About the Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park
Lying in the heart of the Lowveld is a wildlife sanctuary like no other, its atmosphere so unique that it allows those who enter its vastness to immerse themselves in the unpredictability and endless wilderness that is the true quality of Africa.
The largest game reserve in South Africa, the Kruger National Park is larger than Israel. Nearly 2 million hectares of land that stretch for 352 kilometres (20 000 square kilometres) from north to south along the Mozambique border, is given over to an almost indescribable wildlife experience. Certainly it ranks with the best in Africa and is the flagship of the country’s national parks - rated as the ultimate safari experience.
The Kruger National Park lies across the provinces of Mpumalanga and Limpopo in the north of South Africa, just south of Zimbabwe and west of Mozambique. It now forms part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park - a peace park that links Kruger National Park with game parks in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and fences are already coming down to allow game to freely roam in much the way it would have in the time before man’s intervention. When complete, the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park will extend across 35 000 square kilometres, 58% of it South African, 24% Mozambican and 18% Zimbabwean territory.
This is the land of baobabs, fever trees, knob thorns, marula and mopane trees underneath which lurk the Big Five, the Little Five (buffalo weaver, elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, ant lion and rhino beetle), the birding Big Six (ground hornbill, kori bustard, lappet-faced vulture, martial eagle, pel’s fishing owl and saddle-bill stork) and more species of mammals than any other African Game Reserve.
The Kruger Park is a self-drive destination, although there are guided tour operators, with an excellent infrastructure that includes picnic sites, rest camps, waterholes and hides. The Kruger Park is a remarkable reserve offering an incredible experience of Africa at its most wild. (See Kruger Park Tours for overnight and package tours lasting from 1 night and 2 days to weeks long safaris or see Kruger Park Day Tours for single day guided trips into Kruger National Park.
Kruger Park's different Zones and Regions
Very broadly speaking, the Kruger National Park is flat with a few gentle hills, and people tend to classify the bushveld of the Kruger as unvaried and dry, which is rather like saying South Africa is sunny - it conceals an amazingly rich diversity. The Kruger National Park is divided into no fewer than six ecosystems - baobab sandveld, Lebombo knobthorn-marula bushveld, mixed acacia thicket, combretun-silver clusterleaf, woodland on granite, and riverine forest.
Four regions make it easier for you to select the type of experience you want from your time in the Kruger National Park:-
Kruger Park Central Region
Encompassing only 30% of the kruger park’s surface area, the central region supports nearly half the park’s lion population as well as numbers of leopard, hyena and cheetah. Possibly the main reason for this is the quantity of sweet grasses and abundant browsing trees found in this area that support a large group of antelope, giraffe, buffalo, zebra and wildebeest. But this does mean that it’s a popular region amongst tourists, and subsequently there are a number of camps in this region. It’s understandable though, as the chance of sighting even one of the 60 prides of lion that make the central region their home is a huge draw card.
Kruger's Far North Region
This is a rather fascinating part of the Kruger National Park, not least because the ecozones here are noticeably different from other habitats in the Kruger. Sightings of rare birdlife and major areas of sand formed by river flood plains, combined with sandstone formations of the Mozambique coastal plain, make it attractive to visitors. There are also a number of tropical aspects as part of the region lies in a rain shadow and along the banks of the Luvuvhu River is a series of riverine forest. A picnic site on the river bank provides hours of splendid bird viewing.
What you can witness in this part of the Kruger National Park is extraordinary - the knocking sand frog, a collection of bats, the nocturnal bushpig and the rare Sharpe’s grysbok. There are samango monkeys, packs of endangered wild dog, and the major water pans across the Wambiya sandveld are a good place to sight tropical warm-water fish, such as the rainbow killifish, not found anywhere else in South Africa. The sandstone hills, just west of Punda Maria, is the only place where you can see the Natal red hare and dassie or yellow-spotted hyrax. What makes a visit to this remote part of the Kruger park so meaningful is the solitude.
The Northern Kruger Park Region
North of the Orange River is a semi-arid region covering 7 000 square kilometres that sees very little rain. Vegetation here changes very little from the unvarying shrub mopane, which thrives in hot, low-lying valleys. However, across this great expanse of hot dryness, five rivers forge their way, providing narrow corridors along whose banks grow trees distinctly different from the mopane - the nyala, the sycamore fig, the tamboti and the tall apple leaf. The Letaba and Olifants rivers contain as much as 60% of the Kruger park’s hippo population, and bird life here abounds. There are plenty of bushpig in the undergrowth of the Luvuvhu River and on most of the river banks you can hope to see sizeable herds of elephant (the Kruger National park’s latest estimate is as many as 9000 of these beautiful beasts), buffalo, bushbuck, impala and kudu concentrated near a water supply.
The Southern Kruger Park Region
Bounded by the Crocodile River in the south and the Sabie River in the north, the southern region is also host to the jagged ridge of the Lebombo Mountains along the border with Mozambique, and the highest point in the park, Khandzalive, in the southwestern corner - almost in counterpoint to Pretoriuskop that lies in the west of the southern region of the Kruger National Park.
