Kruger like a local

2013-01-10 14:21
lthough the Kruger National Park is a beautiful destination to visit year round, in my mind, winter has always been the season it wears best.

The days are warm and sunny in a t-shirts-and-shorts kind of way, departing from the cloying sultriness of their summer counterparts, while evenings are cool, crisp, and utterly perfect for fireside tales, braaied marshmallow and coffee in tin cups.

Being the dry season, mozzies and malaria are hardly a threat and the veld's golden robe yields to your eyes with an ease that would make its lush, green summer self blush, to reveal the shy and lazy creatures who like to hide away.

So, with the winter school holidays just around the corner, I can honestly think of no better family break than a magical self-drive meander through Africa's biggest and oldest game reserve.

If this sounds good to you too, brush up on the facts and trivia that will help you navigate the national park like a true local.

Ideal itinerary:

Morning Wake up bright and early (before sunrise in fact) to experience the stirring of the bush all around you. Drink in the early morning sounds as you sip a piping cup of 'boeretroos' accompanied by a couple of rusks. Go over the routes you'd like to take to ensure a clear plan for the day, pack some brekkie ingredients, hop in the car, head to the gate and enjoy the magical African sunrise unfolding around you.

This is probably the best time of day for great sightings, as most animals are intent on catching the proverbial worm, and everyone in the car is stil fresh and wide awake. Once you have a few species on your list, stop off at a watering hole or viewing spot for a breather and another warm cuppa from the flask.

Mid-morning: Slowly start wending your way to a picnic spot where you will be able to rent a gas braaier and indulge in a delectable cook-up - eggs, bacon, onions, the works - in the middle of the bush. Just remember that these are also favourite hang-out spots for cheeky monkeys, happy hornbills, naughty starlings and sometimes even bold bushbuck or two, so hold on tight to your plates!

Afternoon: After picnic time, laziness starts creeping up... and that's okay, the animals feel it too. Don't hesitate to head back to the rest camp for some well-deserved relaxation. Take a walk, a nap, a shower or just explore. This is also the perfect time to stock up on fire wood, drinks and other necessities for the evening's braai.

Late afternoon: Once everyone's recuperated, set out on a peaceful late afternoon drive with coffee/tea flask and biscuits in tow. Before leaving, go check the sightings board where your fellow game seekers would have indicated their big 5 and rare game sightings with colourful pins.

Don't wander off too far, as getting back to the camp before the gates close can be quite stressful!

Evening: Once back at the camp, settle down for sundowners, unpack the snacks, prepare the braai and just kick back. An early night happens surprisingly easily in the Kruger Park, so no need to rush through the proceedings. Time runs a course of its own there!

Size: The park covers a whopping area of 19 624 square km, stretches 352 km from north to southand extends an average of 60 km east to west. Yes, it's the size of a small country..

Kruger by numbers: There are 147 mammal-, 500 bird-, 116 reptile-, 34 amphibian-, and 49 fishspecies in the park, as well as 457 different types of trees and shrubs and 1500 smaller plants
950 000 people visit the park every year, of which 80% are South Africans

The park was established in 1898 to protect the wildlife of the Lowveld, making it 113 years old now!

Atmosphere: Although the animals are pretty cool, and the rest camps are lovely, the most enchanting thing about the park is the incredible atmosphere that envelops you as soon as you enter the gate.

As your car settles into its new slower pace, the silence and sounds of the bush rise around you, and your cell phone slowly starts to lose reception (don't tell the teens!) you can actually feel the shackles of your daily life shake loose and worries disappear... just make sure you don't anger any elephants if you want to keep this calm!

What adds to the atmosphere is the special sense of camaraderie that is so tangible among visitors to the park. Everyone is there for the same reason, appreciates the same things and has a special interest in nature. You will also very seldom find fellow guests being rowdy and annoying at night, making it safe to assume that everyone knows the protocol and sticks to it without being threatened or forced. Perhaps one just can't help but have a bit of awe-inspired respect!

Speed limit: I've mentioned the slower pace, but if you're escaping the rat race of the city, you may need quite a bit of time to adjust, as the speed limit throughout the park is 50km/h on the tarred roads, 40km/h on the gravel roads and 10km/h in the rest camps.

The reasons are simple and obvious - here the animals are royalty and always have right of way and if you happen to hit one, a massive fine awaits. Besides how would you be able to spot that giveaway flick of a tail or twitch of an ear at anything faster than 50km?

