The final week of our African Safari would focus around two main attractions to Southern Africa, Victoria Falls and Kruger National Park. Two very different sights but both amazing in their own ways. Victoria Falls lies on the Zambezi River at the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. CNN described Victoria Falls as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Kruger National Park, in northeastern South Africa, is one of Africa’s largest game reserves. Its high density of wild animals includes the Big 5: lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalos. The different tour guides we talked to all said that Kruger was better for seeing animals and was just a more upscale park in general. However, visiting Kruger is a lot more expensive than the other parks we’ve seen, so we only booked a short visit to Kruger.
Day 19 – Chobe > Victoria Falls. We had breakfast and then went on our game drive at 8 AM. The guides took us out on smaller 4x4s and drove through unpaved roads of Chobe. The truck got really close to some amazing animals. We saw tons of antelope, baboons, hippos, lions, giraffes, and a dung beetle rolling a ball of dung with a female attached. We were so glad that we didn't miss out on Chobe. It was truly one of the highlights of our entire tour. Afterwards, we head back to camp and packed up for our trip across the border of Zimbabwe to Victoria Falls. The border wait for Botswana went fast but the passport control for Zimbabwe was unorganized so therefore longer than it needed to be.
The night before, Cosmas had a sit down with us to go over any questions we had about the country and its leader, Robert Mugabe. We had this discussion today because once we got inside Zimbabwe, it is very dangerous to have political conversations, especially about Mugabe. Mugabe became Prime Minister of Zimbabwe in 1980, when his ZANU-PF party won the elections following the end of white minority rule; he has been the president of Zimbabwe since 1987. Under Mugabe's authoritarian regime, the police and military have been responsible for widespread human rights violations. Throughout his reign, Mugabe has maintained the revolutionary socialist rhetoric from the Cold War era, blaming Zimbabwe's economic woes on conspiring Western capitalist countries, while still executing conservative policies. Burnished by his anti-imperialist credentials, contemporary African political leaders have been reluctant to criticize Mugabe, though Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called him "a cartoon figure of an archetypal African dictator."
Zimbabwe requires visas for most Western countries and there was some confusion on how much our visas were. Cosmas told us that it was 50 euro pp and the office needed exact change. We found out at the border that it's only 30 euro for US citizens so we had to wait until another tourist paid in euros to get some change. It actually took a while because most people paid in US dollars, the most widely accepted currency there. It was a nice surprise to have the lower fee but we still had to wait for security to process all the visas of the group before we could leave. After waiting 45 minutes in the blazing sun, Cosmas came out with our passports and we could finally leave and make our way to Victoria Falls.
Since we had a late start, we weren't scheduled to arrive at the Falls after 4 PM. Cosmas paid for our entry and we all went inside. The itinerary gave us an hour to explore the falls on our own before the truck would picked us up again. The Victoria Falls park area isn’t all that big and there’s a nice paved path that takes you along the cliff edge and about 14 different viewpoints of the falls. On the drive since we saw some dark clouds coming in and 10 mins into our walk through the falls, it started to downpour. By the time we reached the 5th viewpoint, we were drenched (see pics) but we didn't care. We drove all this way and had to make it through all the viewpoints. It was low water season so the Falls weren't full but it was still amazing. We really wanted to do Devil’s Pool which lets you swim right up to the edge of the waterfall but it was closed during low water season. Since that is the main attraction of the Zambian side, we decided against going over there and paying for the visa. The best views are on the Zimbabwe side. We took a lot of pictures with the GoPro and even though it the water was low, the mist made it hard to get good views of the falls at times. Cosmas mentioned that it’s better to actually view the falls during low season because the mist is so bad in the high season, that you can’t really see the main part of the falls. After we walked through it all, we walked back to the parking lot. A few campers were not coming back to the hotel right away so we left without them. We checked into our rooms and showered up for dinner at 7:30 PM. Our guide decided on dinner at the hotel restaurant that was going to cost $30 pp for the buffet dinner. A lot of the campers were not happy but we managed to negotiate them down to $20 pp and everyone stayed. We were all exhausted after dinner so we went to bed.
