Our Ranger diaries are stories, insights and accounts of our own experiences in the Kruger National Park.
What a privilege it is to call the Kruger National Park our office. With some 2 million visitors per year its a place that has captured the imagination of every wildlife enthusiast the world over. For the past 100 years it has left its legacy on many a family and who continue to hand down their favourite stories and encounters as well as tips and insights. We are one of those families. Our great great Grand Father was a trailblazer from Barberton who spent many a night and day out in the early portions of the Park with Harry Wolhuter and Percy Fitzpatrick, two icons of the region. His legacy was passed down to us by our Grand Mother and those stories told over many nights and lots Sherry. Needless to say our connection to Kruger is not a commercial one but rather a deep root of our family tree. Stories, experiences and tales of Kruger have been created and retold since the 1899 in our family and have had a deeply profound effect on the Andrew who changed his whole world to pursue his passion of continuing the story telling and and also sharing this with guests from around the world.
121 years later we have Safaria, guided by Andrew Wagner a FGASA qualified guided and Kruger aficionado who has carefully captured the essence of is families legacy in Kruger and translated this into a combination of Day and Overnight Safari that are personalised to each and every one of his guests. Having guided over a 1000 days in the Kruger he recollects his very first memory to Kruger - Circa 1985.
"It's hard to remember every part of my first journey in the Kruger National Park, but i recall it began with a fairly long journey in our family VW Kombi, the yellow and white two-tone model that was synonymous as the family Game Reserve vehicle. We set of from Johannesburg for Numbi Gate Kruger National Park and whilst my first trip doesn't accurately reflect the camps and the routes it captures the essence of Kruger. This is the fine dust that gets under your skin which you can just never wash out.
Nothing to me says Kruger than the smell of painted gum-poles and thatched roofs that hold up every structure in the Park. That smell when you walk into a gate reception area is still something that fires up my dopamine to this day. There is just no smell like. To me its a trigger of happiness because i know what it means, its Kruger time. These emotions are the fabric of the experiences that i create an offer my clients. You see most guests that come to visit Kruger for the first time in their 20's, 30's, 40's or older, are here because they are attracted to the allure of this iconic wilderness thats flooded with big game and wild experiences. They have grown up hearing about the Big5 and listening to David Attenborough's voice. Their perspective is that of Safari. They have done their research, dreamed about what they want to see and come prepared with every conceivable gadget to capture the moment.
Any parent that has a 4 year old will tell you that keeping their attention for more than 25 minutes whilst sitting a vehicle, even if there is a Lion or Elephant in view, is fairly demanding exercise. In fact its basically impossible. Visiting the Kruger Park as a child leaves a very different impression on ones memory and emotions than that of the middle aged safari traveller. When you are small the Park is a different place and you develop a passion from a very different perspective. Yes sure the brief spells in the vehicle, seeing game and encountering new species is wonderful but its a very small chapter in your holiday journal. Its frustrating being cooped up in a car and with a solid underlying base of holiday treats fuelling your energy, all you want to do is break free and go wild. So much of your early years in Kruger is spent exploring the camps that you stay in and making the most of every moment that you are not in a vehicle. Whats essentially happening is that you are building up and appreciation from the ground up. The stuff that excites you are driven by your senses and the wildlife that surrounds you in camp. The smell of your bungalow and the hard wood burning as the sunsets. The starlings and hornbills that cheekily try steeling a meal of your patio. Its the night walks around camp and seeing families spend quality time around the fire or perhaps discussing the days sightings with neighbours. Its the great trees to climb and following a dung beetle around in the dust. As guide and ranger in the park today its these early memories that have the most significant impact. Take these early years and repeat them for a consecutive 35 years and then add on a professional guiding qualification with a deep appreciation for Krugers heritage, you have a completely different perspective of the Park and very different way of telling Krugers story to the first time visitor. The Big 5 no longer matters, well its of course relevant, but in truth ones appreciation for this unmatchable savanna because a lot deeper. By this stage you are no longer a layer in the onion but right at the heart of it all.
One of my favorite memories of the Park was our usual stops at a place called Tshokwane. This outpost is 40km north of Skukuza Camp and is main stop on route to the central region and Satara camp. Today it is a lovely well established outpost with a bush kitchen, shop and ample sitting area to relax and take some time out under the large Sausage Tree that is the crown jewel. It wasn't that way back in 1984. In its early form there was a mere fire pit, fairly rudimentary bathroom facility and a small tuck-shop that wasn't more than 20sqm. We would pull over and prepare a fry up breakfast that included eggs, bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms. Once you were ready you summonsed the chief fire pit attendant and he would heap some coals on a spade and bring it to your designated cooking spot. This was a long row and some 10 cooking spaces that your coals would be dumped into and steel grid place above. From there it was all up to you. Your own pan would go on and in that all the breakfast goodies in a very specific order. This process of cooking breakfast was also one that was handed down to the next generation and continues in my family to this day. The excitement of being out in this wild place with no fences was very real and i recall on one occasion having to use the small tuck-shop for cover as a breeding heard of Elephant noisily moved through with trumpets and head shakes as they had young calves. Wow it was exciting. Not to long ago, circa 2019, i had clients with me on route North and we witnessed a pride of Lions feeding on a Kudu bull which they had killed up against the section Rangers property fence. This was not more than 250 meters from same spot i use to play as a young boy. Fortunately the Nwatitsontso river has some water and so we were a natural barrier to the Lions but the rawness of the situation was palpable. Virtually impossible to feel in the same way that i did, i tried to share the emotions of the experience with my clients so they would see it through the years of the 4 year old and current day ranger.
Its hard to realise much of the true emotions but having them and being able to share them makes for a very rewarding storyboard to share with clients. Its also what makes visiting the Park with a Private Guide so much more rewarding because you can read all the books, and i have, you can study all the maps, i have but you will not experience it in the same way and thats a fact".