Distances: Another effect of the strict speed limits is that distances take much longer than they would on an average drive in a city or town. To put it in perspective, a distance of 12km will take you about half an hour to drive.

So, if you're heading to a rest camp that happens to be 100 km away, make sure that you have ample time for unexpected stops.

There's nothing worse than coming across an amazing sighting - think a leopard lazing in a tree, a lion kill, elephants having a bath - and then having to rush off before enjoying it to the full, because the camp's gate is almost closing and you're still kilometers away.

Rest camps: There are 26 rest camps over all, of which 12 are considered to be main camps, 4 satellite camps, 5 bushveld camps, 2 overnight hides, 2 bush lodges and one rustic camp site.

Skukuza is the largest rest camp and serves as the park's capital. It's quite centrally located and easy to access. With a few restaurants, a museum, a doctor, a petrol station, ample rondavels, camping space and a whole staff village, it really is like a magical little town.

Although all the rest camps have a charm of their own, Tamboti tented camp has got to be right at the top of my favourites list. With no paved walkways, ‘street lights' or shops, it's a lot more rustic than the other camps and leaves one feeling closer (or more exposed) to nature. A trip to the toilet can be rather scary at night, so stock up on batteries for your torch and take someone big and strong along.

Hikes: If a mere drive through the park won't bring you as close to nature as you want to be, you could always opt for one of the seven magnificent guided wilderness trails.


The Kruger National park is divided into four regions - South, Central, North and Far North - each with a distinct look, feel, and distribution of game.


Not very rich in game, but of great historical significance with the location of Skukuza, Pretoriuskop and Stevenson Hamilton's grave site.

Gates: Malelane, Crocodile Bridge, Numbi, Paul Kruger, and Phabeni

Good for sighting: Lions, Black and white rhino

Vegetation: Marula, Leadwood and Acacia are the most common

Best game viewing routes: Although the Southern part of the park is not as densely populated with animals as the rest of the par, Voortrekker Road (H2-2) is a great route to take. It is also of historical significance, as Jock of the Bushveld was born on this road. Albasini is also a great route and very easy to access from the Numbi or Phabeni gate.

Prominent picnic spots: Tshokwane

Main rest camps: Skukuza, Lower Sabie, Pretoriuskop


This is by far the most game rich area of the entire park and also has some stunning scenery.

Gates: Orpen

Good for sighting: The usual suspects - zebra, giraffe, and wildebeest, which means it's the perfect hunting grounds for predators like lions, leopards and cheetahs to vie for their next meal. In the extreme South-West you may even be lucky enough to spot a pack of wild dogs.

Best routes to take: The breathtaking Timbavati route will take you along the river of the same name, so keep your eyes peeled for leopards lounging in the trees and perhaps even a siting of the famous white lions.

Prominent picnic spots: Timbavati

Main rest camps: Satara, Olifants and Talamati


Although not quite as arid as the far North, this area starts becoming more open scrub land.

Gates: Phalaborwa

Good for sighting: Elephants, Buffalo, Tsessebe and Ostrich

Best routes to take: Use Letaba rest camp as a base and follow some of the gorgeous routes in this area. Letaba to Olifants is one of the main game viewing roads in the North, so follow it and be sure to see something spectacular.

Prominent picnic spots: Maybe just a tiny bit South of the actual Northern region, but still worth a little drive is Mooiplaas.

Main rest camps: Letaba and Mopani. While you're at Letaba remember to visit the Elephant Museum.

Far North

Extending between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Limpopo river, which of course forms the border with Zimbabwe, this part of the park is mostly flat, arid and also the least accessible if you're coming from the Southern parts of South Africa. However, if you want a magnificently African experience, this is where you should go... Majestic baobabs, stunning sunsets and wide open plains await.

Gates: Punda Maria and Pafuri

Good for sighting: Although the game-viewing is not as easy as in the central parts of the park, this area promises a few unique sighting opportunities including Sable, Roan, Nyala and Eland antelope. If you're into birding this is also your best bet for spotting the rare Pel's Fishing Owl.

Best routes to take: Luhuvu River drive to Crook's corner is excellent for spotting Nyala

Prominent picnic spots: Babalala

Main rest camps: Shingwedzi, Punda Maria and Pafuri

Read more on:    travel south africa

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