Day 20 – Victoria Falls. We had breakfast at 7 AM and then got ready to go watch our friends zipline on the bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia. It would cost $10 pp for the shuttle there so we just walked. It was around 2km so it wasn't bad. We crossed the border easily this time and made our way to the bridge. The bridge itself was quite unimpressive but the view of the falls and river was nice. We video taped our friends when they ziplined one of them completely freaked out so it was really funny to watch. Afterwards, we walked back to town and had lunch at the cafe nearby. On our last night with the big tour, our friends met us in our room to pre-game and to watch the tape of our friend freaking out ziplining. For dinner, we walked to In Da Belly for a $20 bbq buffet. They had all different kinds of game meat and Diem tried crocodile for the first time. She really liked it and really all the food was great. We had a few drinks but went back to the hotel because we were getting attacked by bugs. Unfortunately, the hotel bar wasn't any better so we went to bed after one drink to avoid getting eaten alive.
Day 21 – Transit from Vic Falls to Johannesburg. We grabbed breakfast with our friends and said our sad goodbyes. We were actually driving back on the same truck that we took the tour on and left for Johannesburg at 8 AM. For the two day drive, it was just us, the Brazilian couple we didn’t like, Moses the driver, and Dumi the cook. Dumi and Moses let us know that the drive would not be an adventure like the tour. We would be driving 10 hours a day, leaving early the next day, and stopping only for meals and occasional bathroom breaks in the bushes. The transfer also did not include meals so we had to buy our own food. At the first stop, we bought groceries to make spaghetti bolognese for dinner and Dumi helped cook. It was Diem’s birthday so we shared dinner and drinks with Moses and Dumi but started to rain so we decided to sleep in the truck.
Day 22 – Transit to Johannesburg. We left early at 6am and drove for the rest of the day. Moses was right, it definitely wasn’t a fun ride but we did see some more giraffes and elephants along the way. The truck arrived at our stop, Belvedere Estates, around 5 PM. We checked into our room, ordered dinner, and showered. The hotel was about an hour outside of Johannesburg and there wasn’t much around so we just chilled in the room the rest of the night.
Day 23 – Johannesburg to Kruger. We ate a nice breakfast at the hotel at 7 AM. Viva Safaris was supposed to pick us up at 8 AM but didn't come until 10 AM. After we got on the van, we picked up one more person and then headed to Kruger. Along the way, we stopped for a bathroom and gas refill at probably the coolest gas station bathroom in the world. The urinals looked out into an animal watering hole and there were a couple of rhinos chilling alongside antelope, zebras, buffalo, warthogs, and other creatures. I wanted to stay in the bathroom but a line was forming. Back on the van, we tried to make up for lost time and briefly stopped for lunch at Mayfly. The driver called our orders in on the way and we at in the van on the way.
We arrived in Kruger at 5 PM, quickly checked in, and got on 4x4s for our sunset game drive. Maybe the best part of the trip was that we got to see an elephant really close up and it almost charged the truck. In fact, the driver had to back up and rev the engine to get the elephant to back away and let us pass. However, as soon as we drove by, the elephant started chasing us. I didn’t think he could move that fast but the driver was flooring it and the elephant was keeping up for a while. Probably the biggest disappointment of the trip was that I stopped recording just as we passed him and missed capturing the chase on video. Still, it was quite the memorable experience. After that, we drove around some more and saw giraffes and lots of antelope.
We paused briefly for the sunset and then drove to our dinner spot in the bush. Along the way, we spotted a jaguar. We saw a couple of jaguars on the other tour but this guy was about 3 times bigger than the previous ones. As you can see from the video, we were quite jealous of the truck in front of us. For dinner, we ate dinner underneath a large tree in the park with the bright stars above. It was a gorgeous setting. Dinner was traditional braai chicken, sausage, pop, tomato gravy, vegetables and rice. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling well so I couldn’t eat any of it. After the group ate, we drove back to the lodge for bed. It was an amazing first day in Kruger.
