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A Suitcase Full Of Memories (Part 2) - A walking safari in South Africa

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A walking safari in South Africa

Sue Jolly gets closers than she’d ever imagined to the big five in the Kruger National Park

Trekking happily but cautiously through the shimmering grasslands of the African bush, suddenly my armed guard whispers there’s a rhino ahead. ‘Hide behind a tree if he makes a rush at us.’ I look at the rhino. It resembles a small, grey mountain. And it’s a small, grey mountain that’s beginning to move – our way. I look at the tree. Mighty oak it isn’t. More like an overgrown bush. I think I may be whimpering – but I’m not sure as I can’t hear over the noise my feet are making as I pound safely away.

Description: Kruger National Park is the largest game reserve in South Africa

Kruger National Park is the largest game reserve in South Africa

Here I am in the Kruger National Park, the second largest reserve in Africa, on a ‘walking with rhinos’ safari. A few days in, I’ve already had idyllic moments watching animals from a safe distance. But now I’m out here in the wilderness on foot and it’s an incredible experience – the highlight of a short break that packs in the most amazing sights, sounds and even, ahem, smells.

I’m in one of the very best parts of the Kruger; a private concession, Isibindi, managed by husband and wife Gervit and Nikki Meyer, who combine luxury accommodation with a desire to conserve the natural environment. They offer three different types of accommodation within the park: I spend one night at the base camp 16-bed Rhino Post-Safari Lodge – and it’s from here that I’m walking when I bump into the rhino ‘mountain’. The lodge is safari luxury, with electricity, hair dryers and even outdoor showers – bliss. I also stay one night at their Plains Camp, which has four huge, luxurious tents and is done out all 19th century naturalist ‘colonial-style’, full of the antique furniture.

Description: the base camp 16-bed Rhino Post-Safari Lodge

the base camp 16-bed Rhino Post-Safari Lodge

But it’s their third location I’m keenest to try. The Sleep-Out camp offers a real outdoor experience – a night under the stars in the middle of nowhere. Just four tents and an eating platform on stilts above the honey – colored bush, where I eat a delicious barbecued meal cooked by my guides Colin and Daniel, then clamber up to my ‘tent’ (actually just netting to keep the insects out) and fall asleep looking at the stars. Out here they really do twinkle, just like the rhyme says.

But I quickly realise that in all my excitement about coming here, I forgot to prepare for the South African winter. While I’m there (August – their equivalent of January), most days are T-shirt warm. But when it gets dark, it’s as if the freezer door has been opened. I find myself wearing gloves, warm trousers, a T-shirt, blouse, fleece, jacket, fleece poncho, windproof poncho and cuddling a hot water bottle for our early-morning safari drives in an open-topped vehicle. I can hardly move.

The discomfort barely registers, though. During my three days in the park, I see lions, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, buffaloes, more antelope than I can count, a mongoose, monkeys, an eagle owl, baboons, hyenas, hippos and leopards (one is stalking warthogs and I’m secretly relieved when it doesn’t make a kill).

Description:  Lions in Kruger National Park

 Lions in Kruger National Park

And anyway, I’m warm as toast each night – even at the Sleep-Out camp, where I shuffle down into a thick sleeping bag. Cleverly, the camp has been built on stilts so the animals can wander about underneath. Colin and Daniel take turns in keeping watch – I can’t believe it when they tell me elephants passed by in the night.

 Rhinos in Kruger National Park

All in all, the trip has been exhilarating, fascinating and everything I could have wished for. Out of Africa? I’d be in again like a shot.

Description: Sue and co explore the wilderness on foot

Sue and co explore the wilderness on foot

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