STATIONBREAK.CA

TRAVEL TRIPS #2


KRUGER PARK ADVENTURE: MAY 2018

by Hugh Beard
Posted Sept 28 2019

After more than 25 years of scuba diving at some of the most challenging and astonishing dive locations around the world, my wife Debra and I passed a major milestone of completing two-thousand dives. It was time to find a new passion. 



Over the past two years, we have completed two major camping, self-drive trips with no guide, the first into Botswana and Namibia, and the second into Botswana and Kruger Park in South Africa. 

Kruger Park was fascinating, not only was the driving easier than the wilderness of Botswana or Namibia, but in Kruger you can never get lost because the roads have guideposts on every intersection. On top of that, the game sightings are better, due to the number of vehicles looking for animals. When you’re in a remote part of Botswana or Namibia you’re on your own, you might not see another vehicle for hours, in some cases days. In Kruger, several cars stopped is an indication of a sighting, often lions or something equally exciting. 

Thinking to the future as we age, will we be up to the challenge of remote, deep sand driving?  Camping is strenuous and we often have to deal with the emotions of getting stuck or lost.  Kruger Park has established camps with fuel stations, well-equipped stores with frozen meats and fresh vegetables, and swimming pools – that we are often too busy to use. The Park offers both self-catering camping sites and cottages with full cooking facilities, and most camps have a restaurant. If we decided to forgo remote camping and booked cottages in Kruger, will we be able to continue experiencing the excitement of game driving? That was our mission to discover this past April.

Our first challenge was getting from the airport in Johannesburg to our hotel. Actually, that was the second challenge; the first was the 30-hour travel day!

At the airport, after picking up our wheeled hockey bags that we use in place of heavy luggage, it was an easy walk to the Gautrain Station right in the center of the airport. After a comfortable 30-minute trip we arrived at our hotel, the Radisson Blu Gautrain, directly across from the Gautrain station in the Sandton district.



We spent three days getting over our jet-lag, enjoying the shopping and the restaurants in Mandela Square. Generally dining out is much cheaper than Vancouver. Our favorite restaurant is Trumps (not named after Donald). We have become good friends with the manager who is the son of one of the owners. Dining in Sandton is a vibrant affair, with a wide diversity of clientele with families and friends enjoying the good life. We never order a bottle of wine as the individual glasses are huge.

Across the street from our hotel, we had booked an SUV that had 4-wheel drive capability (turned out we never needed it for Kruger). I had purchased a Garmin navigation GPS from Costco in Vancouver and added a Southern Africa map card. I’d programmed the GPS with the route from our hotel to Kruger and our first campsite. It was a bit challenging driving on the wrong side of the road as we worked our way out of Johannesburg, then we settled in for the remaining four-hour highway drive at 120 km per hour to Kruger.

The earlier trip last October had been in the dry season, so the vegetation was sparse and leaves had fallen, making animal sightings easier. What we experienced in Kruger this trip took our breath away. It was lush green. Our South Africa friends who joined us for four days remarked that they have never seen Kruger so vibrant with thick vegetation. It was the end of a nine-year drought that made for incredible photography, but we were concerned that it would be harder to spot game in the tall grass. But the first day on our way to Crocodile Bridge offered up some great sightings.

We took several shots of a female lion which was carefully watching us. When we looked closely at the photos. we realized her cub had been hiding in the tall grass.  We took twelve shots, but the cub only stood up for a brief second and we got a lucky shot.



Kruger is known for its Rhinos. We came upon a small herd of White Rhinos and a special sighting of a mother with her baby.


Early in the afternoon we came across a Pride of Lions lounging on the road.




A bit later in the day, we spotted a game viewing truck speeding down the road, an indication of a potential sighting. We followed and were quickly rewarded. Lions were on the move.  The passengers on the game drive truck were all looking forward and didn’t see the female lion walk behind them, but we got a great shot.
 


Debra grabbed a quick shot of a male lion approaching our vehicle just moments before I closed her window!




I have always had the impression that hyenas are ruthless killers not to be trusted and that we should keep a safe distance from them, but our encounters revealed that they are a matriarchal society that now has earned our respect. We discovered that Hyenas’ use water culverts under roadways as a safe den to protect their cubs from lions and other predators.

Once we located their lair, we visited it in the morning and late afternoon over several days. We parked right beside them as the entire tribe lay about out on either side of the road, totally oblivious to our presence.



The younger cubs would wander on the road, chewing on auto tires or licking bugs off license plates.

 

We watched as the lead female affectionately nursed her newborn baby, just a few feet away from us.

 


Late one afternoon, as we sat in our vehicle with the front windows down taking stills of the young cubs playing on either side of us, we spotted a male hyena returning from a hunt. It was hard to see what he was carrying in the long grass, but, as he approached, he let out a loud ‘whoop … whoop … whoop ’ sound.



The cubs jumped up and down with joy as they rushed to greet him. Then we heard the youngest cub let out a sharp cry that sounded like she had been injured. Then she joyfully bounced towards us, proudly holding an antelope leg in her mouth.


