Six weeks ago we flew into Johannesburg and drove from there to Kruger Park. The Highveld this time of year is resplendent with cosmos-fringed golden wheat. The countryside is flat and pockmarked with powerlines, African huts and tin shanties.
Two hours into the drive the terrain starts changing and the veld gives way to hills, rocky outcrops and glistening silver streams. This is the lowveld – rugged and wildly beautiful. Another two hours and the hills stretch out again and the sun lights up the scrub in a hazy mirage.
We entered the park through Malelane gate to the south and half an hour into the bush saw our first (and last) leopard. Very fortunate, as leopards are solitary cats and spotting them (pardon the pun) takes a very good eye and a lot of luck.
Three weeks before our trip the park was given a proper soaking – nature’s green light for baby-dropping. From hyena pups, zebra foals and elephant calves to suckling monkeys and baby baboons – we saw them all.
Dense, rain-sodden bush is not ideal for game viewing, but the abundance of succulent vegetation and flowing water works its way up the food chain and fills the pantry. Just as well too, when you’re up close and personal in an open Land Rover with a sated old lion.
The rhino, giraffe and Impala were so prolific we stopped counting. We saw close to 300 buffalo grazing and drinking on the other side of a very full river. Magnificent, really rather silly-looking beasts – though only marginally less stupid than the wildebeest. Mind you, the sight of millions of them migrating over the Serengeti I’m sure must command the utmost respect.
Of course I can’t write about Kruger without telling you a little about what’s on the menu for us two-legged creatures. There is nothing like a bit of biltong, a fine Cape chardonnay and the sound of the hippos guffawing as the sun dips behind river.
Ditto a good slab of beef cooked on an open fire (braai). Pair it with a slow-cooked, very South African “pap en sous” (maize-based type of savoury porridge with chilli, tomato and onion sauce) and you’ll know what I mean. There is no gourmet fare in the park and if there was, it would only wreck the joy of so much of what we go there for – the simplicity of cooking over a flame, under the stars – just the crackle of wood and distant roar of lions cutting through the silence.
This is God’s country and if you don’t believe me, one look at the gold dust He sprinkles over this wild land at sunset should convince you.