Acing it in the Kruger Park

By Kirstin Buick
18 December 2013

A holiday in this part of the world should come with a warning – upon your return to the city, you may encounter severe bouts of misery and longing for the bush says Kirstin Buick in our series of holiday travel blogs.

Another sunset from the deck There is nothing quite like a Kruger sunset

If you’ve never travelled to this part of our beautiful country, shame on you! For me, there is just no place on earth like the Kruger Park. My family and I have been going there for more than 10 years now. When I was very young, my parents bought a timeshare at a resort on the outskirts of the Southern Kruger – Ngwenya Lodge – and as I grew up, the lodge grew with me.  The once-small self-catering lodge has grown into a resort of no mean size, with multiple pools, tennis courts, a games room, restaurant bar, jungle gyms, a mini golf course .  . .

Trying my hand at some putt putt Trying my hand at some putt putt

Okay, I know it sounds like a small town, but somehow, it hasn’t ever lost its magic for me. And I’m sure that when I take my own children there one day – which I will do, without a doubt – I’ll be immensely grateful for that games room to keep them busy while I sip on a cocktail at the deck.

Enough rambling – the crux of the matter is this: most of the chalets at the lodge run alongside the Crocodile River. The view is breathtaking. The chalets are built in such a way that you feel totally secluded from the rest of the resort. So it’s just you, and the banks of the Crocodile. And the amount of game you see from your stoep – it’s unbelievable! Within an hour of arriving (seriously, I’m not making this up) we had seen a lioness, an elephant, a buffalo and a rhino – okay, this was from the restaurant deck, a few 100 m up from our chalet, but it serves to illustrate the point!

View from the chalet View from the chalet

All these spectacular sightings from the comfort of your patio do seem to negate the need to go into the park itself for drives, but I definitely suggest it. While we didn’t see nearly as much game on our drives as we did from our patio and from the restaurant deck, it was lovely to drive into the park and to a few of the camps and the lookout sites for some exploring. Plus, I’ve heard it said that this part of the Kruger is the best for animal sightings. I’d definitely vouch for that! The bush in this area is lush enough to encourage animals to roam there, but not so dense that you can’t see them between the flora. We have seen everything imaginable in this area – even my personal favourite, wild dog.

As seen from our chalet As seen from our chalet

The Crocodile Bridge Gate is just a few kilometres from the lodge, and a ticket for day access cost R50 per person (just after peak season). The various camps and stops within the Kruger have really been revved up in the past few years. Crocodile Bridge, a popular camping site within the park, is beautifully taken care of, and even boasts a little coffee shop. A perfect place to get your caffeine fix on those early morning drives!

Getting up close and personal Getting up close and personal

While you’re there, even if you’ve been in that area of the park before, you definitely want to go into the little shop and buy a Kruger Park map book. These little treasures have all the routes laid out, with distances between them indicated. The latter is crucial – don’t underestimate the amount of time you’ll take to get from point A to B. What with keeping to the speed limits, stopping for game, and veering off to check out a watering hole or two, a short drive distance-wise could easily take you hours more than expected. And nothing will ruin the park for you like being hot and bothered in the car, 30 km from your camp. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Kruger Park holiday tips

& If you have the luxury, don’t go during peak season! It’s more expensive and it’s totally packed, both in the park and in the lodge. I’ve literally had to queue to get a look at an animal sighting. Being stuck in a traffic jam in the Kruger Park is just awful. Plus, all the animals are too scared by the hubbub to come out of the bush.

& Plan a picnic. The park is full of little picnic spot gems, like the one we went to this year just outside Berg en Dal (close to the Malelane Gate). It’s lovely to get out of the car and have sandwiches in the middle of the bush. Or you could be really adventurous and break an early morning drive with a fry-up breakfast at one of the picnic sites. Most of them are equipped with skottels – just check your handy-dandy map to see which.

& Birds are cool too – seriously, the bird life in this part of the world is unbelievable. Even if you’re not “twitchers” (what they call avid bird watchers like me and my family), there are some birds just to pretty to miss. I find people get so caught up in spotting the Big Five that they drive right past beauties such as lilac-breasted rollers or malachite kingfishers.

A Lilac-breasted Roller A Lilac-breasted Roller

& It’s a common misconception that keeping off the main tarred roads while driving in the Kruger means you’ll see more game. In my experience, this isn’t true. We’ve actually seen more from the main roads. My advice is to plan your route along both the tarred roads and the dirt roads.

& This part of the country is listed as a malaria area, so you may want to pop in to the doc beforehand and get some anti-malaria pills. My family and I chose not to, and lather ourselves up with a big spray at every opportunity we get. We’ve never had a problem. Still, the decision is yours – consult your doctor either way before you go.

-Kirstin Buick

Been to an interesting place and want to write a blog about it? Contact shane.barnard@huisgenoot.co.za

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