Traveller’s Tale: Tips for Exploring Kruger National Park, South Africa
A visit to world-famous Kruger National Park in southern Africa tops the bucket list for many travellers. And as Top Oz Tours' editor Adam Ford recently discovered, the extraordinary can be found around almost every turn in this wildlife wonderland.
A visit to Kruger National Park in South Africa is food for the soul of the weary tourist.
Now covering around 40,000 square kilometres (taking into account the reasonably new trans-national park borders with neighbouring Mozambique), this is undeniably the world’s premier wildlife sanctuary and a place of incredible wonder. Every time I visit Kruger I’m wowed by the range of animals that inhabit the park, and the relative ease with which you can spot them.
What’s the best way to explore Kruger National Park? My recommendation is to opt for a guided game drive over a self-drive experience. The last thing you want to be doing in the park is worrying about maps, gates, exits, fees and trying to keep at least one eye on the road as you scan the bush for your next animal sighting. Even if there’s someone else with you in the vehicle, they can’t be looking in all directions at once. Riding high in the back of an open-top safari vehicle, you can focus wholeheartedly on the game viewing. There’ll be several sets of eyes covering the terrain and a knowledgeable guide monitoring their radio for confirmed big cat sightings. Works for me!
When it comes to wildlife spotting, the early bird usually catches the worm — and that’s certainly the case here in Kruger. Be prepared to get started early. Really early. And it’s generally very cold in the park around dawn, so rug up!
Setting out for the first time, you can’t help but have high expectations. Yes! We will see all the big five, including the elusive leopard! We’ve come all this way, so we must! Well, let’s face it. Looking for a leopard in Kruger is literally like looking for a speckled black and yellow needle in a speckled black and yellow haystack, in the dark (when leopards are most active). There are about a thousand in the park, but that’s not many in an area this size. To make it even more challenging — these shy guys just don’t want to be found.
On one of our game drives, ranger guide Ed tells us that the best way to approach a day at Kruger is to have no expectations at all and to take everything that comes as a bonus. The park is full of unexpected, joyful experiences that will leave you breathless. Good things often come in very small packages, and it will all happen when you least expect it.
Sadly, the vast expanse of Kruger does have a downside. Due to the difficulty in patrolling such a massive area, the park faces that scourge of the African bush — poaching. In particular brutal rhino poaching, which supplies markets in the east with the prized horn — believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac. South Africa is home to more than 80% of the world’s remaining wild rhinos, with a good proportion of them located within the sprawling boundaries of Kruger. According to the UK-based Save the Rhino project, while rhino deaths from poaching are falling, at least two rhinos are slaughtered in the wild every day. An AK47 is generally the method of choice. The sad thing is — it would be so easy to fix. No demand equals no poaching.
While we don’t get to see a leopard on any of our drives, we do spot three lionesses in all their royal glory. We also see several of my favourite African animal — the warthog. They’re so unattractive, and yet so utterly gorgeous (watch them shoot off with their little tuft-tipped tales straight up in the air). There are ‘NAFIs’ galore (‘not another f’ing impala’ as the locals call them), and four rare honey badgers are the furry black and white icing on our Kruger cake.
Enjoy a slice for yourself one day soon. Your soul will thank you for it.
How do you get to Kruger National Park?
Kruger is located roughly five hundred kilometres north-east of air hub Johannesburg. One option is to rent a car and head up there yourself (the drive takes around six hours). However, most people do it as part of an organised tour or overland safari.
You can also fly to the park from Johannesburg. The flight time is one hour and there are a number of daily departures with South African Airways.
What’s the best time to visit the park?
Sub-tropical Kruger is a year round destination, but the best time to visit is during the dry season (from October to April). The grass is low and the animals are subsequently easier to spot.
What are you going to see in Kruger?
What aren’t you going to see? South Africaʼs Kruger National Park really is as good as it gets in terms of wildlife viewing. The park is home to elephant, giraffe, rhino, wildebeest, and a varied population of big cats. All of the Big Five call the park home — elephants, lions, Cape buffalo, leopards, and the elusive black rhino.
There are various ways you can explore the park. We prefer guided game drives because you have a lot more people in the truck scanning the landscape for sightings, which is really difficult to do in your own car. The guides on game drives are all linked up by radio and will check in with each other with details of big cat sightings.
Perseverance is the key. Yes, you have to get up early to do a morning drive, but that’s why you travelled thousands of kilometres to get here. Make the effort to head out again that same afternoon. You can relax when your holiday is over!
Where can you stay in Kruger National Park?
There are rest camps dotted throughout Kruger, which offer a variety of accommodation options (everything from grassroots lodges to luxury glamping). You’ll also find plenty of places to stay clustered around the various gates to the park, including the supremely comfortable Protea Hotel Kruger Gate.
By the way, if you are staying outside the park gates, don’t think you won’t get visited by wildlife in the middle of the night. There are no fences around Kruger!
Top Oz Tours offers a great range of South Africa tours, guided experiences, and attraction tickets and passes. There are no booking or credit card fees when you book through us, and you’ll have access to the widest choice of activities and most competitive prices.
Do you have any tips for exploring Kruger National Park? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours and Travel Ideas, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.