A safari is a strange concept for those of us who live in Africa. We rather say we’re off to the bush. It is a privilege to live in Africa, even with all its ups and downs. We are never far from a great game experience and we tend to make the most of it. It doesn’t take much persuading to head off “on safari”. I have a great love of nature and have been lucky enough to visit Kruger, as the locals call it, at least half a dozen times. There is a thrill of not knowing what you will see around the next corner. Every day is an adventure.
PLANNING YOUR SAFARI
- The Kruger National Park covers a little over 2 000 000 million hectares. This is just a little bit smaller than Belgium and about a third of the size of Ireland
- Kruger is 360 km (220 miles) long and 65 km (40 miles) wide
- It has 9 gates to allow entrance to the park and about 1800 km (1118 miles) of road. Not all roads are tarred, but the main ones are.
- Winter months (June –September) are the best time to visit, when the vegetation is drier. This means that you are able to look through the bush to see the animals. It is also the coolest time of the year.
- The Kruger National Park does fall within a malaria risk area, although it is low. I have never taken anti-malaria medication, but this is a risk I am prepared to take as I do not like the side effects. Mosquitos are around most in the morning and evenings so cover up and use a mosquito spray. Anti- malaria medication is recommended for visitors to this area. Consult your doctor for further advice.
The luxury safari lodges on the whole are situated along the western boundary of the park. These are mostly privately owned. In simple terms there is a large block of land divided into individual reserve areas. These are exclusive and expensive. If you can afford this it is a great option for the ultimate safari experience; however I have chosen to do this only once and stayed at the fabulous Mala Mala Game Reserve. The advantage of staying at any of the luxury lodges is that you will almost certainly see the Big Five (Lion, Elephant, Rhinoceros, Water Buffalo and Leopard).
These are exclusive areas in the park itself. The standard of accommodation is high as is the guiding. This also allows for night drives and up close sightings of nocturnal animals that you otherwise would not see. Staying here means that the drives can go into the heart of the park, instead of just a defined reserve area. This is a complete list of these concessions in the park.
Parks Board Accommodation
This covers the chalets, hides and camping areas managed by the South African National Parks ( SAN Parks). Details of accommodation available and bookings can be made on their official site which offers a wealth of information. This is my go to option when I visit Kruger.
Other accommodation options
If you are not able to find accommodation in the park then why not stay in one of the surrounding towns that are close to the numerous gates? My favourite of these is Hazyview which is a gateway to the southern part of the park. We normally stay at Kruger Park Lodge, set on a golf estate. There is a wonderful water hole where you can sit and watch the antics of the hippos as you watch the sunset. This accommodation can easily be found on Airbnb. There are also many other options to suit for all budgets in the town.
There are 3 distinct regions within the park. Southern Kruger Park, Central and Northern Kruger. They all have their own charm, but the area with the highest concentration of game is in the south. This is savannah land and offers most of the accommodation options in the park. The biggest rest camp is Skukuza, on the banks of the Sabie River. There are too many people around this rest camp for me and as a result I prefer to stay at Lower Sabie rest camp with a view of the Lebombo Mountains and fewer people.
The Central and Northern areas of the Kruger National Park are hilly and tropical making it more difficult to spot game. It is a great place if you want to go off the beaten track. It somehow feels more remote, with less travellers venturing into this area. My preference for a stay here is at Olifants (Elephants) Camp, perched on a hilltop above the Olifants River. There is a breath-taking panoramic view of the bush and you frequently see large herds of elephants drinking at the river below.
All the rest camps in the park have food and drinks available. Some rest camps have large restaurants while others have small shops or kiosks. If you are camping you can get most of the basics at the shops.
TIPS FOR YOUR VISIT
- Bring your passport. You will need it to get into the park.
- Head to water holes. They are an interesting place to sit and watch the animals. All the animals head to water for a drink, so you never know what you will see apart from the usual suspects.
- Focus on one region of the park. It is impossible to cover all of it.
- Check the sighting boards at the rest camps. It will give you a good idea of what is in the area.
- Talk to game rangers you may see along the way and ask them what they have seen and where the sighting was.
- Follow the rules of the park. Do not get out of your vehicle in an undesignated area. It’s asking for trouble!
- Stick to the speed limit. It is there for a reason. You could come screaming around the corner into a herd of elephants. I am sure you have seen what an upset elephant can do to a car.
- You are not able to go out at night unless you are in a registered safari vehicle
- Get moving early it’s the best time of day for game viewing.
- Do not underestimate the time it takes to drive a relatively short distance. If there are animals on the road you can be stuck for an hour or more so allow ample time to reach your destination. I speak from experience. The brochure you are given on arrival has good information on times and distances. As a guide allow at least 1.5 hours for 50 km
- Do not miss the gates closing times. This will result in heavy fines and will spoil the experience.
- Remember that it is not a zoo, so don’t expect the see everything the park has to offer. On my last 3 visits I have seen no cats, but almost everything else.
- Don’t feed the monkeys. They may look cute, but they are wild animals and are very fast.This is an especially important tip to remember.
- Be patient. This will go a long way to enhance your experience.
- A pair of binoculars is always useful
- It is advisable to take a drink with you in the car as it can get really hot during the day.
Once you have smelt the dust, seen an African sunset or watched the moon rise over the veld, heard the haunting call of the fish eagle or stumbled on a herd of elephants you will be hooked. Africa gets under your skin and the bush and your experience will always have a special place in your heart.
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