The world-famous Kruger National Park is South Africa’s largest game reserve and one of the finest wildlife sanctuaries on the planet. The Kruger has nearly two million hectares of unfenced wilderness, in which more mammal species roam free than in any other game reserve.
When we arrived at Kruger National Park’s Malelane Gate there was a long line of people waiting to get their passes for the park. There was nothing we could do apart from wait. It took about 30 minutes to get our passes and finally enter the park. Luckily, the weather had improved and we hoped to get some good sightings on our drive to where we’d be staying the next three nights, Lower Sabie Rest Camp. Although we were now in the park, Lower Sabie was still 90km away!
We’d gone about 500m into the park when we came across some cars parked up on the side of the road, which is always a good sign. Just a few metres away was a lioness resting on a track that ran parallel to the road. What a great start to our visit to Kruger. We watched for about 10 minutes before she decided to up and leave, so we waited a little longer as she disappeared off into the bush.
Again, we went on our way but didn’t get more than another kilometre before we reached another line of cars. We wound down the window to speak to some people in another car who said there was a leopard down in a gully. Several cars blocked our way so we didn’t have a great hope of seeing the leopard, and we couldn’t move anyway. A few minutes later the leopard decided to leave its spot in the gully and cross the road right in front of us. Incredible!
It was hard to see how anything could beat what we’d already seen
We continued on our drive encountering herds of elephants and towers of giraffes along the way. The giraffes were most impressive – there was a group of ten or so just wandering down the road we were taking. A little further on we came across a hyena wandering on the side of the road.
Eventually, we reached the turning for Lower Sabie Rest Camp, but we thought we’d drive a little further up the road as the map we’d got showed us there was a water hole up ahead. As we parked up to look at the waterhole, another car pulled up and wound down its window. The lady inside told us that a kilometre or two up the road were several African wild dogs on the road. Wild or painted dogs were one of the few animals we’d not seen on our many game drives in Africa, except fleetingly in Malawi, so this was too good an opportunity to miss. True enough a few minutes up the road we came across a small group of wild dogs just hanging out on the side of the road as cars moved past them. It was time to get the camera out and snap away. They weren’t going anywhere fast, so we left them to it and headed back to Lower Sabie.
On the way back, we did stop at the waterhole to watch hippos in the water. As we set off towards Lower Sabie we caught sight of a honey badger – the first we’d ever seen. What an incredible start to our Kruger National Park Adventure.
Finally, we pulled into Lower Sabie Rest Camp. These Kruger National Park Rest Camps offer chalets, bungalows, huts, cottages, and guest houses with basic amenities, ideal for families and groups wanting affordable self-catering accommodation in the Park.
The main rest camps in Kruger National Park have facilities including a first-aid centre, a shop, braai and communal kitchen facilities, a restaurant or self-service cafeteria and a petrol station. You can stock up on everything you need while staying at your self-catering accommodation, or you can dine in the restaurant.
We’d opted to stay in one of the bungalows and had brought food with us so we could at least partially self-cater. As I was checking in, I realised that I had cocked up. I thought I had reserved an afternoon game drive the following day. It turned out that it was today – but we’d missed it as we’d taken so long to get here. Apart from the lost money, it was hard to believe we’d have had as good an experience on the game drive as we’d had just driving ourselves to Lower Sabie. So, we weren’t too disappointed.
I’d also booked us in for a dawn game drive the following day. It was a shock that we had to meet with our driver in the car park at 3:45 am! Yikes.
With an early start ahead of us we took ourselves to our bungalow, which was basic but comfortable (it had air conditioning which we were not expecting) and settled in for the night.
It was a shock to our system when our alarm went off at 3:30 am for our dawn game drive. We’d been up early for many game drives over the last few months, but none this early! It was still very dark, as we left our bungalow. In our comatose state, we took the wrong turning a couple of times, before finding our way to the main parking lot of Lower Sabie Rest Camp. It was reassuring when we arrived to realise that we were not the only crazy people up this time of the morning. Not only was it dark, but as we set off it didn’t take long to find out that it was cold too. Also, it had started to drizzle.
Anyway, off we went in search of wildlife. Out driver-come-guide was a font of knowledge about Kruger National Park, and he was also in connection with the other guides who were moving around the park at this ungodly hour. The guides also know where to look for the animals and have access to trails that the self-drive vehicles don’t have. It was one of these tracks we took, following a line of electricity poles, as the first light of the day appeared. We’d gone down this track about 2km when we came across a huge pride of lions, numbering more than 20 animals and made up of lionesses, juveniles, and cubs. They were quite a distance from the road, but we could still clearly make them out, and as it got lighter this became all the easier. The nice thing about being on this track was that there was not anyone else there apart from us, so we got an exclusive viewing of these lions. They’d obviously recently fed as they were in no mood for moving on. Only the cubs seemed to have any energy as they came down to drink from the waterhole and mock-stalked a passing guinea fowl.
