On the trail of the Big Five

Horror movies are massively popular in South Africa (what better way to get your mind off the everyday atrocities of murder and rape than by watching a film filled with murder and rape?), so it’s not surprising they named their biggest and best national park after world famous scary movie icon Freddy Krueger. Nah, just joking, it was named after the surprisingly-still-a-bit-hot Sonia Kruger. John Kruger Melloncamp? Whatever, the fact is I spent today there.

Most people who head out on safari in Africa want to see the Big Five – the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, black rhino and African lion. I managed to see the first three when I went to Addo, but to be a real man I had to find the latter ones. Kruger National Park is pthe most famous animal sanctuary in the world, so it was the pefect place to complete my collection and achieve safari immortality.

The park is both beautiful and massive, running more than 300km north to south. As I crossed a bridge on my way in, I gazed down at a tranquil river full of bulbous hippos (they’re not one of the Big Five, so they can go kiss fish as far as I’m concerned). The roads through the park are easy to traverse, and I soon found myself cruising through wide open plains and past staggering rocky outcrops. I saw monkeys, warthogs and thousands of birds, and barely dodged a stampede of elephants.

I turned a corner and in front of me was a hideous black monster (no, not Oprah Winfrey) – mark the black rhino off my checklist! The tank-like animal was chilling out just metres from my car, and I couldn’t help feeling that if he’d wanted to flip me and the Hyundai, it wouldn’t have been much work for him. Seeing such a fascinating creature up close and with no one else around was unreal.

The sun sunk lower as I weaved my way through zebras and buffalo, but I couldn’t find a leopard anywhere. I got so caught up in my search that I was soon racing against the clock just to get out of the park before they closed the gates. I had to abandon my intentions to drive through the park to Hazyview, on the far western edge, and speed through the southern gate instead, which is a 120km drive from where I was meant to be. Still, I’d rather have a long drive on crappy Saffa back roads than spend the night cuddling a bloody elephant.

My evening saw me cosying up with a different kind of wildlife – the locals at the pub near my hostel. Saffas are a lot like Aussies in many ways, with a similar sense if humour and love for adventure and beer, but the constant racism is hard to handle. In a lot of ways I can’t blame them, because their lives have been made worse since the end of apartheid, thousands of whites have been killed by blacks, and they’re forced to live behind electrified fences for their own safety. They’re innocent people who had no part in apartheid, but are now seemingly being punished for it. On the other hand the all-consuming hatred between the races means that South Africa as a whole cannot possibly be sustainable.

Amongst banter about sport and movies, the locals gleefully told me stories of bashing or killing blacks. Revenge, hate and murder are everyday topics of conversation here, and I felt a little dirty by the time I went to bed. I was also surprised by how easily I fell into conversation with people who would be, by Australian standards, racist extremists. South Africa is beautiful, but also deeply troubled, and I’ve found most of the people here to be damaged in one way or another. Oh well, I can’t solve the world’s problems, I’ve gotta go find me a leopard!

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