Kruger National Park and Blyde River Canyon are two natural wonders of South Africa. Amazingly, they are only 2 hours apart by car and so during our time in the province, we visited both in quick succession - this is done by most visitors and we highly recommend it.
In this post we will talk about the two of them individually, so keep this in mind!
Kruger National Park
The infamous Kruger National Park lies in the North Eastern reaches of Southern Africa on the border with Mozambique.
A 2 hour drive from Mpumalanga International Airport along the dusty tracks of the Eastern province takes you to the border of the park.
With an abundance of lodges and accommodation to choose from and so little time, we cannot offer you a fair comparison of several lodges. We can however, tell you about one fantastic location which we called home for the 3 days we were here.
Elephant Plains is a incredible place to experience the African wilderness in luxury and comfort. Laura's parents were celebrating their 30 years anniversary in South Africa, and kindly invited us to join them for some 'wild' family time together.
On arrival, we were informed by Laura's dad, that Sabi Sands game reserve is the most densely (animals) populated part of Kruger National Park.
Vervet monkeys drank at the water fountain and spotted hyenas would follow us back to our rooms after supper. Having joked about a hyena with one of the rangers all day, he didn't believe us until we showed him.
The smaller beauties of the natural world were more keen to engage as this chameleon used James' hair as a playground.
With almost all the land of the Earth being under human ownership, the huge Kruger National Park is an example of how human ownership can work in favour of the animal kingdom. With its vast open spaces and the ability for plant life to grow and evolve without human input, animals living here feel it to be completely wild.
We had two fantastic guides for our time there: Louis who drove the safari Jeep, guided our walking safari, told us all there was to know about what we saw and gave us a great insight into the struggles with poaching in Kruger; and Thomas, whose role was quieter, but of equal importance. Thomas sat on the front of the truck, in the 'danger seat', and tracked, found and followed the animals, directing Louis as he drove.
On arrival we dumped our bags and jumped straight into the safari truck and it was not long before our first animal encounter.
There are over 200 giraffes at Sani Sands and we had the pleasure of meeting three particularly beautiful creatures.
Malcolm the hippo is a particularly lonely character who likes to hang out near the hotel in what appears to be his own private waterhole.
The Big 5 was a term used by hunters to recognise the hardest 5 animals to hunt. With global ethical values where they are, we can (almost) all recognise how sick it is to kill for fun and so using the term still feels a bit strange. nonetheless, these are 5 of the most difficult animals to see in Africa.
Big 5 #1
The Elephant is a majestic being.
As wise as it is huge, it sends and receives vibrations through the soles of its feet to communicate with other elephants who may be kilometers away. They will travel great distances to visit the graves of their ancestors - even those they had never known when they were alive. Surely one of the most enlightened animals is this one. This extended family and their friends played joyfully amongst the Acacia bushes whilst we captured the moments.
Big 5 #2
The Buffalo is the most dangerous of the Big 5 and potentially all the animals in Africa.
Consistently, it kills the most humans each year. With intent in his eye, we did not hang around here for too long! The brave Oxpeckers hop around on him removing ticks from his thick hide.
Big 5 #3
The Lion, king of the bush, is in reality, the laziest of all the animals.
They like to sleep. They will hunt, when food is nearby, but rarely will they search for it. Contrary to popular belief, the males do hunt for their food, but they will take down the bigger and slower prey, whereas the females are more agile hunters. These two were not hunting anything. Lions will mate 4 times an hour for 24 hours for 4 days just to make sure that the egg gets fertilized.
Big 5 #4:
The Leopard is the hardest of the Big 5 to find.
Their elusive nature and fast movements along with a great camouflage in the bush give them a stealth which can easily be missed. This cub was drinking at a small waterhole when we found his mother and him. Male leopards are know to kill the young of other males to instigate their dominant status. To avoid this, the females will mate with every dominant male she can find and claim that the cub belongs to each of them!
Big 5 #5:
The peaceful giants wander through the bush moving from shrub to shrub grazing. Like the hippo, they are enormous, yet vegan eating mostly grass. Sadly, these beautiful animals are critically endangered due to poaching to support the growing Rhino horn market in Vietnam. Rhino horn has no proven medicinal properties and the market for it is entirely pointless.
Please read Part 3 of our animal love series (which will be posted soon) on poaching and help spread awareness to support these beautiful animals.
We feel that the hippo is an honorary member of The Big 5 as it is an incredibly big and dangerous animal. Behind this buffalo, we caught two hippos mating!
The African Wild Dog is an animal whose numbers are lower than the black Rhino (2000 left in the wild). This pack had 20 juveniles with them and were racing through the bush chasing an Impala. When we finally caught up to them, they had caught and eaten most of their meal.
Walking safaris are an excellent way to discover the intricacies of the ecosystems. When a queen termite is born every 2-3 years, she will fly away with her king (their wings will fall from their backs 30 minutes after taking flight) and fall. Where they land will become the site for a new termite mound. A huge system of termites who work themselves to death after 2 months, whilst the queen will live for 20-30 years.
These structures can withstand almost anything and by walking to the top of it you can feel the hot air being pumped through ventilation. A sign that they are working hard!
The highlight of this walk was definitely eating Impala poo. Our guide, Louis was surprisingly keen on this and so James, and Laura's brother Beto and her Dad all followed in Louis' example. Not the most delicious thing in the world, maybe save your appetite for later.
Elephant Plains and Kruger National Park seriously impressed us. Such knowledgable staff and a true sense of connection felt with wild Africa is an experience definitely worth saving for.
Blyde River Canyon
In a word, stunning.
Despite its isolated location and small local community, Blyde River Canyon draws people from around the world every day.
If you fancy a bit of luxury during your time here, check into the Blyde River Canyon Lodge and set your alarm early to catch the Zebras who come to graze in their grounds.
Our advice here is just explore. The area has enough beautiful locations to keep you busy for an eternity.
We stress that you should plan your day carefully and do your own research, but here are three you should not miss.
1. The Three Rondavels
Park your car amongst the market just before the entrance and get lost in beautiful handmade treasures from Mpumalanga before walking down a short path to the cliff edge.
A green mat of trees appears to have been laid over a rolling mountain landscape. The Three Rondavels are the three cones that stand lower than their surroundings. Their shape is similar to the traditional rondavel huts of South Africa - hence their name.
2. Bourke's Luck Potholes
Continue South along the R532 from The Three Rondavels and you will find Bourke's Luck Potholes.
A beautiful set of rock formations, carved from thousands of years of erosion play host to a waterfall fed by several much smaller cascades. If you thought stepping stones lost its charm in your youth, this place will convert you.
Leap from rock to rock over rapid water and cascading waterfalls.
One of the most beautiful places in South Africa, but try to avoid the big crowds in high season!
3. Lisbon Waterfall
This idyllic waterfall is a short drive South of Bourke's Luck Potholes. It is nestled in the dense forest of the pass surrounding it. Take a walk a short way down from the car park and find a big flat rock to meditate on!
There are very few places which can offer this level of tranquility.
Both Kruger National Park and Blyde River Canyon should be on every traveller's check list. There are very few places with such rich natural environments left on the Earth and these must be supported.
After visiting this beautiful area we headed to Johannesburg before heading down to the Garden Route. These posts will come soon! For now, head to the South Africa page to see what else we have been up to here!