After 20 minutes it was time to move on. We stopped to look at a couple of cheetahs some distance away in the bush. Like the lions, they were also lying down, so it was hard to get a clear view of them. Eventually, we gave up straining to see these cheetahs and drove on. About 10km later the track joined the main road again and we came across another game drive vehicle, whose driver told our guide about some cheetahs who were close to the road not far away. Off we went. It was not long before we found two male cheetahs who were walking, following the road we were on. They would walk for a while, then stop, and lay down, before moving on again. The presence of vehicles and people did not seem to bother them in the least. This went on for a good half an hour, and as we continued to watch them more and more vehicles turned up.
Eventually, our guide suggested we leave, which we all agreed to. Also, the weather was taking a turn for the worse and it had begun to rain hard. The back of the vehicle where we were sitting was open to the elements, so we worked quickly to pull down the plastic sheeting to stop the rain coming in as we travelled along. After the cheetahs and lions, we didn’t see much – I suspect the weather didn’t help. But we did stop briefly to watch an elephant and a back-bellied korhaan guarding its nest.
By the time we returned to Lower Sabie, it was still early. We went back to our bungalow for a shower and some breakfast – and then back to bed!
It was later in the afternoon when we decided to head out on our own self-drive game drive. The petrol station at Lower Sabie was out of commission, it had suffered a major fire many months before and was still under reconstruction. We needed petrol, so the next nearest place in the park with a station was about 40km south of us at Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp. To get there we opted to take the scenic route, which was going to take us quite a bit longer.
We had not gone far before we spotted a leopard crossing the road right in front of us. There were no other cars around apart from us – so this was an experience for just us! It soon disappeared off into the bush and we and the leopard carried on our separate ways. Along the route to Crocodile Bridge, we spotted more elephants, zebras and giraffes, but our favourite spotting was a pair of leopard tortoises who were crossing the road. We stopped to make sure they had safe passage.
One of the things to consider when staying inside a National Park like Kruger is that there is a curfew where you either need to be outside the park or at your camp. For Kruger, it was 6 pm. It was getting late when we arrived at Crocodile Bridge, so we filled the car with petrol and immediately turned around to set off back to Lower Sabie.
The light was fading fast, and we didn’t have time to stop to see any wildlife on the way, apart from an owl (which Karen loves). It was now dark, and we travelled as fast as we could, and it was touch and go whether we’d make it back before 6 pm. Then disaster struck, we came across a herd of elephants on the road. We were only a few kilometres from home, but the road was blocked, and we had no option but to wait for the elephants to move. Once the road was clear we carried on, but we had not made curfew. The little man at the gate was not happy and wanted to call the Rangers, who were likely to give us a stiff fine. Karen is very good at pleading in these situations and told him about the elephants, showed him videos she had taken with time stamps etc. Eventually, he relented, and we were able to escape to our bungalow without getting a fine.
Our intention had been to get off to a really early start, but things didn’t quite work out to plan, instead, it was around 7:30 am before we headed out of Lower Sabie. Our plan was to try some of the circuits we had yet to try before mid-morning when things tend to slow down in the wildlife world.
We didn’t far before our way was blocked on the road by a large troop of olive baboons who had decided to have their daily ablutions right in the middle of the road, essentially halting all the traffic. It was cute to see the baby baboons playing and being washed by the adults. Eventually, the cars worked away around the monkey roadblock, and we were able to move on.
Not too much further on we happened on a female hyena with its cub. Hyenas are usually most active at night, and it is uncommon to see a mother with cubs out as they try to protect them from other predators. Often, the cubs are kept in holes underground. It was a great privilege to see this familial scene. After a few minutes, both mother and baby disappeared off into the undergrowth.
Today was turning out to be a day of seeing babies. In nearly 5-months of travelling through Africa, we’d seen literally thousands upon thousands of impalas, but we’d not seen a single fawn. All that was about to change, as the fawns were now dropping, and we got to see our first one. They were so cute.
We were planning to head back to the Lower Sabie Rest Camp for lunch when we got our final treat of the morning, two huge kudu bucks in a full-on fight. They were really going for it, charging at each other at full pelt before locking horns and pushing each other around, creating a mini dust storm as they went. The horns of a fully-grown kudu are massive and potentially deadly weapons, so it is not unheard of for bucks to be badly injured or even die from these fights.
