was fascinating: all the animals big and small, the trees and grasses, the little streams and the slow-flowing rivers, the sweetish smell of the bush and the night-time sounds when we were in camp. And it was not just nature that totally amazed us, but the rest camps and accommodation in Kruger as well. I soaked up each and every aspect of that first trip into my pores. And it left a deep, deep imprint on my soul.


There were a lot of ‘firsts’ during that trip. After our first night in Malelane camp, we had accommodation booked in Lower Sabie. There, we did our first sunset drive. Our guide was a lovely and knowledgeable gentleman. And he showed us our first wild lion on the S28. To this day, I still remember the exact spot where I saw my first big Kruger cat. They are so big in real life!


After that magnificent lion sighting, we continued our drive on Duke road and the dense vegetation of the Gomondwane Loop. It was completely dark and I was following the beam of the spotlight as the guide was shining it from side to side. All of a sudden out of the corner of my eye, something caught my attention.


I turned my head only to see a big spider dangling from a silk thread right at eye level! And the wind of the moving truck almost blew it onto my shoulder!


I let out a scream that probably made everyone else on the truck think I was being eaten by a hyena! I jumped up and ran to the back of the truck. Our guide slammed on brakes, which almost made me lose my footing and he climbed into the back came to see if I was ok. I had gotten such a fright the only thing I managed to say was “SPIDER!!!”


Our dear guide searched and searched and much to his amusement (and the relief of some other ladies on the truck) there was no spider to be found. “Did you just scream and jump like that for a measly spider?” he teased me. “Are you sure it was a spider?” “Watch out for the branches, there might be a spider!” He said as we continued our journey through the thick Sickle bushes on the Gomandwane Loop. Not only did he know a lot about the animals and their habitat, but he had a sense of humor too. Awesome! I can enjoy a good laugh at my own expense;-)


We drove the tar road back to Lower Sabie. The spotlight found the reflection of two eyes in the distance. “Buffalo!” Our guide said. Which was exciting for us. That would be the first time seeing one of these magnificent beasts in the wild.


When we got closer though, there was no big buffalo to be seen. Instead, a tiny Lesser Bushbaby sat on a branch for a few seconds staring at us, before taking a massive leap to another tree. “Well, that is almost the size of a buffalo!” I teased our guide back. We looked at each other and both burst out laughing. That is the moment we became friends and we have been good friends ever since! (You can read a bit about that in my first blog The Ranger and the Flight Attendant)


As first-time Kruger visitors, we had no idea what to expect of the camps in the park and its facilities or of the units we booked. You can almost say we were as green as the first leaves on the trees after the start of the summer rains. Needless to say, we did not think to pack a few ‘essentials’.


The most important thing we forgot was a torch. We were staying in terraced huts in Lower Sabie that did not have a bathroom. Those units look a bit like horse stables and are built in a U shape. I am sure regular visitors to Lower Sabie know the proper name of them.

My first time in Kruger
Reading a book at the ‘horse stables’ in Lower Sabie. Our first time in the park. What a walk down memory lane.

Anyway, our first night in Lower Sabie and after our first sunset drive, I had to visit the ladies room in the middle of the night. I opened the door of our unit and looked around. A few coals were still smoldering orange in a braai stand or two. The light of the stars was enough for me to be able to see the outline of the roofs and a few tables and chairs. So, I braved a trip to the ablutions. (Half expecting to be eaten by a lion or a leopard along the way, as one does as a first-time Kruger visitor.)


With the ablution block in sight, I suddenly saw a shape in the faint starlight. A big, thick python ( and my first ever sighting of a snake!) was blocking the way stretching from one side of the path to the other. Oh dear. For a second I contemplated jumping over the big snake, as I really needed to wee quite urgently. But decided against doing that and rather chose to walk all the way around the back of the ‘horse stables’ to the toilet.


On my way back to our unit, the snake was still there. It had not moved an inch! So, all the way around the back I walked again. The pool’s water glistening on my left in the starlight. With a sigh of relief, I opened the door to our unit. I hade made it back alive! My friend Nella had slept through the whole thing.


Early the next morning we walked to the ablutions together. On our way, I was telling my friend about the ginormous snake that I found during my nightly excursion to the toilet. I was very surprised to find it was still there! I was even more surprised to find that the big python that had blocked my way to the loo was not a snake at all. But, in fact, the long root of the fig tree that grew next to the path…


We bought a torch in the shop that day… It is still the first thing I pack whenever I go anywhere in the park!


20 thoughts on “My First Time in Kruger – and one Safari Essential to never Forget.

