Kruger National Park in a Motorhome... a Fantastic Experience
My wife, Wilma, and I have been caravanning for almost 20 years, and privileged to have had the opportunity and resources to travel throughout South Africa and beyond its borders. Some of our caravanning highlights include visiting Etosha in Namibia (in a Gypsey Regal) and Chobe and Kubu Island in Botswana (in a Jurgens Xcape).
The nature of my work (as a video producer and photographer) has also enabled us to stay in luxury resorts and hotels all over the country as well as abroad, but I must say that, although those were great times and we very much enjoyed the experiences, nothing beats caravanning!
Now, I can hear non-caravaners saying, ‘You have got to be out of your bracket!’ but we find caravanning gives us the freedom to do what we like, when we like and where we like, without restrictions or dress codes; and this allows us to experience nature at its very best. It allows us to get back to basics. To enjoy the outdoors, taking in the fresh air (not to mention the smell of bacon in the early mornings!), and sitting around the campfire at night listening to the crackling of the fire and the distant sounds of crickets and other night creatures.
One of our favourite places to visit is the Kruger National Park. We make a point of visiting the park at least once a year; and, if the workload allows it, we try to slip in an extra week or two during the year. In the past two years we even took our grandchildren with us to Kruger, (not knowing what we were letting ourselves in for!) but they loved it and now nag continuously for us to take them again. What better gift can you give young kids than the bush, with all it has to offer?
Up to now, we have always used a conventional caravan, starting off with a Romany and then upgrading to a bigger Regal… but lately we have had the continual itch of wanting to swap our caravan for a motorhome. Would we like it? That was the BIG question. We love our caravan, but it does have some restrictions. For example, often in our travels we’ve come across a sign to a point of interest, but have been unable to go there because it was via a dirt road, and that does not go down too well with an on-road caravan, especially if it’s a corrugated road.
Does a motorhome have restrictions? At this point, we thought it would surely bring with it other concerns and problems. If we stayed in a park for a week, then how would we keep our site if we went out for the day? If we needed to buy milk up the road, then we’d have to take our entire ‘house’ with us! These were some concerns, but we just thought that the only way to find out would be to get one and take it away on holiday.
We therefore decided to try our luck and purchased ourselves a motorhome. We spent a day in Pretoria at Flynnstone Farm to load the new motorhome, and to get our heads around the way it works. One of our concerns was whether we’d be able to fit all the goods we needed (such as clothes, food… and the proverbial ‘kitchen sink’!) into the motorhome, which, at a quick glance, seemed to have very limited packing space. Were we pleasantly surprised! All our clobber fitted – and with space to spare.
The setup of our motorhome is really luxuriously and beautifully finished, with two dining areas, both of which convert to double beds. It is also fitted with a microwave, washbasin, shower- and toilet cubicle, a fridge and an air-conditioner (great for those hot summer days in Kruger).
After our first night of sleeping in the motorhome, we were hooked. Although it was mid-winter, we found it to be well-insulated; we stayed nice and warm even though it was freezing cold outside. We got up bright and early the next morning and headed for Kruger. On the freeway, the motorhome was an absolute pleasure. What we really enjoyed was that we didn’t have to rely on service stations for pit stops. We had it all on us! We could stop where we liked and when we liked to have lunch at the dinette, or to use the loo.
After a leisurely drive, we arrived in Skukuza at around 4pm. Usually, arriving at a campsite at this hour would send us into a scurry to get everything set up by nightfall. If we’d been in our caravan, we’d have had to unhitch the van from the vehicle and manoeuvre it into place, pushing and shoving until we were happy with its position, the angle and the slope. With a caravan, the first thing we’d do is plug it into power, after which we’d jack down the steadies, carefully using a spirit level while working all four corners until the van was level. It’s very important that the van is level in order for the fridge to work properly.
The next step would be laying the groundsheet, taking care to peg down the four corners and pulling it nice, tight and even. (In Kruger, during the dry season, the ground is hard, and hammering in the pegs can be hectic.) Putting up the awning would be the next step - threading it through the runner on the side of the van, sorting out the poles and guide ropes and then pegging it down nice and tight. After that, we’d need to fit the side flaps and peg them down. Once that was all set up, we’d get the Amacooker kitchen up and running, then open out our comfy chairs and finally relax! Phew, I get tired just thinking about it, now!
With the motorhome it seemed so much easier. I just drove it into place and plugged in the electricity; and right away the kettle could be boiled for a cup of coffee. At this point we could have put up the contractible awning attached to the door side (which takes less than two minutes to set up) just by using a rod to wind out the awning and then locking the stays in place. However, we opted not to use the awning, and instead set up a stand-alone gazebo to mark our spot while we went off game viewing.
