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Cruising Kruger National Park, South Africa, Part Two: Learning the Lingo and Rules for a Self Drive

On our road trip through southern Africa we have had to learn a lot of new words and phrases that are particular to the region. One such word that we have heard a dozen times but still makes us laugh is “robot”… as in “turn left at the first robot” or “when you get to the third robot take a right”. It took some getting used to but in South Africa stop lights are referred to as robots. Ol was disappointed that we didn’t see actual robots directing traffic!

A “braii” is a barbecue and “biltong” is South African jerky. While it’s always fun to learn new terminology, we discovered that there are a lot of things you should know before you enter the African bush on a safari. So we have included some safari language and rules of the bush, should you want to follow in our footsteps.

Bush - Wilderness or nature.

Bushveld – General safari areas in South Africa; generally lined with shrubs, trees, and abundant game; also called the bush or the veld.

Banda - A rental cottage or bungalow. The standard varies from basic to comfortable including staff.

Big Five: “Lion, Buffalo, Rhino, Leopard, and Elephant, known as the big five from the old days, named by the hunters because they where most dangerous and hardest to kill. These dangerous species were once (and may still be) desired trophies for big game hunters, who coined the expression The Big Five.

Camping - Staying in a small tent, sleeping in a sleeping bag on a mattress. Hygiene facilities are communal, the standard varying between camping sites but often simple; pit toilet and cold water available. Packaged camping safaris often include a cook.

Camp – Used interchangeably with lodge.

Concession – Granted to a safari company as a game-region lease that grants exclusive access to the surrounding land.

Carnivore - A mammal that eats other animals. Lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyaenas and jackals are some of the carnivores found in southern Africa.

Driver guide - The safari vehicles on packaged tours are driven by a driver guide, i.e. a local driver who is also guiding the safari. Most guiding is in English, but some driver guides also speak other languages.

Game drive - Safari in open vehicles, either jeeps or mini-vans where the roof top can be opened so that you can watch the wildlife. Often takes place in the morning or in the afternoon. In some places it is possible to go on a night/evening game drive.

Game Cruise - Safari in open boats.

Game Walk / Walking Safari / Bush Walk- A safari on foot in the company with a local nature guide, usually in the middle of the day where the animals are less active.

Hakuna matata - An expression in Swahili, meaning “do not worry”, “no problem, we will handle it”.

Hides – Slightly camouflaged shelters that serve as a site for game viewing.

Kopje - Pronounced “copy”. Also know as inselberg. A hill consisting of primary rock (gneiss and granite) rising out of the plain or savanna. Kopjes often attract vegetation and wildlife, and are good spots to look for the big cats.

Kraal – traditional residence in Southern Africa

Land Rover or Landcruiser- 4WD safari vehicle, carrying up to four or six safari-goers (depending on model). Has permanent four-wheel drive, differential lock and high and low gears. Most have diesel engines.

Lodge - A hotel in the bush. You stay in a room or a bungalow, which usually has a private bathroom with WC and shower or bathtub. Lodges have restaurants, and often bars, souvenir shops, and observation points, sometimes also swimming pools.

Malaria - A (blood parasite) disease spread by mosquitoes. Deadly if not treated.

Mokoro – A dugout canoe; pluralized as mekoro.

Musth or must - is a periodic condition in bull (male) elephants, characterized by highly aggressive behavior and accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones. It is easily to tell from the sweat dripping around ears and marking with urine.

Night safari - Game viewing from a safari vehicle at night. A hand-held searchlight is usually used for spotting the animals.

Observation point - A place for stationary game viewing, often found in lodges and camps. Some parks have good observation points, but getting out of your vehicle is at your own risk as the areas are open and not fenced.

Park - An area where wildlife and nature is protected, for example a national park or game reserve.

Park gate - The entrance into a park, where you pay an entrance fee (which is included in most packaged tours). The gate is guarded by park rangers, and there are often toilets, a shop and information about the park.

