World Travel – Africa Adventure 2022 – Skukuza Rest Camp -Wild Fig Guest House

Alright folks – we have made it to the end of our Africa Adventure 2022 journey and this is my final post from our trip! If you need a recap or have missed any of these posts – we have a full itinerary with links to each post here!

We packed up early and moved out of our Lower Sabie Rest Camp and headed back to where we started this adventure- Skukuza Rest Camp – only this time we will go BIG before we go home!

The drive from Lower Sabie to Skukuza was eventful. It looked like a stampede or herd of angry elephants had definitely come through as there we so many massive trees just pushed over and crushed. One of the biggest lessons learned from our trip is just how incredibly powerful and dangerous elephants really are. I always held my breath when they were near, and we never ever got to close to them.

We made a stop at the Nkuhlu General Store which was a lovely gift shop and cafe that is conveniently located between Skukuza Rest Camp and Lower Sabie on the H4-1 in Kruger National Park. We made sure to stock up on any last minute souvenirs and unique items we hadn’t seen anywhere else before having a very unexpected and exciting leopard sighting!

Moments after we got back on the road we started to see a bunch of cars blocking the entire road and many of them were facing in the wrong direction so we knew their must be something special ahead. There was a roundabout area off the side of the road overlooking an empty river bed and as we entered the roundabout to see what the fuss was about we saw a tail dangling out of a tree. I was so thankful that we had seen two leopards already on our trip (here & here)- but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little sad that I hadn’t see the iconic leopard hanging out in a tree… but there he was (even if he was facing the wrong way)! He was incredibly difficult to see and we only had a few moments to admire him because of all of the traffic so I thanked him for being my dream leopard in a tree and we continued on to Skukuza for our last night.

As you may recall (9 posts ago), our very first night in Kruger National Park was spent in the Skukuza Rest Camp in the Riverside Bungalows but this time we did it up BIG by staying in the Wild Fig Guest House.

Skukuza has 4 guest houses in prime locations around the camp, which offer accommodations for larger groups up to 12 people. The units have 4 air-conditioned bedrooms, each with 2 single beds in each room and a en-suite bathroom with a bath, washbasin, separate shower and toilet. Moni, Nyathi and Waterkant guest houses sleep 8 guests in 4 bedrooms each while The Wild Fig Guesthouse sleeps 12 guests in 6 bedrooms. Here are images of the grounds, our room and view, and below are all the common spaces as of 2022.

And yes – that is a Bushbuck within the fences of the camp hanging out directly outside of our patio!

The common spaces consisted of a dining room, lounge, kitchen and veranda with inside and outside bar, braai (barbecue) facilities, and a view of the river. The kitchen was fully equipped with stove and oven, refrigerator/freezer, sink, cooking utensils, crockery and cutlery. There was so much space I actually felt guilty we only had 6 people. It was pretty unbelievable and most likely a once in a lifetime stay unless 10 people want to go back with us, we would likely never stay there again – but it certainly was epic! A couple of us made it a game to sit in every seat in this place and it took all night!

Our very last dinner in Kruger National Park had to be special so we made reservations at Kruger Station which is within the “walls” of Skukuza Rest Camp.  Kruger Station is positioned along the historical Selati rail line in the renowned Kruger National Park, situated in the same spot of a makeshift boma that hosted a feast for visitors when the park first opened.

“The entire Kruger Station experience is centered around the magic of the station’s past, paying homage to a significant piece of South African history. Known as the railway that saved the Kruger National Park, the Selati line is one of the most expensive railways ever built connecting Komatipoort with Tzaneen during the gold rush heydays. The construction of the line started in 1892 and was only completed in 1912. In 1923, the South African Railways took over and introduced a “Round in Nine” train tour through the Lowveld, with a stopover at Sabie Bridge, today called Skukuza. The tour soon became very popular for its game viewing, and Kruger was established as a national park in 1926.
Trains still ran through the park up until 1973 after which most of the tracks were removed, leaving the bridge as is and part of the Skukuza scenery. The old South African Railway Class 24 steam locomotive number 3638 that sits at Skukuza has been stranded there for a while, with only one carriage in tow. This specific carriage has had a fascinating journey and you can read more about it here.  It was eventually donated to the National Parks Board (SANParks), and from 1984-2014 it housed a restaurant. Originally the lounge was paired with a kitchen and dining carriage, but sadly these burnt down in 1996. What was once a beautifully preserved train and purpose-built station had been off limits to visitors for a while until now”
. – Information from their website 

After some inquiring with staff, our group was given a great honor – we were upgraded to enjoy our dinner and drinks inside the train carriage which is only reserved for special events! We had our own dedicated wait staff and they pulled out all the stops to give us first class service for our last night in Kruger. It was a really wonderful atmosphere and the food and drinks were the best of the trip – see the menu and more photos on their site. Kruger Station offers much more than you could imagine, especially inside of a National Park that isn’t exactly known for gourmet food. 

Overall they have the 3638 RESTAURANT – a family-friendly eatery. ROUND IN 9 BAR – A fully-serviced bar, DEPARTING SOON CAFÉ – Soft serve and coffee shop. EN ROUTE GRAB ‘N GO – A quick bite to eat. KRUGER 360° CINEMA – Experiential circular cinema. LI’L GRICERS – A safe haven for kids. CURIOSITY CABINET – Kruger Station trinkets and gifts. Skukuza was one of my favorite camps from the beginning of the trip, and this restaurant sealed the deal at the end. If I am ever lucky enough to return to South Africa this will be on my next itinerary for sure.

