My SO and I were on honeymoon in the KNP in August 1988 when this heart stopping adventure occurred.
We had slept at Shingwedzi and, for once, were early and ready and waiting at the camp’s back gate, intending to drift down the river road to the Kanniedood dam. We had only a diesel bakkie with two guys in front of us.
The gate opened on time and we started our adventure. Everyone was very well behaved and the expected grand prix didn’t develop.
We always take all of the river loops and the bakkie guys were doing the same, so we stayed behind them and gave them some space.
On one of the loops the road runs down steeply, close to the river and turns back on itself, with the end the loop being a short uphill return to the entry/exit road.
The bakkie guys were stopped at the end of the loop at its lowest point. The veld in the centre of the loop was fairly thick with grass, bush and trees. We approached quietly and cautiously, so as not to spoil their sighting, whatever it was.
When they moved on around the end of the loop and started the uphill return, all hell broke loose!
A large bull elephant had been snoozing on the road and the growl of the diesel engine tackling the small hill woke him up. He wasn’t very happy about it and was trumpeting his displeasure!
Reverse lights – the bakkie was coming our way! Through the bush we could see the elephant’s feet making haste down the hill towards the bakkie. We had to reverse quickly to give them some room.
Fortunately, Grumpy stopped and moved off the road, down into the veld at the end of the loop. We drove back to the river road, staying behind the bakkie.
We continued slowly, all of us on high alert for Old Grumpy. We knew he was in the bush on the left somewhere . . . . he had to be.
Unbeknown to us, Grumpy had already crossed the road and had taken up a commanding position, about 25 meters away from the right side of the road, which was bending to the right gradually. From his new position in the bush he was equidistant for the whole radius of the corner.
Suddenly, we heard trumpeting from the right and saw the bakkie guys jerk with the fright they got. We got just as big a fright and my specs almost fell off my nose. Now I understood the expression “I nearly died with fright!” Trumpeting is a scary sound when you can't see the elephant.
The bakkie guys decided to carry on and speed through the corner and outrun Grumpy, who was closing on them gradually. We stopped as Grumpy would have outflanked us.
He soon lost interest in the bakkie and returned to his command post. He could always have some fun with us.
We watched him for a while as he started his breakfast. I was beginning to think that this wasn’t the first time he had played this game.
As soon as we moved forward, Grumpy stopped pretending to eat and headed our way. I was committed and had to carry on around the bend or he would have got too close for comfort. Stopping wasn’t an option. I had a company car and how was I going to explain it getting bashed up by an elephant!
He chased us until we reached the end of the turn and outpaced him. He stopped. He had lots of other cars to play with, so why waste energy on us.
It was a great start to the day and an exciting prelude to the leopard we found at the dam, but that’s another story.
Even now, all those years later, I still get butterflies thinking about it. It was very exciting, but scary too.