Perissodactyl: any hoofed animal of the odd-toed ungulates (horses, rhinoceroses, tapirs).

Poaching: the illegal killing or taking of an animal for food or profit.

Predator: an animal that hunts and kills other animals for food.

Prehensile: Specially adapted to curl around and grab objects.

Prey: An animal that is hunted by a predator.

Primate - The mammal order of apes, monkeys and pro-simians (for example galagos and lemurs). The primates most seen on safaris in southern Africa are baboons and vervet monkeys.

Ranger - A guard or watchman protecting a park. Rangers guard park entrances, patrol the bush in anti-poaching units, assist safari-goers in distress etc. Many rangers are armed. A safari guide with extensive experience and knowledge of the bush and the animals inhabiting it.

Rest Camp – A camp in a national park.

Rondavel – A traditional thatch-roof hut.

Rain forest: A forest where precipitation is very high.

Receptive: In this case it refers to a female that is willing to accept a mate.

Ruminant: A mammal that chews a cud such as cattle, deer, sheep, goats, antelope.

Rut - Derived from the Latin rugire (meaning "to roar"), is the mating season of mammals which includes ruminant animals such as deer, sheep, camels, goats, antelope.

Safari - The word “safari” derives from the Swahili word for “journey” or to Travel. In the tourist industry, it means a tour to or in the African bush, focusing on seeing wild animals.

Safari Lodge - Lodge is a hotel in the reserves. Usually build from natural materials and falls nicely into the landscape. Each room has their own bath and toilet and often a porch. The lodges have usually beautiful gardens and pools. A lodge is the preferred accommodation with luxuries buffet and relaxations.

Safari tent - A tent for two persons, big enough for normal beds (and usually additional furniture). Safari tents in permanent tented camps have a private bathroom with toilet and shower.

Savanna - The savanna ecosystem has two main components: grasses and trees. It ranges from grasslands scattered with the odd tree, to woodlands with open canopy, allowing sunlight to reach the ground to support grass. The northern and eastern savannas of East Africa are drier (250-1,000 mm/10-40 in of rain per year), the southern and western savannas moister (1,000-1,500 mm/40-60 in of rain per year).

Self-drive safari - A budget safari where you drive the vehicle and guide yourself in a rented vehicle, instead of traveling as a passenger in a vehicle driven by a driver guide.

Scavenger: Any animal that lives off the dead remains of plants and animals, such as hyenas.

Species of Concern: A species that scientists feel might be threatened or that could become threatened but for which there is little data or research available.

Stereo-vision: this refers to the ability to see in three dimensions (Cats, dogs, and primates, including humans, all have this ability. It helps these animals to judge distance. This is especially important for hunting animals.)

Succession: A process of gradual change in which one wildlife community replaces another.

Suckling: The feeding behavior of very young mammals as they get milk from their mother’s teats.

Symbiosis: (Symbiotic) a close association between two species that benefits both species.

Tented camp - Similar to a lodge, but you stay in a furnished tent, mostly sized for two people. There is usually a private bathroom with WC and shower at the back, accessible from inside the tent. Meals are served in a restaurant or mess tent. Larger camps may have souvenir shops, bars, other permanent buildings, and swimming pools, and are often referred to as tented lodges.

Territory: an area that an animal claims and defends as its own (Territories usually contain the food, water and shelter the animal needs. In the case of a female, it must also provide for her offspring.)

Threatened: A species that may become endangered if immediate action is not taken to save it

Trophic level: a feeding level in a food chain.

Ungulate, hoofed animal - A mammal with hoofed feet. Most East African mammals eating grass and leaves, for example zebras, giraffes and elephants, are ungulates.

Vlei – wetland or marsh

Vulnerable: A species that may become threatened if action is not taken to help it.

Weaned: Refers to an animal that no longer needs its mother’s milk and can eat the normal food for its specie.

The rules at most of all the National Parks and reserves we visited were the same. They were developed over the years to keep the animals and visitors safe. Once you pay your admission fee you are agreeing to follow the laws of the park.