In no time at all, we’d set up the collapsible gazebo, plugged into the electricity supply, put up our table and chairs, reached into the fridge for an ice-cold beer and, voilà, we were done. It wasn’t even 5 pm yet – the easiest set-up we’d ever had. The next morning, we were up bright and early for our first day of game viewing and this proved to be another big plus for us. We simply got out of bed, made some coffee, unplugged the power source and were on our way, knowing that we could stop for a decent breakfast next to a waterhole instead of under the caravan awning in the park. That is the beauty of having your kitchen and pantry with you all the time.
During game viewing, our only real concern was not to block other people at a viewing site because of the height of the motorhome; so, instead of trying to be in the front row at a sighting, I would park across the road - and, because we were sit¬ting nice and high, we could look over the tops of standard cars. It was a win / win situation for everyone. When caravanning, we‘d usually go out on a morning drive for a couple of hours, then head back to camp to relax, have a bite to eat, and possibly catch a nap before going off on a late-afternoon drive.
With the motorhome, we stayed out all day; after all, we had all we needed with us. When we got tired of riding around, we drove to a waterhole such as Sunset Dam near Lower Sabie, or Transport Dam or Leeupan, and parked for a couple of hours to see what wildlife pitched up for a drink. In the meantime, we would make our lunch, brew some coffee on the gas stove and, if it seemed like nothing was happening outside, even catch a cat-nap.
When we eventually made it back to camp (usually just before closing time at 6 pm!) it was just a matter of parking the motorhome right next to the gazebo, plugging in the electricity and relaxing. Wow - that was paradise on wheels! Apart from our motorhome, there were on average (at any given time) at least a dozen other motorhomes in camp, but most of those were also towing a small car behind them. They would park their motorhome and set everything up as normal for a cara¬van, and then do their game viewing by car. I didn’t see the point. That’s like owning an extremely expensive caravan. If you’re going to tow a car, then you might as well tow a caravan. The rig is much cheaper. We opted to make Skukuza our base camp for the duration of our stay; we find it a great central point for what I believe to be the best game-viewing part of Kruger. From Skukuza, one can make day trips down to Berg en Dal, Lower Sabie and Crocodile Bridge; or go north to Satara. There are plenty of options.
From a motorhome perspective, the campsites are really big, allowing easy access and close proximity to the ablutions, wash-up areas, power sources and water. The camp facilities are also great. The ablutions are kept nice and clean, there’s a swimming pool right next to the campsite - and, of course, for the days that you really feel like a treat, there’s the Selati Restaurant located on the site of the old Skukuza railway station. You can dine on the station platform with a steam engine and train as part of the decor. Then there are other restaurants, one with a deck overlooking the Sabi River. On a nice day, this is a great place to enjoy a meal, with the prospect of seeing game either along the banks of the river or wallowing in its waters.
We found game viewing in our motorhome an absolute pleasure. Apart from the fact that we had everything at our fingertips during our viewing time, we also sat high up and could see a lot further than we would have from a normal car. We spent most of our two weeks exploring the area between Skukuza and Croc Bridge, as that was where most of the action was happening - with lions, and lions, and more lions. Some days we would see up to 25 lions in a single day. In fact, we were seeing so many lions that we actually became excited when we caught sight of an impala.
Although the entire Kruger experience in our motorhome was wonderful, there were three specific highlights that made the trip special. Firstly, nothing can spoil the pleasure of spending the evening around the camp¬fire with very special friends, catching up on the day’s viewing and other interesting topics. Then there was the Lake Panic bird-hide incident. For those who aren’t familiar with the Lake Panic bird-hide, it’s a hide some 7 kilometres from Skukuza, and the birdlife there is amazing. Wilma and I set out to spend some time in this tranquil setting, armed with my Canon 7D and 70 – 200 mm lens.
I parked the motorhome to one side of the parking lot and, because Wilma was trying to finish her early morning coffee and still needed to attend to some personal chores, I left one camera behind and entered the hide. After I’d spent some time in the hide, a man walked in and asked, ‘Who is Lupi?’ When I answered, he told me that my wife wanted me to go back… and he mentioned something about a leopard. I immediately went to investigate, and discovered a very excited Wilma in the motorhome, with a story of a leopard that had just appeared from nowhere, right next to the entry gate to the bird hide, and walked across the car park before disappearing in the bushes behind the Motorhome. Fortunately, Wilma had grabbed the camera I had left behind and had made good use of every window in the Motorhome to take some great pics.
Very exciting, but also very dangerous. What would have happened if someone had walked through that gate, only to meet that leopard head on? Eish… I don’t even want to think about it. The third highlight came during our last day in Kruger. We had spent a good part of the day riding around without much luck, so we decided to stop for lunch. I pulled off the road some 10 kilometres from Skukuza on the Lower Sabie Road, in a loop overlooking the Sabie River. After lunch, Wilma and I were looking for something to drink in the fridge between our seats… and when we looked up there was a lioness no further than two metres from my open window! Fortunately, the motorhome window is high, so I didn’t stare her in the face - but in a normal car I would probably have had a heart attack. We went into scramble mode for our cameras, and once again made good use of all the windows in the motorhome to take photos, as four more lionesses appeared from the bushes.