As we wait for the Kruger National Park to open camping and accommodation for overnight stays, some of us have been lucky enough to get our Kruger fix with day trips.
With day visits being allowed for the past 2 weeks, I have to admit, lockdown in South Africa and life in general has definitely improved in that time. At least, for those of us living in the 2 provinces that border the Kruger; Mpumalanga & Limpopo. For those not yet able to visit, don’t worry, we truly know how lucky we are.
I have taken several day trips since the reopening and honestly, it’s been the salvation I’ve needed. Sanity has slowly returned as well as the inherent hope that things in the world will be okay.
Living so close to the Kruger, I’ve been able to go at the quietest times during level 3 of our lockdown. Entering the park in the early hours of a Monday morning has meant that I’ve had the place almost to myself; an unbelievable experience, especially when stopping at what is usually one of the busiest parts of the Kruger.SKUKUZA REST CAMP
Anybody familiar with Skukuza knows how busy the camp can get. Home to the Skukuza half marathon & popular with day visitors to the Kruger searching for the Big 5 on safari; it’s one of the busiest parts of the park.
Before you even arrive at the gate, there is the infamous stop sign just outside the camp. At any given time of the day, you will find several cars stopped there; occupants scratching their heads, flicking through a map, trying to interpret the seemingly hundreds of options on that highly confusing road sign!
The reception car park is normally packed, the road to the shop resembling a toll gate, people queued up to find a park amongst the safari vehicles and tour buses.
But not this time. The 4-way stop is deserted. The reception car park is empty. There is no traffic at all. It’s surprisingly eerie being in the busiest camp of the Kruger National Park, with not a soul in sight.
A RARE SIGHT IN THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
Normally tourists from across the world crowd the deck at the Cattle Baron; where you can overhear snippets of excited conversations about their latest sightings. Visitors pour out of the shop with an ice cream in hand, the pathways along the river normally crowded with people taking a break after a long journey.
Today the campsites are completely deserted and for the first time in recent history; all the best spots are empty and available! Not a caravan or tent in sight in one of the busiest campsites in Kruger. A spot on the fence? Take your pick!
The bungalows are empty, the picnic tables are piled on top of one another. The benches are pushed together and secured with red tape; all the tables and any available surface for sitting on are removed.
The blinds of the Cattle Baron are drawn, the deck is empty; save for a couple of Vervet Monkeys lying on the deck in the sunshine. They look up, startled to see me as I interrupt their grooming session.
The camp is beautiful and serene and to have the chance to see it like that is special; and I do feel lucky. Sometimes Skukuza can feel a little too busy and overwhelming and so the serenity is a welcome change. However, it also comes with a sense of sadness. The energy that visitors bring to the Kruger is lacking. The happy smiles of the people on a once in a lifetime or honeymoon trip. The content faces of retirees who make the annual pilgrimage to the Kruger from across the provinces, caravan in tow. The energy and excitement of tourists to our beautiful country; learning and experiencing the wonder of nature and all that South Africa has to offer.
WHEN WILL THE KRUGER OPEN AGAIN?
Of course, in time, things will return to normal. Restrictions will be lifted and more people will be allowed back and the numbers of visitors will rise. Our international visitors will eventually come back and once again delight in what South Africa has to offer.
The Kruger National Park needs its visitors & importantly, so does it's wildlife. Their protection and conservation depend on the very fact that South Africa is an international tourist destination. We can be proud that so many people love and visit our beloved Kruger National Park, spreading the message of conservation and sharing in the joy of watching animals in their natural habitat.
The camps and roads of Kruger will soon be filled with the hustle and bustle of happy visitors, experiencing that sense of peace and connection to the earth that being in nature provides us with.
Senses will come alive, fusing with the sights and sounds of the bush, almost as if our own innate strategies for survival are lurking just under the surface, waiting to emerge. Survival is not guaranteed here and that gives every experience a sense of meaning & excitement and a reminder to appreciate each moment. Balance is restored here.
Yes, no doubt about it, visitors will return. How could they not? Kruger National Park will open again for overnight accommodation. Camping in the Kruger will be allowed. But for now, I’m going to enjoy as many day trips as I can and take in this wonderful silence, this strange new temporary reality of having the Kruger National Park to myself.