There are only 128 cheetahs in the Park, so seeing one is a sporadic and lucky encounter. As we started our morning game drive, a driver flagged us down and told us a few miles down the A10 circle route, two Cheetahs are sitting on a large red sand mound. We had experienced this route the day before and found it very quiet. But the driver seemed very excited, so we decided to check it out.


As promised, the two Cheetahs were on the mound, but they were a long distance away from the gravel road. I could just make them out with my binoculars and Debra could only get a wide shot with her 600-mm lens.

The next day we headed back to the A10 route, hoping that the cheetahs would still be on the red mound, but they weren’t there. We continued down the road towards a small stream.


 

As we rounded the corner, the two Cheetahs were sitting by the edge of the stream just 20 feet away from us. We assumed they were the same pair we had seen yesterday. After about twenty minutes, they got up and walked to the stream as they were joined by two other Cheetahs. The Kruger Gods were smiling down on us, four cheetahs together – a truly remarkable encounter.


It’s not only the Big Five: lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants and buffalo that make remarkable encounters. Tiny schooling birds had me totally mesmerized. Not sure what species they were but they would fly in schools, creating long, trailing, undulating masses that swept over fields of tall grasses. Then the head of the flock would dive headfirst into the deep grass, with the remainder following suit, so it looked like an undulating tube of water flowing into the deep grass, often for ten to twenty seconds – there were that many birds. I assumed the fields were filled with insects.

After all the birds were in the deep grass, something would trigger the entire flock, to rise up en masse creating a dense gigantic undulating ball. The sound of their wings made loud flapping sounds as the school twisted and turned. Their numbers must of been in the hundreds of thousands, but as I looked across the expanse of grassland I could see up to a dozen schools all doing the same thing, so the number of birds had to be in the millions.

Elephant encounters are always exciting and this trip was no exception. Not sure if it was mating season but we encountered several huge males that demanded respect and a significant degree of caution.

One day we stopped beside a game drive vehicle to photograph a herd of female elephants with several calves crossing the road. Suddenly a large male broke out of the bush very close to us. He was clearly showing signs of aggression as he started moving towards us. Without hesitation, the game driver started backing up and so did we.

We were backing up side-by-side down the road as the elephant picked up his pace, getting closer. Eventually, he lost interest in us and started feeding. We had planned to continue down the road but hesitated when the elephant stopped grazing and looked at us, his ears flapping and his trunk raised. The game driver smiled and waved as she did a U-turn and headed off in the opposite direction. We quickly followed suit.

Debra stepped into our outdoor kitchen to put the kettle on for our early morning coffee.  She noticed a stick was pushed into the metal mesh cage that prevents monkeys from opening our fridge and stealing food.  She thought the monkeys used the stick in an attempt to open the cage door. As she touched it, it suddenly moved.  I came to the rescue when she screamed to discover a large Stickbug.


I was fascinated and picked it up. To my surprise it had wings and flew down to land on my leg.  I gently carried it outside and introduced it to a dried-up tree where it immediately assumed a ‘dead branch’ pose - staying the entire day, happily catching bugs.

A few days later, we were heading back to camp as the sun was setting and it was getting close to the six o’clock curfew when the camp gate would be closed for the night. I was curious why a large number of vehicles had stopped on the left side of the road, the line-up extending down to a curve. As the right side was clear, I said to Debra, “There must be something exciting ahead. Let’s check it out!”

As we raced down the right side, several vehicles followed us. As we rounded the corner, we saw a large camper was off the road, stuck in the ditch. Then we saw it!  A monstrous rogue male elephant charged out from behind the camper and now its full attention was on us.  Its ears were flapping and its trunk folded over his right tusk, a prelude to a full out charge. As it closed in on us, we couldn’t back up as several vehicles that followed us, blocked our way. As I looked in the rear-view mirror, I could see a woman leaning out of her window to take a photo, anticipating the elephant would flip our vehicle!




I made a split-second decision. I’m going to back up into the SUV directly behind us, pushing them out of the way if need be. I had full insurance and it’s a better option than being charged by a rogue elephant. I shifted into reverse and rapidly backed-up as the elephant was coming right at us.  As I looked in our rear-view mirror I could see the panicked face of the SUV driver as I quickly closed in on him, it was lucky that he was already in reverse and had started backing up.

The elephant was gaining on us and we were gaining on the vehicle behind us. Finally urged by Debra’s screams, the SUV driver began to speed up. By this time, four other camper trucks were also backing up. Now the elephant was in a full charge and slowly gaining on us.

The vehicles that we passed by a few minutes ago saw the elephant and the caravan rapidly backing up towards them. They immediately did U-turns and raced away.

As I reached a crossroad, I had some room to manoeuver.  In a move that would have made a stuntman proud, I hit the brakes, slammed the gear shift into drive and hit my foot to the floor as our vehicle spun in a circle and I was now driving forward, following the drivers fleeing the charging rogue elephant!  For the first time in the entire encounter, we finally started to feel safe as we took in deep breaths.

