The Southern Cross and her companions are still twinkling around a sliver of a moon as we load up the car for our final trip into the park. We’ve spent two days in the Kruger already and seen game aplenty, but on this last day we’ve decided to race daylight and arrive in time to watch the bush wake up with the sun.

After everything is loaded into the car, HH loads the Bear into my arms, still in pajamas and wrapped in a heavy blanket. He lays a sleepy head against my chest and stares out the window, up at the stars he asked about counting the night before. He comments on a star he sees and we decide to name it the Goeie Môre star, the Afrikaans for Good Morning, {pronounced HWEE-yuh MOR-uh}.

Mr. Potato Head grumbles along the two dozen kilometers to the entrance of the park, and the sky closest to the horizon starts to change from dark into a lighter shade of blue. There’s just enough backlight to watch the silhouettes of the trees along the road, leafless on this cool winter morning, their wiry branches arching in every direction like spiny, weathered hands. We pass a bus that will take people from the outerlying settlements into town for a good day’s work.

The sky that’s touching the land begins a beautiful transition, deep red, then yellow, then orange layers slowly stretch toward the stars above, and I wonder how you pinpoint that beautiful moment when night is actually day again. A few dozen silhouettes surprise me, standing along the roadside, and I realise they must be waiting for the bus we passed a wee way back.

With our entry ticket on the dashboard, the diesel engine hums us through the gates and we peel our eyes, ready to see the animals of Kruger National Park waking up. The baby has fallen asleep in his car seat, the sleepy Bear is now ready for the action to begin.

We drive for a while, trees and tall grass out the window, areas where fire has burned the veld, then dense bush where you wonder if you’ll see anything at all. Suddenly we spot three giraffes enjoying their breakfast, their graceful necks stretching toward the high branches of thinly covered trees. One is eager to cross the road, so we back up when we realise we’re blocking the path he would like to take.


He has a bad knee and is limping a little as he goes. We watch with a little sadness, knowing he’ll be easy prey if a predator takes note of his disability.

After we have a handful of snapshots in our minds and the camera, we move on to look for more. We ride mostly in silence until someone spots an elephant — no, two — no three! And then we’re enjoying a beautiful moment with these ships of the bush.


With the engine turned off we listen as they crack branches with their dextrous trunks — they munch and browse and are always eating. Pictures just can’t capture their magnitude — those graceful tusks protruding on either side of a trunk with deep grey skin. They look weather beaten, even the youngest among them.

The morning slowly drives on and by half past eight we’ve spotted lots of buck, smiled up at more ellies and giraffes, discussed which birds are perching on nearby branches, seen rhinos at a distance and more up close in thick bush. We pause at a rest camp called Skukuza for a leg stretch and a bathroom break, and a glance at the sightings board in hopes of gaining a tip about where the lions that have been eluding us might be seen.

Vervet monkeys bring a bright smile to the Bear’s face, a large troop of baboons causes me to hurriedly roll up my window. A hornbill flies past the window and makes me think of Zazu in the Lion King.

We’ve decided to head home for brunch today, and we choose a route that will keep us inside the park an hour longer before our exit. On that last road on our way out, the Hubs suddenly sees a tail on the side of the road. The striped rings of it make him think of the lemurs we love to talk about, which are only indigenous to Madagascar. Perhaps it’s a wild dog…

No, it’s a leopard.

The least spotted of the Big Five…an animal that one should feel privileged to see in the wild…there he is alongside the road. This strong and majestic cat has a mission in mind, and he decides to cross the road right in front of our car.

The Hubs captures shot after shot after shot, we grownups are silent and watch in awe. Wow. After two minutes of practically holding our breath, as quickly as he appeared, he is gone again. Through straw-coloured grass about as high as the tail he carries in the air, he disappears.

As we start along the road again we excitedly chatter about what a magnificent leopard sighting we’d just enjoyed. They are such silent and majestic creatures…stealthy and strong and beautiful. We grow silent again, mindful of the little one sleeping in my arms, until HH pipes up again:

What is that?

Another leopard is travelling along the road, headed in our direction, and once in a lifetime is now twice. Mom and I are craning our necks from the backseat to see, and there he is, momentarily shaded by a small tree on the roadside. In the heat of the day, on the move.


Another two or three minutes of wide eyes and fast photo fingers, and the big cat is off into the bush again.

By the time we leave the park for brunch, grins are stretching across our faces from ear to ear. This isn’t a zoo — you don’t get directions on where to go to find what you want to see. We feel privileged to have seen so much, and look forward to a second trip into the park after brunch…