It was exhausting watching these kudu fight.
Anyway, we moved on passing by a large group of giraffes and a pair of the massive ground hornbills. Just as we turned back onto the main road, we encountered a large group of vehicles parked up on the side of the road. They were watching a leopard who was resting, some distance away in a tree. Just hanging about not doing a lot. It took us about 10 minutes to manoeuvre into a position where we could see the leopard clearly.
We got a little irritated by some of the tourists who were self-driving being selfish with their positioning and not moving on after a reasonable amount of time. Anyway, we did as we preached and after about 5 minutes we left to go back to Lower Sabie.
Later in the afternoon, after a bit of rest, we headed out again. We had seen so many things already in Kruger we were happy just touring around admiring the scenery and watching the giraffes and elephants patrolling the plains. It was a bright sunny afternoon, but as we travelled, we saw dark heavy clouds building and we knew we were in for a storm. Also, we didn’t want to risk being out again after curfew having had an escape from a fine the night before. So, we made our way back to Lower Sabie.
We’d been self-catering the last couple of nights, so we decided for our final night to go to the restaurant and try out the food there and grab a beer. The storm was starting to blow in and the dark sky was illuminated by flashes of lightning. We decided to risk sitting outside on the deck as it was not yet raining as it gave us a better view. As we sat admiring mother nature’s work, we got talking to an older couple who were visiting the Kruger for the umpteenth time.
It still had not started raining when we set out to return to our bungalow, so we climbed into bed knowing were leaving the Kruger and that tomorrow would be our last official game drive in Africa. We’d seen some amazing sights and the memories would stay with us for the rest of our lives.
It was time to leave the Kruger National Park, but we still had to travel the 50km to Skukuza Rest Camp, the largest of the rest camps in Kruger, to get some more petrol and see what it had to offer. It was then another 40km to the Phabeni Gate to leave the park. So, we had nearly 100km and 2 to 3 hours of driving to see more wildlife. In fact, we didn’t need to go more than 15km before we came across a small pride of lions lying on the road. Of course, this meant all the cars stopping, jumping in front of each other and generally being disrespectful. Luckily, we were near the front of the line of vehicles. We watched for a little, took some photos and moved on to allow others the chance to see the lions.
It was about mid-morning by the time we reached Skukuza, and after filling up with petrol we decided to stop for a cup of coffee, which was very nice. Inside the main restaurant area is a railway carriage that has been beautifully restored and can be hired for special occasions. After refuelling the car and our bodies we set off for Phabeni Gate, and sadly we didn’t get to see much wildlife on the way. It was sad to be leaving Kruger, but we still had nearly a month’s worth of adventures ahead of us before returning to the UK for Christmas.
About Kruger National Park
The Big Five Game Reserve known as the Kruger National Park is South Africa’s largest and second-oldest safari park. The Kruger National Park spans across two of South Africa’s 9 provinces, the Limpopo and the Mpumalanga provinces. Kruger National Park covers over 19 455 km2 and is 350 kilometres (217 miles) long from north to south and 60 kilometres (37.2 miles) wide from east to west. This makes it a little smaller than the country of Belgium and approximately the size of Israel. The park is larger than three US states – Delaware, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Areas of the park were first protected by the government of the South African Republic in 1898, and it became South Africa’s first national park in 1926. The park is part of the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere, an area designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as an International Man and Biosphere Reserve.
The entire eastern boundary of the reserve is located on the border of Mozambique while its northern border is formed by the Limpopo River and the border of South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Several major rivers cut through the safari park, including the Letaba, Limpopo, Sabie and Umgwenya (Crocodile) Rivers. The landscape is most plains which are occasionally broken up by the Lebombo mountain range that runs along the Mozambican border from north to south.
Most of the park lies between 260 to 440 metres above sea level with the lowest point being found at the Sabie Gorge and the highest point of 839m being at Khandiwe near Malelane, both towards the south of the safari park.
Planning your visit to Kruger National Park
Check the SanParks website for information about reaching Kruger National Park by road.
There are daily flights to the Kruger Park operating from Johannesburg to the recently reopened Skukuza Airport, Phalaborwa Airport, Hoedspruit Airport and the Kruger/Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) located between Nelspruit and White River. Daily flights also operate to Skukuza from Cape Town. KMIA also receives daily flights from Durban and Cape Town, and there is also a flight from Cape Town to Hoedspruit.
