South Africa: Kruger National Park
January 1, 1970
by Jess McWilliams
If this doesn’t convince you to visit South Africa, I don’t know what will.
Choosing South Africa
It was my first ever adventure abroad. Unless, of course, you count a very drunken week at the party resort of Kavos with the girls when we all turned eighteen…but for the sake of trying to keep a sophisticated theme to this site, let’s not.
I’m still unsure why we picked South Africa out of all of our options. They were so many exotic, beautiful places to choose from. ‘We’ being my best friend Katie and myself. We had the whole world to choose from, how were we possibly going to make a choice? For some reason I felt a pull towards South Africa. I don’t know if it was from a repressed, childhood urge to relive the adventures from ‘The Lion King’? I won’t lie, the idea of holding a lion cub high above my head from from Pride Rock definitely crossed my mind more than a couple of times. But aside from that, I knew that there would be so much to learn from South Africa. For the first time in my life, I would be embracing a completely new culture, a new way of life that I only imagined to be possible in Disney movies and David Attenborough documentaries.
We wanted to go through a volunteer programme, mainly from a safety aspect, but also as a way to easily meet other like-minded people. I would definitely recommend this for first time travellers, especially for females who are worried about staying safe whilst they’re abroad. I think South Africa, in particular, is definitely a destination where you should travel through a programme or in a large group, particularly if it’s your first travelling experience. It’s a beautiful country, but it isn’t the safest by a long shot.
A Wild Adventure
We chose the ‘South African Wild Adventure’ from Gap360.com. I’d recommend it for value for money and for the amount of activities you cram into just a few weeks. Not only was this package cheaper than if we did everything ourselves, but we got to be part of a group of people that soon became lifelong friends. The picture above is us visiting Kruger National Park, which was arguably the best part of the trip. There are endless amounts of places to see exotic animals that involve us being separated by bars or glass, where we deal with the controversial issue of keeping animals in a non-natural environment.
There is, in all honesty, nothing that compares to being in Kruger National Park. There are no bars, there are no enclosures. You are there in the wild, seeing all these amazing creatures in their natural habitat.
The atmosphere while we were all sat in the jeeps was something that I’ll never be able to forget. Normally we would all be laughing, chatting, basically making one hell of a noise. But the suspense had us barely speaking in hushed whispers. There was no programme or predictions for when the animals would appear, we were on their time now. If there was too much noise then they would run off. All we could do was drive around and keep our eyes peeled.
If I told you about every amazing moment we had in Kruger, we’d be here for hours. So I’ll tell you about the moment that stood out to us all. The leopard was a rare sighting at Kruger. There weren’t as many as there were elephants, giraffes, even the lions. Near the end of our visit, the guides started getting radio messages about a leopard that had been spotted. The excitement was unbearable. We searched for what easily could have been over an hour. I personally was sure by that the leopard was long gone by this point.
We almost drove straight past it. Matt, one of the volunteers starting shouting for the driver to stop. The leopard had just caught his eye. As the jeep screeched to a halt, and we all turned round in our seat…there it was. Not only did we get to see it, it casually strolled between the two jeeps that were transporting our whole group. We all got an amazing view.
The reaction afterwards was similar to if Matt had scored the winning goal at the World Cup. After sitting in careful silence for so long, we went berserk with excitement. Matt got thanked and congratulated endlessly while we all succumbed to the adrenaline.
It’s a moment that’s hard to describe without making us all sound totally mental. The atmosphere of the place in unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. There is a world of difference to seeing these animals on the TV and seeing them in real life. It teaches you to appreciate true, natural beauty, and highlights that we as humans have got to stop thinking of ourselves as the only species with a birthright to determine the fate of the planet.
Convinced? Here’s a few tips.
If I had any advice to offer about going to Kruger National Park, I would say that you should try to not spend the entire time watching it through your camera lens. Don’t get me wrong, you should definitely take some pictures to show everyone at home what you saw, but I can guarantee you that the pictures will never do justice to how it looks in real life. I promise you that if you prioritise getting the perfect photo over sitting back and taking in the view for yourself, you’re missing out on one of the most incredible moments of your life.
On a slightly more ominous note, definitely also keep all limbs inside the jeep as you drive around AT ALL TIMES. The day before our trip a guide had his hand bitten off from hanging it out over the side. Kruger is no joke, and you’ve got to respect that you’re in a natural hunting ground. Be careful if you’re also a little squeamish, there’s a good chance you’ll see the remnants of a meal on your travels!
Have you been to Kruger? Or are you thinking of going? I would love to hear your stories or answer any questions. Feel free to drop me a message in the comments section!