Some of the best days that we’ve had in the game reserves have been when we’ve seen little or no game at all. One recent morning, in Kruger, we were out early on a fresh sand road after a night of heavy rain. We found ourselves trawling slowly along, weaving and stopping every few minutes with heads peering down at spoor on the ground, reading the story of the events from the night before.
Lion had walked in the road, probably before the rain as the prints were softened; a herd of zebra had walked across the width of the road for a very long distance, perhaps they feel safer in the open road at night than in the long grass; there had been a bit of a scuffle further on and something ran off, kicking sand backward. We saw where elephant had walked across the road to scratch on a marula tree, leaving a patch of wet mud plastered into the bark, and where they had walked down the road dumping heaps of fresh, marula-filled dung amongst huge round footprints.
The rhino really got us going though. We hadn’t seen rhino in this section of the park, but we now knew they were definitely there. There was plenty of new dung on top of well-established middens on both sides of the road, next to easily recognisable rhino ‘highways’; the well-worn paths rhino create from travelling through the bush. Very fresh spoor came from paths onto the road, and then circled back into the grass. Deep, muddied territorial scrapings alongside some footprints told us that one or two large males were going about their business – spraying and scraping – most likely very early that morning, and they were probably still close by. We didn’t see them anywhere; had we been driving quickly looking for rhino we might have missed all these clues. We covered only 3km and took dozens of photos in about an hour, saw no animals at all, but it was a lesson in bush school; no matter what the conditions, there’s always something to see if you take the time to look. Or listen.
At the end of another day, our neighbour in camp came back looking dusty and exhausted. We asked if he had had any good sightings and he said, “I come for the birds, anything else is a bonus.” The next morning it was overcast and grey. Terrible light for photography and not very inspiring scenery either. So we picked a road we’d never been on before (easy in Kruger Park) that happened to be near a river, with no expectations of what we might see. The bird life was fantastic; you wouldn’t have gotten a single good bird photo that day (our neighbour was still in camp when we left), but to drive with windows open listening to the chorus of birds, seeing them crisscrossing in all directions, scooping insects in the road and with something perched on every dead tree was pure entertainment.
So Kruger lived up to our expectations during three short days when we saw the Big 5, and used our sixth sense to experience just about everything else we could have hoped for – including giraffe in a torrent of rain that made one of the best photos of the trip. Anyone can have a great bush trip if you keep your eyes, ears and imagination wide open to whatever crosses your path.