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Big 5 & special encounters on an All-Day Kruger safari drive

May in the Kruger Park brings the transition from autumn to winter with chilly mornings and comfortable conditions during the day.

Since they no longer need to avoid the wilting summer midday heat, guests are more inclined to book the Kruger Gate All-Day safari game drives. This is a 10-hour epic adventure with breakfast and lunch stops that enables you to cover extensive ground and increases your opportunities for thrilling sightings. Though it doesn’t often happen in just one day, you’ve got your best chance of seeing all the Kruger National Park’s Big 5 on a full day safari.

Gibson, a Kruger Gate Hotel ranger, tells this story of taking 4 international guests out on an All-Day safari this month: “Now that sunrise is a little later, I met up with our guests at 5:30am for a complementary early morning coffee at reception. We were through the Paul Kruger Gate by 6 ’O clock as the sky was streaked with pink and orange. We soon encountered two large bull Elephants right at the roadside where they were tugging leaves and branches off a fallen tree with their trunks. While we can’t say for sure why the tree had fallen, it is possible, even likely that these two giants had collaborated to fell the tree and share the rewards. Watching them peacefully eat a good breakfast together for more than 15 minutes was a wonderful start to our day. We turned onto the Napi Road where we found a group of Spotted Hyenas relaxing in the morning sun on the road, and just further along came across a mother with three adorable cubs. The guests really enjoyed watching the cubs playing around, and I was glad to see that even though they were very focused on seeing the Big 5, they still wanted to take time to watch and learn more about the other animals that live in the Kruger. We followed the route towards Malelane when one of the guests suddenly spotted Lions lying flat in the grass. I reversed the vehicle so we could get a better view of the dozing pride of Lions. It was amazing that we were the only safari vehicle there and had them all to ourselves. After a while, they stirred lazily and got up, and we watched until the Lions had disappeared into thicker bush. It wasn’t even breakfast time for us yet, and we had already notched up two of the Big 5. My guests had high hopes of seeing the endangered Black Rhino but that was a promise that I couldn’t make. While rangers know the habitats they prefer well, it is still very hard to find Rhinos. After a stop at the Afsaal picnic site to enjoy our healthy breakfast packed by the Kudyela Restaurant we set off again on the look out for Rhino. However, our next Big 5 encounter was with a large herd of Buffalo on the move from north to south. With some at the river and others crossing the road in front of us, it was a fantastic spectacle of Africa’s megafauna. We hadn’t given up on the Rhino though and after much driving through thornveld areas, we finally saw a Black Rhino mother with her lovely calf. Of course, after that the goal now shifted to seeing the Leopard, and the chances of that are reasonable in Sabie River confluence area around Skukuza Camp where the leopards are quite unbothered by the presence of safari vehicles. Still, you can’t order up a Leopard sighting on demand in the wild, and it was just pure luck that there was a Leopard, beautifully posed in a big tree about 50 metres off the roadside. By lunchtime, we had ticked off the Big 5 – that’s very rare! During our lunch stop one of the clients confessed to me that while she loved that she had seen the Big 5, her biggest wish was to see a Hippo in the wild. After lunch, I took them to Lake Panic, which is close to the camp. I gave them directions along the safe path to the bird-watching hide and watched them set off to find her a Hippo. When they returned to the vehicle a while later, this client was beaming, and she gave me a big hug! It was lovely that she was actually happiest to get a sighting of an animal which, although enormous and fascinating, isn’t thought of as a Big 5 special. On our way back to the hotel in the afternoon, we passed by the two Elephant bulls we saw in the morning, and there they were exactly where we left them, still munching on the fallen tree! It takes a lot to fill those big stomachs and Elephants can spend up to 18 hours of the day eating. In the meantime, we had travelled far and seen a lot.”