  1. Hahahaha. Linda, I was just gonna say. How lucky can you get? A python on your first visit. I can’t go anywhere without my binoculars and camera, for birdwatching purposes. To see the bird and have proof.
    But besides that… This post is awesome. I captures Kruger so perfectly!!

    1. Thanks, my friend! it was a lovely walk down memory lane for me too. I was looking for that photo album for ages and I am so glad I found it!

  2. Thanks, Linda, for the walk down memory lane. My first trip 30 years ago was also full of total excitement and awe……and yes, even at the smallest animal. And like you, I would like to see it again through ‘first timers eyes’. It was all so special. Now when I bring first timers, I get the biggest joy watching their eyes and expressions at their first viewing of ‘wild animals’.
    Your blog is always a good read…..keep up the good work!

    1. Hi Joyce!
      I think that ‘first-time- wonderment is what keeps people coming back!
      traveling through the park with people that are here for the first time is the best. You get to share in their amazement all over again!

  3. 1947 in the Park as a child with my parents. We came across a cheetah rolling in the dust alongside the road. Much excitement. Opened the window so Dad could take a picture with the Brownie Box camera, when the cat jumped to its feet and looked at us. We got a great picture of the roof lining in the car as the widow went hastily up!

    1. Ahhhh the days of film camera’s and having to wait until your precious photos got developed and printed…
      You must all have been so disappointed to only get a picture of the roof lining and not that super special sighting!

  4. The best memories ever! We also were extremely lucky at our fist visit, we entered through Orpen gate for a gamedrive with Andrew….after just a couple of 100mtrs Andrew said Cheetahs on your left….and there they were…. 5 of themone of KNP’s supermums with 4 youngsters hunting an impala. How is that for a first ;-).

    1. Took a tour of the Kruger years ago in a South African Railways tour bus. Interesting mix of passengers including a retired couple from the USA, a lovely South African Tannie etc etc. Also a young guy from Hillbrow who was totally amazed at all the animals. There was a discussion about snakes and crocodiles laying eggs which he would not believe. He thought we were having having him on. He eventually verified it with the driver … and after a thoughtful pause asked “and also impala?”

  5. What a wonderful surprise to read a blog about our first time in Kruger.
    What an adventure that was for us!
    Makes me realise I have not been back often enough…
    Thank you for this lovely trip down memory lane Linda!

    1. Hoi Nella!
      Ja die eerste keer samen met jou op vakantie hier was zo geweldig, daar moest ik natuurlijk een keer een blog over schrijven!
      Kom maar gauw een keer langs! xxx

  6. Wonderful memory Linda. Like Liza, I was just thinking how lucky you were to see a python!!! Do you still get that reaction if you see a spider? Wonderful way to meet and make friends. . . . My first visit to Kruger was very frustrating because my father was driving and his method was to drive at the top permitted speed limit everywhere, only screeching to a halt if enough of us shouted ! Then five minutes later, we would be off again. Don’t think the bush was really his thing! But it mad me value so much the joy of driving slowly. To this day 20kpm is our preferred speed. We may not cover that much ground, but we can immerse ourselves in the bush and we see a surprising amount .


    1. lol no, luckily I am a lot more bush wise these days;-)) The only animal that really freaks me out is a red roman. There is not a broom long enough for me to tackle those speedy buggers;-)

  7. The Park is pure magic and you make it come alive for us. I’m phoning you tomorrow and want to hear all your news.

  8. Tijdens onze eerste reis naar Kruger, in een huurauto reden we door het park, stonden we ineens oog in oog met een enorme olifant. Hij blokkeerde de hele zandweg en stond te flapperen met zijn grote oren. Oeps, eh, wat nu? Onze auto leek plotseling heel fragiel… En de olifant leek niet een heel goed humeur te hebben. Na een ‘stand off’ die voor ons gevoel een eeuwigheid duurde, heb ik de auto in de achteruit gezet en hebben we een heel stuk zo teruggereden over de kronkelpaadjes. Pffff, ontsnapt en weer veilig was toen het gevoel.

  9. Thinking about my first trip to KNP in 1987. A friend who supposedly knew the area well made us late for the gate and we ended up having to camp in the Phalaborwa town campsite! We took so much that we did not need and left a few things we later learned to take with. It was still a great trip though. I remember approaching the intersection of the road from Boulders and the main Shingwedzi-Letaba road. From some distance, through the open windows of my microbus we could here this noise like cricket bats being bashed together – but so LOUD. As we got to the intersection there was a medium herd of buffalo and several bulls were fighting – especially two older daga boys and it was the sound of the bosses of their horns smashing together that we had been hearing for several minutes.
    I must write about that trip on my website some time.

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