Private Connections (a private company) operates this shuttle service between Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) to Kruger National Park. The contact details are:
Office Tel.: (013) 750 2435
Cell: 072 245 4677
The trip takes about 1 hour 20 minutes. It is recommended that the shuttle should be booked with Heather.
|Website:||https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/default.php/||Apr – Sep 6:00 & Oct – Mar 5:30|
|Hours:||Entrance Gates (Open)||07:00 to 19:00|
|Camp Gates (Open)||Apr – Sep 6:00 & Oct – Mar 5:30|
|All Gates close||Nov – Feb 18:30, Mar – Apr & Aug – Sep 18:00, May – Jul: 17:30|
| Fees:||South African Citizens and Residents||R115 per adult, per day|
R57 per child, per day
|SADC Nationals (with passport)||R230 per adult, per day|
R115 per child, per day
|International Visitors||R460 per adult, per day|
R230 per child, per day
Things to bring:
|Two spare tires||Seed net/grill||Puncture repair kit||Sand tracks|
|Spade/shovel||High-lift jack||Kinetic strap/rope||Compressor|
|Tire pressure gauge||Car tools and spares|
|Water and food||Fuel||Braai Wood||Flashlight|
|Headlamp||First Aid Kit||Camera||Binoculars|
|Wide-brimmed hat||Sunscreen||Mosquito spray|
Best time to visit Kruger National Park
The best time to visit the Kruger National Park is the dry season from May to October for the best game viewing and walking safari conditions. Vegetation is low and sparse at this time of year, making animals easier to spot and track, while the permanent water sources offer a rewarding safari experience in the Kruger.
Where to stay
There are twelve main rest camps, four satellite camps and five bushveld camps. The easiest way to reach your camp is by driving or flying, and please be aware that the distance between gates and camps vary, so take note of gate opening and closing times. This is especially important as speed limits within the park are 40km per hour on dirt roads and 50km per hour on tar roads.
Main Rest Camps
All the major rest camps are kitted out with electricity, a convenience shop, a first-aid centre, shared kitchen facilities, laundry options, public telephones, a restaurant and/or cafe, and a petrol station.
Berg-en-Dal (with satellite Malelane): Located along the banks of the Matjulu Spruit, in the south-western corner of the Kruger National Park, Berg-en-Dal is about a five-hour drive from Johannesburg.
Crocodile Bridge: This cosy camp gets its moniker from its location on the northern bank of Crocodile River. The Crocodile Bridge Gate is only 13 kilometres from the town of Komatipoort. The game viewing area near the camp known as the Southern Circle is famous for its high density of lion prides.
Letaba: An oasis along a bend of Letaba River, this camp offers travellers a guest house, cottage, bungalow, hut or a furnished safari tent, as well as camping and caravan sites as lodging options. This camp is prime for elephant sightings and bird watching. Use the Phalaborwa Gate to get here.
Lower Sabie: Situated on the banks of Sabie River, where many animals can often be seen drinking water throughout the year, this camp offers everything from a luxurious guest house to cottages and tents. The nearest gates are Crocodile Bridge (35 kilometres away) and Paul Kruger Gate (53 kilometres away), both around a five-hour drive from Johannesburg.
Mopani: A newer camp located near Pioneer Damn, the nearest entrance gate is Phalaborwa Gate, 74 kilometres away. Visitors have the option of flying in and out of Phalaborwa Kruger Park Gateway Airport, just four kilometres away from the entrance gate.
Olifants: This camp offers a great point from where to spot wildlife overlooking the Olifants River. Visitors should enter from Phalaborwa Gate.
Orpen (with satellites Maroela and Tamboti): This small rest camp is located by Orpen Gate (about five and a half hours away from Johannesburg by road) and offers travellers huts and fancier cottages.
Pretoriuskop: This is one of the oldest camps in Kruger National Park and has many amenities such as fully equipped guesthouses. This camp is home to a large population of white rhino, and the easiest way to reach Pretoriuskop is by using the Numbi Gate (60 kilometres away) or Paul Kruger Gate (24 kilometres away).
Punda Maria: The lush vegetation of this camp attracts an abundance of wildlife and rare bird species. This is the Kruger’s most northern camp and is located in a sub-tropical climate, which makes it a fascinating place to stay. The camp is ten kilometres away from the Punda Maria Gate.
Satara (with satellite Balule): This is the best camp for lion, leopard and cheetah spotting. The nearest entrance is Orpen Gate.
Shingwedzi: Visitors staying in this camp will find that it is home to many large elephant herds. Located on Shingwedzi River, the nearest gate to this camp is Punda Maria, and the camp can be reached by road or air.
Skukuza: This is Kruger’s largest camp, and includes amenities such as a shop, ATM, internet cafe, and much more. The nearest entrance to the camp is Paul Kruger Gate.