Going on a safari has been high on my bucket list probably since I saw the Lion King as a kid. It has been on my mums bucket list even longer!
My sister and I decided to surprise my mum with a trip to South Africa to do a safari for her 70th birthday. Needless to say the surprise went down extremely well!
We did a 5 day safari in the Kruger National Park with Outlook Safaris. We stayed in Protorioskop camp and went for the tented accommodation option - partly due to our budget but also we felt it was more of an authentic experience. I feel the more you ‘rough it’, the more stories you have to tell.
From the moment we drove in through the park gates it was like you left everything behind and came in to this other world. Miles and miles of bush, grass and browny green landscape stretched out in front of us. When our guide told us to look out for animals I thought he was joking as we had only just entered the park gates, but of course he wasn’t! This is africa and we are in Kruger Park!
Protorioskop is one of the oldest camps in the park. It is really well equipped with a shop, restaurant, bungalows and even a pool! One of the days my mum and I were chilling by the pool when we saw a load of impalas the other side of the fence! Outlook Safaris have a section of the camp where they have all their tents and their main tent where we are our meals. When we got taken to our tents I was taken back. This was the nicest camping I have ever done! Complete with proper beds, table lights and USB charging ports, our tents were super comfy and very luxurious!
Our first drive was a sunset drive. All the animals sleep during the day as it is so hot, therefore the drives are early morning and afternoon/evening to increase the chances of seeing wildlife. It is completely luck of the draw what you see, but it also makes it a fun challenge scouting for any movement as you sit in the Jeep. We were really lucky with our first drive as we saw 3 of the Big 5! We came across a herd of Buffalo that were scarily close to our Jeep, and amazingly saw a Rhino with her baby just off the road! Rhino sightings are so rare due to poaching, so this was definitely a spectacular moment! The highlight of that evening was on our way back to the park we came across two male lion brothers sprawled out across the road! They didn’t seem to mind at all that we were there - infact our driver almost had to threaten to run them over to get them to move! Once moved out of the way, they just sat on the side of the road watching us go past them. This was the closest I’ve ever been to a lion, he was about 2 meters away!
The morning drives were an early 5:30am start. After loading up on coffee we jumped in the Jeep eagerly awaiting our next dose of African wildlife. Our first morning we left the camp gates and stumbled on our lion brother friends from the night before! Again, sprawled our across the road they didn’t seem phased by us at all. We pulled over and watched them for a while as other cars slowly got scarily close to them to drive past, getting an epic close up shot on the way! I saw one car drive past the lion slowly with the passenger window down, and the lion was probably one meter from the passengers face - one swipe and things would have gone very differently!
That same drive we also had a very close encounter with a giraffe. We saw a couple of them along the way munching in the trees, but then this male giraffe literally crossed the road right in front of us while we were all stopped with our cameras in awe of this beautiful majestic giant animal! Apparently Zebras and Giraffes are friends, so when you see a bunch of Zebras your likely to see their tall Giraffe friend also. This is because Zebras are targeted prey for lions, so the Giraffes protect them as they are so tall and can see any predators coming! Nature is amazing!!
We would return back to the camp welcomed with breakfast and a few hours to chill before our afternoon drive. After such an early start, this break was very well received! The food in the camp was surprisingly really good! The chef does such a great job catering for so many people in a kitchen made of camp stoves. Every morning we had a cooked breakfast and a 3 course meal complete with wine in the evenings! The pool (a.k.a the human watering hole) was the perfect place to cool off from the heat of the midday African sun.
Our mission for our afternoon drive was to see an elephant, our fourth of the big 5 still to see. As we drove down to a watering hole where we had seen a hippo the day before, we saw a male elephant bathing himself! We sat for ages just watching him use his trunk to help him cool off. As he turned to walk up the hill our guide sped up to the road to see if we could catch him there...and sure enough we came face to face with him! There was a heart racing moment where he stood in front of our Jeep staring at us. We all held our breaths in complete silence as he looked like he wanted to charge at us. Then as he realized we weren’t a threat he just picked up a pile of dust, blew it and continued walking to the other side of the road. I don’t think I will ever forget that moment. When an elephant is that close, you really realize the sheer size of them and know that if he decided to charge in that moment that it probably wouldn’t end well!
One animal that I have totally changed my perspective on since being on safari is the Hyena. The lion king always had me thinking that the Hyena was the bad guy, but we came across so many Hyenas with their babies and they are actually really cute! Smelly, but cute!
It’s totally luck of the draw what you see on safari. There’s no guarantee you will see the big 5, so when we saw a Leopard the next morning we were totally stoked! That’s the big 5 ticked!
One of the extra excursions we did with our company was the panorama tour of the Kruger area. We went outside the park and got taken to some of the most breathtaking spots I have even been to! These included the Three Rondavels, Burke’s Potholes and God’s Window. It was so nice to see the contrast between the sparse area of the national park, and the mountainous pinnacles of the surrounding area. We came across loads of markets at all our stops, and I ended up walking away with an amazing coffee table which cost me the equivalent of €30! Don’t ask me how I will get it back to Spain yet, it may cost me more in excess baggage than I paid for it, but totally worth it!
We finished our safari experience with an early morning walk. Our Jeep parked up and we got out and followed our guides through a trail. Just knowing that there was literally nothing between us and any of the dangerous animals was an experience in itself! Both of our guides were equipped with rifles should anything unexpected happen, although animals have evolved to be able to smell and run far from any humans before you’d even get a glimpse of them. It was quite comforting to know that by also quite sad, as through the many years humans have hunted these beautiful creatures they have got to know us as the enemy. No lions, but we did see some Hyenas in the distance which was pretty cool.
After this amazing 5 days our safari adventure had come to an end. It may sound cliche but this really was a once in a lifetime adventure. I can’t even find the words that would do it justice, but if you ever get the chance to go on safari - just go! The whole experience was absolutely unforgettable, and creating these memories with my mum and sister made it even better.