Visiting one of these parks will be one of the most unforgettable experiences of your life. You want to make sure you don’t break the rules as you will face strict penalties, from hefty fines to being banned from life.

There is a strict speed limit in the park. 50 km/h on the tar roads and 40 km/h on the gravel roads. This is not an urban area or a city, when speeding you have less control over your car and you might not only hit an animal but you will also be disturbing the wildlife. Ol and I liked a cruising speed of around 25 km/h. It was hard to not go over the speed limit as the sun was setting and we weren't sure how far we were from camp. We didn't want to be late!

Stick to the gate times. If you are on a day tour on your own, be sure to head to the gates on time. And the same goes for staying overnight.

Any sign that shows that a road is off limits means that a vehicle should not use the road. Don’t take a chance, stay off these roads.

Feeding animals is prohibited. We are actually endangering the animals as they can become violent with other guests when they have been fed.

For overnight guests, be sure to get to camp on time and let reception know you have arrived before you go to your accommodation or campsite.

The park has a noise restriction from 21:30 to 06:00. Cell phone use is limited to the camps, gates and can be used in emergency situations. Other than that, ignore the phone and take in the experience!

Skateboards, roller skates, motorbikes and bicycles are all prohibited. Do not bring any animals or pets, they are prohibited. All vehicles are searched upon leaving and entering the park.

As the Kruger is in a malaria area, visitors should see a doctor and get the appropriate medication before entering the park.

  1. To find out more or less where animals have been seen, visit the closest rest camp and have a look at the animal spotting board.

For Ol and I all we were pretty familiar with all of the lingo except the South African terms. Everyday we struggled with the rule about making it back to camp on time, to the point of being paranoid. We were never late, but a few times we only had a minute or two to spare. I didn't want to be kicked out as all of our reservations were paid for!

We were bullied and chased by more than a few bull elephants in Kruger. This was a little unnerving as all of the elephants at other Parks seemed so friendly. We just weren't visiting when they were in musth! After seeing images of cars overturned and crushed, we both got good at driving fast in reverse, when charged at.

We loved watching the antelope defend their harems during the rutting season. We almost felt sorry for some of these guys. They had no time to eat or sleep.

Ol technically broke the rules and fed the animals when he left the back of our car open. Within minutes a gang of vervet monkeys took no time in cleaning out our car. One monkey threw our bags of apples and oranges out of the back to his friends, who quickly climbed the trees with their loot. They were in and out in just a few minutes. However we were finding little monkey prints in the car for days!

Over four weeks Ol and I spent several nights in Kruger's Crocodile Bridge, Berg-en-Dal, Lower Sabie, Skukuza, Talamati Bushveld Camp, Tambati Tented Camp, Satara, Olifants, Shimuwini, Mopani,Shigwedzi, and Punta Maria Camps. We never stayed outside of the park.

We originally booked three and half weeks, but stayed longer. We started in the south and headed north. We visited the entire park. We came close to driving every road. With the colors changing we decided to head south back through the park and added additional nights to our itinerary. In reality we just didn’t want to leave!

We never camped. For Ol, camping in the bush was just not an option, even though the area would be fenced and the campsites luxurious. After seeing several snakes I am glad we stayed in the Park's lodges!

We stayed in a variety of Park accommodations from luxurious waterfront bungalows, to charming cottages, thatched rondavels and luxurious safari tents.

Our accommodations were all less expensive than mid priced hotels back at home. The food at the restaurants were delicious and despite resort prices, they were less expensive than restaurants back home. Exchange rates helped, the US dollar was strong when we visited.

For an amazing adventure, for what it would cost to visit Disney World, head to Kruger National Park. Just fly in, rent a car, grab a guide book and prepare to be amazed. We did it all in a 2 WD vehicle! To visit areas requiring 4 WD we took game drives with professional rangers or a guided bush walk.

Ol and I never had any problems with any of the rules and lingo of Safari. However, after spending months in the bush we never got used to the robots when back in town.

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