A Lock-Down Kruger road-trip to Skukuza
Steven’s two older children live in Skukuza with their mother. Like the rest of South Africa in lock-down, we are not allowed to drive anywhere except for ‘essential’ things. But luckily divorced parents are allowed to go and fetch their children. Which meant a lock-down road-trip to Skukuza for us! Exciting? Yes!!
It felt like we were venturing into no-mans-land: into the realm of the animals. Where they had been free to roam the tar road for the past 32 days, undisturbed by humans. What a fantastic opportunity! A Kruger lock-down road trip!
The drive to Skukuza from Malelane Gate is a beautiful one with a constantly changing landscape. From the hills around Berg en Dal to the open flat area before Afsaal and from driving over several streams to the big Mathekenyane lookout point.
I was so pleased to see that the Matjulu still had some water in it, which is great for this time of the year. Even Kwaggaspan, not far before the T-junction where you turn left for Pretoriuskop and right to Skukuza had lots of water. And the veld was really looking good.
The tar road itself was pretty much what we expected: some stretches were full of poop. Hippo dung, elephant dung, rhino dung, giraffe pellets and a big black heap of lion poop too. Poop and branches left there by the elephants as reminders for us humans that they had now taken over the roads. Just before the Jock-safari Lodge turn-off there even was the crown of a whole fallen Marula tree in the road. And the elephants had made short work of the foliage.
The animal sightings were relatively quiet on our 70 odd kilometre drive north. In the Skukuza staff village, we found a troop of banded mongoose. Their heads kept popping up and down out of the tall grass. They are such cute animals!
The drive back to Malalane Gate from Skukuza was a lot more eventful than the trip up. Maybe because it was a bit later in the afternoon. We had a big herd of impala in the middle of the road. They were so chilled out and we didn’t really want to drive them off the road so we just waited and enjoyed watching them as they slowly left the tar.
Once Kruger opens again for tourists, we need to keep in mind that the animals have gotten used to the fact that there are no cars. And that they need time to adjust to having vehicles encroach on their space again. I am worried we might see quite a few animals hit by cars if we don’t.
An elephant herd also enjoyed the open road on our way home. Some of the females were feeding on either side of the tar, while a young male was resting smack-bang in the middle of the road. One of the younger females was a bit unsure of what to make of our presence. She picked up a long twig without bark on it and started fiddling with it; putting it in her mouth and on her head, rubbing it against her face. At one point I thought she was going to throw it at us, but eventually, she dropped it and stepped off the road.
It took a while before there was enough space for us to pass. But we did not mind one bit. The road is theirs now to enjoy without us humans. They might as well enjoy it while it lasts.
Not too far before Afsaal, there is a tall koppie where the road makes a big wide turn to the right and down into the flatlands. There, we found two beautiful lionesses! The bigger lioness had a collar on and both of them were clearly lactating. Their cubs were probably hidden somewhere on the koppie. What a lovely sighting…! The ladies walked right past our car!! Once they passed us they stopped and turned back to look at us with those beautiful yellow cat eyes that seem to see straight through you…
After Afsaal, where the open lands climb up into an area with more trees, was the hyena den where I sometimes take the boys on weekends. The resident clan really loves this particular culvert and we are blessed to find hyenas there quite often. They were home this afternoon. Two females were on the left in the opening of the culvert in the shade cast by a dense bush.
We stopped and switched off the engine. Before long two tiny hyena pups came out, still black in colour – their mothers softly vocalising. Hyena pups are such inquisitive little cuties, and one of the babies came a bit closer and had a good look at us before starting to suckle on its mom.
Animal encounters like the ones we had during our lock-down road trip to Skukuza, make us realize once again how lucky we are that we get to call Kruger National Park home. And that we are locked-down in the safest place possible. We are truly blessed.
Stay safe everyone!