The final leg of my seven-week loop around southern Africa was a quick trip to Kruger National Park. We left Johannesburg early in the morning and arrived at the park in time for a sunset game drive. The sightings that evening weren’t too exciting, but I was relieved that we had an enjoyable group, including a friendly Canadian, a few easy-going Australians, and the person I liked most from my previous group – Leandro, from Argentina.
The largest contingent in our group was a Danish family – a father, three daughters, a son, and the son’s girlfriend. The mom had recently lost a battle with cancer and the family decided to take this trip as a tribute to her and a way to bond in her absence.
We spent our first full day driving around in safari jeeps looking for animals. Not far inside the park gate that morning we found a hyena mom nursing a baby right beside the road. I’d never seen a hyena baby before and for me it turned out to be the wildlife highlight of our time in Kruger.
After dinner Jen and Leandro convinced me to join them at the bar. Jen, 30, had been in the Canadian Navy for years before enrolling in law school, and she’d just spent her summer volunteering at a legal aid nonprofit in Cape Town. She shared some of the inappropriate comments our guide and driver made to her, a good reminder that women traveling alone face an extra level of difficulty.
The next morning we passed through the park briefly but unfortunately spent most of the day driving to scenic viewpoints that were beautiful but underwhelming relative to what I can see in the western United States. I would much rather have spent our time looking for animals.
On our last morning a couple of local guides took us into the bush for a two-hour walk. We came reasonably close to a group of elephants, and later we saw some hippos in a pond near our campsite.
And just like that it was already time to make the long drive back to Johannesburg, where two days later I caught my flight back to California.
I was disappointed that I didn’t find any leopards or cheetahs, but overall my wildlife luck was pretty solid. Seeing African wild dogs for the first time was a thrill, and I was happy to have spotted a honey badger, even from a distance. Our close encounter with a lion pride at dawn in Etosha was pretty special, as was getting right next to rhinos on foot in Matobo.
Unsurprisingly, my plane hadn’t even left Africa before I started planning a trip back.