Heading away from the coast toward the northeast corner of South Africa, we started on our two longest travel days of the trip.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park
We stopped for the night at at Golden Gate Highlands National Park, on the border with Lesotho. While the park doesn't have big game, it does have amazing scenery. These photos were snapped out the bus window as we were driving through the Free State.
Kruger National Park
Picture Credit: Tom Allender
Arriving at Kruger National Park in the afternoon, our first experience was a nighttime drive. It took a bit of getting used to the enormous vehicles after bopping around Shamwari in small groups. We did manage to see animals though - shiny eyes of crocodiles, hippos, and several lions. I was still working with my no-zoom point and shoot, but for this part of the trip, I was taking photos with slide film. Only one picture of an antelope turned out halfway decent, so I'll spare you the blurry, far-off shots of lions and giraffes and borrow some lovely photos, which are similar to things I saw, from flickr instead.
The following day, we took a longer drive around the park, spotting all of the big five. The cape buffalo, leopard, and especially lions were special treats, having not seen them before. We saw plenty of lions, including a couple of maned, randy youngsters who attempted to mate as we stopped to watch. (With your church youth group, funny, but kinda awkward.)
At one of the rest stops, I picked up a copy of 'Jock of the Bushveld', a South African classic in the vein of 'Black Beauty' or 'The Call of the Wild', which made an interesting read while lounging by the pool at our camp. In total, we spent two nights at Kruger, at the Crocodile Bridge and Berg-en-Dal rest camps. Looking at a map, it's amazing how little area we covered while at Kruger, and yet, how much we saw.
Blyde River Canyon
We also spent a day doing the Panorama Route at Blyde River Canyon, which frankly, I'm surprised is not more famous internationally. It's one of the largest canyons on earth, is easily accessible, and is close to a major destination (Kruger). We hit up several waterfalls, Bourke's Luck Potholes, and the Three Rondavels.
Me in my amazing overalls at Bourke's Luck Potholes. Ah, the late '90's.
We also stopped at this place called God's Window and - this is one of my biggest travel regrets - were given the option to go on a short hike to a scenic look-out. Only a few people ended up going and I was not one of them. Maybe if anyone had bothered to tell me it looked like this...
... I would have gone in a heartbeat. I only found out years later when I saw the stunning pictures of the small group who did the hike perched high above the canyon. The weather was sunny and clear, just like the picture above, as well. Lesson learned - take every opportunity when traveling.