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Posted on: Friday, 23 September 2011

Kruger – the low down on what to remember, where to stay, what to do and spotting the Big 5

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Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park

The Kruger National Park is undoubtedly THE place to be when it comes to seeing game in what should be their natural environment.  Even if during school holidays the number of people entering the park is questionable, traffic fairly congested, and the tendency of individuals to do silly things like feed hyenas and monkeys (now a constant pest in various rest camps) a sign that even in the Kruger, humans are encroaching on the freedom of the animals within. Despite this Kruger Park is a fantastic experience.

One of the world’s largest game parks, Kruger has received a  myriad accolades for nature conservation and, more recently, has begun lowering fences that separate the park from neighbouring reserves, allowing the wildlife within even greater access to land and water, and increasing the chance to spot game.

But entering the park for the first time can be a little overwhelming. There are over nine entry points into the park and information on Kruger Park accommodation and the park in general is sometimes confusing.

We’ve put together a few tips and guidelines to help.

When at Kruger, what to remember:

  • 50 km/hr speed limit – whilst the distances between camps might not sound a lot, the speed limit in the park is 50 km/hr on tar roads, so allow roughly 2.5 hours between camps for game viewing. Oh, and, stick to the limit, it’s there for a reason…something to do with consideration for animals
  • up with the birds – the general consensus is that getting out at dawn is almost guaranteed to reveal the best game, however, when we were there during winter, this was not the case; some of the best game spotting was during the mid-morning.
  • dams, hides and picnic spots – you can break your drives by stopping at these, and some of them prove really great game viewing spots, particularly the dams and hides
  • take your own – food (restaurants and shops provide only average and expensive meals), bath plugs, torches, insect repellent, sun block, hats and hiking boots
  • take advantage of the night drives and guided walking trails – the night drives in particular need to be booked in advance and are well worth it. Each park has a different rate, so do your homework and book at those that charge a little less
  • car hire at Skukuza – should your car break down, or if you are part of a tour
  • petrol – the larger rest camps provide fuel
  • remember to recycle – the park has prominent recycling bins at gates and rest camps

Kruger National Park

The difference between bush camps, rest camps, private camps,
and private lodges and camps

The rest camps and bush camps are fairly similar to look at, but are inherently different. The rest camps are – Skukuza, Balule, Pretoriuskop, Berg-en-Dal, Satara, Lower Sabie, Punda Maria, Shingwedzi, Olifants, Mopane, Tamboti, Orpen, Malelane, Maroela and Crocodile Bridge. At each of these are bungalows, camping and sometimes chalets, guest houses and tented camps, restaurants, shops and even the odd evening film.

The bush camps, sometimes referred to as bushveld camps, are quieter and more remote rest camps, also with their own toilets and kitchen facilities, but without shops or restaurants. There is no camping available, and thus the general rush of people that usually descend on the rest camps for lunch, are not allowed into the bush camps. These include Bateleur, Biyamiti, Shimuwini, Sirheni and Talamati. They’re generally quieter and more remote.

Private camps are usually for groups of visitors and include Boulders, Malelane, Tsendze rustic campsite and Roodewal. These are usually booked up months in advance, for obvious reasons. Lovely if you’ve a slightly larger group (but look at them even if you a family)

Private lodges – until recently the policy of the Kruger was not to allow private lodge operators into the park. However, this has apparently changed, and a limited number of private lodges, other than those just outside the park, have been allowed to ‘set up camp’. These include: Jock Safari Lodge, Pafuri, Imbali, Plains, Rhino Post, Camps Shawu, Camp Shonga and Hamiltons Tented Camp.

Kruger National Park

What to do other than drive around in your car
– guided walks and outdoor activities

Whilst undoubtedly a lot of fun is to be had driving slowly through the more remote parts of the park to spot game, this can get a little monotonous after a couple of days. There are other activities in which one can partake in the Kruger.

A series of guided wilderness walking trails that take a maximum of 8 people at a time, aged between 12 and 60, are available. They tend to be over a few days, are guided by armed rangers, and include accommodation and food. These include Bushman Trail, Metsimietsi Trail, Napi Trail, Olifants Trail, Sweni Trail and the Wolhuter Trail. On each of them one overnights at a bushveld camp and gets to experience the bush on foot.

Other outdoor things to do within Kruger include:

  • mountain bike trails from Olifants Camp
  • a 9 hole golf course at Skukuza
  • 4X4 adventure trails (four one-day self-driven trails)
  • sleepover hides – for the adventurous, these are at Sable Dam Hide near Phalaborwa Gate, and Shipandani Hide at Mopani

Kruger National Park

Tips for spotting the Big 5

There are those who firmly believe that spotting the Big 5 is simply luck of the draw. But there are a number of things you can do to bring you that much closer to them.

  • Use the sightings boards – at the gates and rest camps there are boards that keep daily records of latest animal sightings. These can give you a good indication of the areas in which to drive if you haven’t yet spotted a lion or leopard. The downside is that the boards are available to anyone to update, so you are not always sure that the information is valid
  • rise with the birds – the best time to spot game is as the camp gates open in the morning as animals are more active
  • hide out at waterholes – particularly at midday or sundown, waterholes are guaranteed to receive a visit at some stage of the day, as animals need water
  • winter is best – the driest time of the year is best to spot game as they’re more active and the bush is not as lush as it gets in summer
  • go on night drives
  • buy a copy of Andy and Lorrain Tinker’s Kruger National Park Guide – awesome guidelines, hot spots, maps and photos

Kruger National Park

The Limpopo National Park

One can travel from Kruger straight into the Limpopo National Park via the gate at Giriyondo, which acts as a border post. You will need a 4X4 vehicle to do this journey as the road deteriorates after a couple of hours from Giriyondo Gate en route to Massingir Gate.

Together with the Kruger and Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, the Limpopo National Park forms the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.

The Limpopo National Park is well worth a visit. It is still in the initial stages of development and whilst there are not a lot of camps, there is an overlander site with space for 10 camper vans, 20 individual campsites, 13 chalets and a luxury tented camp. They are all self-catering.

Kruger National Park Links

Wanda Coustas


Wanda Coustas has written in one form or another for 10 years, seven of them as a copyblogger. She has travelled the Western Cape extensively and the rest of the country in protracted road trips that have given her both joy and an ongoing relish for experiencing what she writes about first-hand. She is a trained opera singer, poet, eurythmy dancer, philosopher, and bee whisperer.

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