We were still high on adrenaline as we drove through our camp gate with only minutes to spare before it closed for the night. That evening we had drinks with our Johannesburg friends, who chuckled as they viewed the video and stills of our rogue elephant encounter, a reminder that even though Kruger is a National Park, the animals are wild and it’s their world we are experiencing. 

 

Hugh and Debra Beard

hugh.beard@forcefourfilms.com

Hugh Beard's Resume

I started my career by joining CBC Vancouver in October 1960 as a 1B technician, a training position. Over the next few years, I did several jobs beginning with boom operator, then camera operator and then switcher which became my regular job.

Whenever there was a film camera shoot for a drama program, I was asked to be the boom operator. I liked working on film shoots, being able to perfect the sound recording, one shot at a time. During my time as a live television program boom operator, part of my job was to work with lighting to get the best boom position without causing a boom shadow. Sometimes "work with" meant fighting for the best sound you could get.

I was asked to do the sound boom for the film drama series "Cariboo Country." They had just completed all the location shooting for the first season and were doing interior set shooting in Studio 40. They were not used to the boom operator arguing with the cameraman to get the best sound possible, but I did, making a suggestion on lighting changes that would let me get better sound on set. This annoyed producer Phil Keatley and production manager Bob Gray. But I persevered.

When they got to the editing process, they quickly realized that my studio sound was much better than the on-location sound. So, I was asked to give up switching and became the boom operator for the second season of "Cariboo Country," working with Sound recordist Dick France.

The day we left to drive up to Risky Creek to start shooting, Phil Keatley told me that Dick France was going to train me to be the Audio Mixer. I was stunned but excited.

On my first day of prep on location, I had a drink after work with my friends Bob Gray and Gerry O'Connor. Bob asked what I thought of the scripts and I told him they were good but the scene where they get the not-so-bright cowboy to ride his horse up on the veranda forcing the saloon owner to come down from his second-floor room and open the front door so that they could borrow some money from him, that was stupid. He's on the second floor, so the cowboy should throw a pebble at the upper floor window to get his attention, and, instead of a pebble, the cowboy picks up a rock and throws it, smashing his window. The saloon owner sticks his head out of the broken window and says, "What do hell do ya want?"  They reply, "We want to borrow some money."  I said to Bob, now that's funny.

An hour later, Phil Keatley burst into my room, saying, "I heard you were criticizing our scripts. Tell me what you told Bob Gray."

Phil liked my suggestion and they made that change to the script. That moment was the start of a long relationship with Phil Keatley who became my mentor.

Not only was I recording sound but I was free to discuss with Phil every aspect of shooting, from script suggestion and expressing opinions on actor performances!

When not working on drama programs, I was a full-time location sound recorder working on documentaries with cameramen John Seale, Roy Luckow and lighting technician Gerry O'Connor. We traveled and filmed all over North America and occasionally in exotic locations like Malaysia.

I went from sound mixer to Assistant Director, working on "The Manipulators" that had been created by Don Eccleston and Elie Savoie, starring Marc Strange with Phil Keatley as executive producer. Michael Berry was the other assistant director. In between film shoots I was an on-air coordinator in Studio 50, trained by Alan Walker.

When "The Beachcombers" started, I was going to be the first AD for the series, working with Bob Gray who was the production manager. But I won legal custody of my two children, aged seven and nine, and I felt I could not take them out of school and move them to Gibsons, so I left the Drama Department and continued working as a studio director.

Dick Bocking had reluctantly been assigned to the BC Schools Program as a producer but said he would only do it if I was his studio director. When I met with him, he said, "Okay, you're in charge and you are going direct all the School Programs. Ask me for any help you want but I'm not going to be in the studio, so good luck."  I produced the School Programs for three years, winning an award for "Doctor Helmcken's Journal."

Al Vitols asked me to join the production team on "The 7 O'Clock Show" as a producer and the News director. I worked for several years in News, then Phil Keatley gave me an opportunity to direct a Beachcombers episode.

During a Beachcombers party in Gibsons with Bruno Gerussi and the film crew and after drinking far too much, they decided to screen some of the recently completed episodes, including my first episode "Our Champion.". I was woken up at one in the morning as Bob Gray and Roy Luckow phoned to drunkenly tell me my episode was the best, and they were very proud of what I'd achieved. That praise from people I deeply respected gave me the confidence to continue directing for Beachcombers and to eventually take over the series as Executive Producer. I ran Beachcombers until its tenth year in production.

I left CBC in 1984 and started an independent production company, Force Four Productions, but that's another story ...

CLICK on the pictures below to enlarge them. Then you can scroll through them with the left and right arrows.

cute baby elephant

cute baby elephant

Buffalo eating

Buffalo eating

angry looking elephant.

angry looking elephant.


elephant baby under mother

elephant baby under mother

giraffe

giraffe

hippo eating grass

hippo eating grass


closeup of male lion

closeup of male lion

zebra

zebra

two zebras

two zebras


ostrich

ostrich

red breasted bird

red breasted bird

two steen-boks

two steen-boks


rogue elehant approaching fast

rogue elehant approaching fast

vehicles observing rogue elephant

vehicles observing rogue elephant