Overall it was a late night but a wonderful experience. At the very last moment we all decided to squeeze in one more Safari Drive and signed up for the sunrise drive before heading to the airport the next day. We were exhausted but boy oh boy am I glad that we decided on that because we had some incredible sightings!

Typically the sunrise drives start at 4 AM and last about 3 hours with the majority of the drive done in the dark before sunrise.  This particular drive was completely uneventful with very few sightings of anything but just as the sun started to show itself – everything changed and it was almost too much excitement to handle.  Just as the sky was turning from black to purple to red to orange- we see them – PAINTED DOGS!!!! They had been on our list the entire trip as a “must see” because we had fallen in love with them back in 2013 when Mark happened to work with them in college.  It was the very last chance to see them, and they came out in droves – with so many puppies!
Sadly my camera was not equipped in this lighting and with a moving vehicle so all I have is the memories and these blurry, pixelated iPhone videos that I will cherish forever.  

If you look closely at the above photo you will see that one of those “dogs” is not a dog at all – but a Hyena who was stalking the pack and waiting for the pups to let down their guard – don’t worry though, the alphas you see here were on it.

We felt so incredibly happy and full of excitement that the drive could have ended right then and there and my soul was fulfilled… but then we turned down a road that followed along a dry river bed and to our amazement – a female lion with 3 cubs – the tiniest cubs we had seen the entire trip.  Real life baby Simba’s and of course, I sobbed. These photos are deceiving because they were actually incredibly difficult to see with the naked eye.  We were very high up on the bank looking down into a valley through lots of trees and tall grasses making it tough to see them and capture photos but I took about 1,000 images (not really but felt like it) in that moment hoping that something would come out.  The cubs were absolutely adorable and so playful.  They wrestled, chased, and bit each other while mom listened and communicated to other lions off in the distance – likely her pride that was out all night hunting while she protected the babies.  

Next we stopped to take in the glorious view of this magnificent Kudu standing in a grassy field and we noticed some movement in the distant grass. Lo and behold, we realized that a male leopard was slinking through the grasses nearby! This incredible male sighting, became our fourth and final Leopard of the trip.

At this point, our Safari was coming to an end and we still had to drive all the way back to camp and the guide said we probably wouldn’t stop for much on the way back to stay within our timeframe.  That flew right out the window when we made yet another turn into the beautiful sunrise and saw more LIONS!! Possibly the same lions that the other female was calling to.  Young mothers and young teenagers were all laying around and digesting their meals from the night before and calmly let us admire them – this might be the closest sighting we had as far as distance from them.  I am forever thankful that we saw so many lions on this trip that we completely lost count. Obviously Africa wasn’t letting us leave without a finale that’s for sure… but don’t worry… we also had an encore on the way to the airport.

Once we packed up our things and the millions pounds of souvenirs and wine and get them loaded into the vehicles we headed to the Skukuza airport.  Our entire trip we kept hearing people talk about always seeing Painted Dogs near the airport and sure enough – they were there like a giant going away party.  To watch them laying around ( and the one digging the hole LOL) for the last few moments we were in the park is forever engrained in my mind.  Giraffes greeted us when we arrived and painted dogs said … until next time!

As we were heading to the airport – more Painted Dogs!

Some of the animals on our wishlist that we didn’t see are exactly why we would love to go back someday.  Caracals, Servals, Cheetahs, and more Rhinos will keep Africa on our forever bucket list.  I don’t think it’s even possible to explain why it’s so important to keep these areas safe, and educate our fellow humans, on how magical it is to see them living their lives in freedom, instead of cages in zoos and even sanctuaries.  I would tell anyone that it’s worth a few years of saving and sacrificing in order to go support them in the wild and continue to support real conservation efforts around the world.  Anyone can do it if they put their minds to it – and we are here if you have any questions at all.

Our trip home was like any other journey home after an incredible adventure. We were exhausted, sad to be leaving, yet eager to get home to our own animals.  Our massive journey home consisted of a flight from Skukuza to Johannesburg to Switzerland (I wanna go back and leave the airport someday!), to Germany to Tampa.  It was a surreal and eventful trip home consisting of rampant wildfires surrounding the Johannesburg airport and our flight leaving Switzerland was delayed for weather and it caused us to almost miss our connecting flight in Germany. Like in a movie, 6 of us running through the airport, customs, and security like crazy people. We made it onto the flight just in time, but not without a lot of passenger sass, people staring at us for holding up the plane, but we made it. Our luggage on the other hand – did not! Several of us were using apple air tags in our luggage and we all watched as we pulled away from the gate that our luggage was definitely not with us – oh well, we were finally on our way home to our pets! Once we arrived back in Tampa, FL the airline was extremely helpful and efficient on identifying where our luggage was and when it would be back in FL. Tampa International Airport then delivered our luggage at around 3AM the next day. -I woke up and there it was on the front porch – good as new! We felt very lucky that all of our precious souvenirs had made it home. Our two cats (this was before Commander arrived) were thrilled to have us home and didn’t leave my side for 24 hours. It’s absolutely true that “Home is where my cat is”, and it is always difficult to leave them, but it’s important for our souls to get out and see the world!

We have already starting booking our next adventure… stay tuned to see what’s next!

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

Did you miss any of the previous posts?

Read our full trip Itinerary here!
Read Post One – Germany here!
Read Post Two – Cape Town here!
Read Post Three – Wine Tour here!
Read Post Four – Penguins & Whales here!
Read Post Five – Skukuza Camp here!
Read Post Six – Satara Camp here!
Read Post Seven – Olifants Camp here!
Read Post Eight – Lower Sabie Camp here!
Read Post Nine – Skukuza Guest House here!

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