Day 24 – Kruger. We woke up for our bush walk at 5:45 AM and our guide was way too chipper that early in the morning. During the walk we saw a few hippos but not many other animals. The guide told us that the animals typically run away when they hear our footsteps but they were armed with rifles just in case. The guide was very informative and we stopped at a pile of elephant dung which people in the bush light on fire and smoke in order to clear their sinuses. The walk took about 3 hours and by the end it was getting pretty hot. We got back for a late breakfast at 9:30 AM and went back to the tent to freshen up and pack our bags. At 1 PM we took our luggage to reception, had lunch at 1:30 PM, and then went on our game drive at 2:30 PM. We didn't get to see a lot of interesting animals this time but right before we came back we saw a mother rhino and her calf. The drive ended at about 5 PM and we transferred to our new camp, Marc's Treehouse. At the new camp we had a canvas tent with an actual bed in it! We were pumped, but when Diem pulled down the front door it was filled with maggots and critters so we asked to be switched. They gave us the tent next door that was twice the size. It had 4 single beds but we just pushed them together. The cooks served dinner at 8 PM and it started raining so we went off to bed.
Day 25 – Kruger. We ate breakfast at 7 AM and then our game drive to Kruger was at 8 AM. We stopped a couple times during the drive for bathroom and lunch. The portion of Kruger we visited today was larger and had more tour groups but saw quite a few animals. The most impressive sight was a herd of elephants that had some little baby elephants. We also saw lots of giraffes, a jaguar eating an antelope from pretty far away, but no rhinos. It was cold and raining the beginning of the drive but it got better in the afternoon. All in all, it was a fun day and we came back to the camp for dinner and bed.
Day 26 – Kruger to Johannesburg. Sadly, we had to leave Kruger. Some people in the group booked an extra day at an animal sanctuary nearby but we were heading back to Johannesburg. After breakfast, we left the camp 8 AM. During the drive back, the driver said there was something wrong with the car so we stopped at their mechanics to switch cars but it took over an hour. We stopped by the 3 Rondavels at Blyde Canyon for 30 mins. The 3 Rondavels are huge, round rocks, thought to be reminiscent of the houses or huts of the indigenous people, known as rondavels. Blyde Canyon is part of the Panorama Route, a scenic road in South Africa. The route starts at the town Graskop and includes sites such as God's Window, the Pinnacle, and Bourke's Luck Potholes. The view of the canyon was very pretty similar the Grand Canyon but greener and smaller. Back in the van, we stopped again for lunch at Mayfly and made it to our Airbnb around 5:30 PM. The house and room were really nice so we just got dinner and went to bed. It was nice to sleep in a big bed again and have fast internet.
The next day we had thoughts of exploring Johannesburg but we had a lot of catching up to do with people and events back home so we just stayed in. We were also warned by multiple South Africans to be careful in Johannesburg. It has a high crime rate and is generally not safe after dark. With all that, we were too eager to explore the city and we also liked being around the host’s dogs.
Our final week of our safari definitely had a different feel than the first two. We said good-bye to the large group and were back to spending most of our time together or in small groups. Kruger was definitely worth the visit though. I would say that if you’re crunched for time, I would pick Kruger over all the other national parks we visited. It is a lot easier to get to and has better amenities and services. That being said, it does feel a little more like a zoo or wild animal park than a natural environment compare to the other parks. You can’t go wrong though and we were glad to we got to see all the big 5 game during our time around Southern Africa, though we didn’t get good pictures of the lions. After all that camping we were ready for some beaches and relaxation in Mauritius.
As I write this I’m a little sad because it turns out we lost a lot of good pictures and videos of our time in Kruger. We still have a good number but it feels incomplete and it’s disappointing that we may lose those memories. I guess we’ll just have to go back and take some new ones! J
See the full gallery of our third week in Africa here: African Safari – Part 3.