Here’s a true story of an enjoyable night drive we experienced in the Kruger National Park a few years ago. We were staying at Lower Sabie at the time.
It was the night of the tragic fire in the Napi Block. We didn’t learn of the tragedy until the next afternoon when we got back to Lower Sabie, but that is another story.
Our night drive started at around 17h00 and was due to last a few hours. The driver who took us out was English speaking and very keen. I can’t recall his name, so let’s call him Mike.
This was before the new entrance gate to Lower Sabie was commissioned and the old one was still being used. The old approach to Lower Sabie was a 90 degree turn and then a short drive to the camp gate.
Our night drive was eventful from the first 100 meters after leaving camp.
We spotted a boomslang making great haste as it crossed the road and fled up a tree. It was bright green and really fast. We’d not seen one before in Kruger, so that was nice.
Mike suggested to that we should stay on the main tar road. He thought that we should drive south towards Crocodile Bridge for a while and then turn around and go back north, past Lower Sabie towards Skukuza for a while, and so on. He said we’d keep doing that and see what Kruger revealed to us.
As soon as it got dark we could see the glow of the fire in the west. We were allowed to use the spotlights, as long as we kept the light on the ground in front of the animals, so as not to blind them.
We found a mating pair of lions really close to the road and easy for everyone to see. They were resting when we found them and were lying close together.
Then we found a hyena carrying the head and full spine of a young kudu down the road. The kudu had been freshly killed and eaten and it was a surprise to see the whole of the head and spine still together.
A bit later we found a herd of elephant right next to the road, but as soon as Mike slowed down to get a better look they chased us away with loud trumpeting and flapping of those huge ears. Mike said we shouldn’t stay as at night it is hard to keep tabs on exactly where the elephants are it would have been too dangerous to stop there. We all agreed!
When we got back to the Lower Sabie turn-off to go north towards Skukuza, someone spotted a leopard walking on the approach road to the camp. We turned down road, going towards the camp gate and then spotted the leopard in the bush on the right, lying down but alert.
Mike decided to drive just a tiny bit off the road to get us a better view with the headlights of the vehicle. He told us we had found Lower Sabie’s camp leopard and that it was frequently seen by visitors.
We watched the leopard for a while and then, when Mike reversed back onto the road, we heard a banging noise, accompanied by jolts from the underside of the vehicle. Mike had accidentally managed to jamb a sizable rock between the back tyres on the right hand side.
When we got back to the T-junction of the main road the rock still hadn’t budged, so Mike decided to dislodge it manually. He told us to keep the spotlights trained on the leopard at all times while he got under the vehicle to dislodge the rock.
Well, you know people – they just don’t listen, do they? Fairly soon the lights were wandering around the bush to see what else could be found.
Mike reminded the spotters to keep the lights trained on the leopard at all times and for us to tell him immediately if the leopard moved. He managed to break the rock in two, but one piece was still stuck firmly between the tyres.
I suggested to Mike that we drive to the camp, which was only 100 meters or so away, dislodge the rock and then drive out again. Mike declined and continued to struggle with the rock.
Then, something unexpected occurred. A hyena was spotted approaching from behind the vehicle and started making a bee-line for Mike, who was still concentrating on his rock.
My son, Jason, spotted the hyena and shouted a warning. Needless to say, the leopard was forgotten and all the lights were now trying to find the hyena. Mike shouted that the lights should be kept on the leopard and not to worry about the hyena.
All the commotion had no effect on the hyena (or the leopard) and the hyena was quickly moving in on Mike. Jason shouted that the hyena was going under the vehicle. Then something really unexpected happened.
Mike shouted “Voertsek!” and the hyena came running out from under the vehicle and fled the scene at a gallop.
We all laughed, but out of relief more than anything else. I know that shouting “Voertsek!” works with most dogs, but I didn’t think it would work with a hyena.
Mike then gave up on his rock and jumped back into the vehicle and we were on our way again, with the regular bumping of the rock on the road as the wheel turned. Then, there was an almighty bang from under the vehicle as the rock freed itself and flew off into the bush.
We saw some more game and eventually had to go back to camp as our time was up. It was a night drive with a difference, that’s for sure.
That’s all, folks! I have some other stories to share later.