The valleys are home to trees rarely found in other parts of the Kruger park, such as the Cape chestnut, coral tree and lavender fever-berry; and granite lies beneath most of the region, producing distinctive smoothed koppies at irregular intervals, which are typically surrounded by rock figs and form ideal locations for rock dassies or hyrax, baboon and klipspringer, not to mention the odd leopard.
This is the region where you’re almost sure of seeing a white rhino as most of them occur here, particularly around Pretoriuskop, Mbyamiti River and south of lower Sabie. On the whole, there is more game purported to exist in the southern part of the park, so if you don’t make it to the northern reaches of the Kruger National Park , you won’t miss out. This part of the Kruger park is to some extent shrouded in history. Around Pretoriuskop, known for its profusion of trees, is Ship Mountain, its hull-shape the site of an old wagon trail that crosses a stream marking the birthplace of Jock of the Bushveld. The combretum woodlands, also part of this region, attract reasonable herds of kudu, impala, giraffe, buffalo, zebra, white rhino and elephant, and the scarcity of lion in this part of the park, makes way for the cheetah and wild dog.
What to Do Whilst in the Kruger National Park
Game drives are what the Kruger National Park is all about. If you’re on a kruger park safari then the highlight to any day is venturing out on the back of an off-road vehicle, binoculars clutched in one hand whilst the other hangs on for all you’re worth to the constantly rolling vehicle as it makes its way through the bush in hot pursuit of the latest pride of lions, sighted feeding on a kill just over the rise.
For those booked on a safari or into a private game lodge, regular game drives with an experienced ranger are part and parcel of your trip, and for those on self-drives through the Kruger National Park, Olifants, Mopani and Letaba restcamps provide night drives, whilst most of the restcamps offer early morning, mid-morning and sunset game drives. For the most part game drives last around 3 hours, and private lodges and game farms usually include a coffee break, breakfast or sundowners in the bush as part of the game drive experience.
Nothing can possibly beat the heart stopping excitement of tracking rhino, elephant and lion on foot through the heat of the bush. But it’s also one of the most incredible ways to learn about the fragility of the ecosystems of the Kruger Park and to see the smaller, but in no way less exciting, animals and insects of the park like termites, spiders, snakes and plants that tend to be ignored when on the more fast paced game drives. Bush walks can last up to four hours and stops are made to allow replenishment and a chance to take in the beauty of an area. In the Kruger Park it’s advisable to take your own snacks and sunscreen and most of the camps do morning and afternoon walks.
Foot Safaris in the Kruger National Park - Time spent on foot in a Wilderness area is the very embodiment of a memorable safari experience. And this experience can be appreciated at Mohlabetsi Safari Lodge. Tony and his team value the essence of a Foot Safari and are privileged to be able to share the Bush with their guests. To see the full article and get extra info please see: Foot Safaris in Kruger National Park.
There are a few incredible wilderness trails in the Kruger National Park, some in areas virtually untouched by humans, with names like Metsi-Metsi, Bushmans Wilderness Trail, Nyalaland, Napi Wilderness Trail, Wolhuter and the Sweni Wilderness. Most of these trails are about 2 days with 3 overnights in rustic huts with basic ablution in reed-walled showers and flush toilets, but on the whole, they’re in such demand that they’re booked out way in advance. These are aimed at smaller groups than bush walks and one needs to have a reasonable level of fitness as one averages 20 kilometres a day, although this is at a leisurely pace.
The Lebombo Overland Trail
This incredible five-day 'wilderness experience on wheels' takes you from Crocodile Bridge to Pafuri, and deserves a mention here. It’s an eco trail that takes you along the eastern boundary of the Kruger National Park along the Lebombo hills (hence the name) from the extreme south to the farthest northern edge. A maximum of five vehicles, with four people in each – so as not to affect the environment adversely, undertakes the trail that covers 500 kilometres. It’s a self-drive eco trail – you man your own vehicle and cater for yourself – that crosses magnificent rivers and encompasses some of the most beautiful scenery in the park – wide, open spaces, bushveld and magnificent trees at their best. The trail overnights at Lower Sabie, Olifants and Shingwedzi restcamps. Experienced and professional guides will lead the trail and interpret the different eco zones and explain the terrain on this trail, rated as the best in southern Africa purely because of the rich diversity of fauna and flora en route.
Where to Stay in the Kruger Park
In terms of the range of accommodation offered within Kruger, no national park in the world quite lives up to the same level of service. The Kruger National Park has a large number of rest camps, bushveld camps and lodges and even some overnight hides, all run by South African National Parks Board. But it is the luxurious privately-run game lodges that steal the show when staying in the Kruger National Park, as a trip is transformed into something more like an experience - the pace of life slows to a leisurely tempo, your every need is catered for, and extravagance is not spared. All this in the wild heart of Africa - small wonder that the Kruger Park has the reputation that it does.
Private, Luxury Game Lodges (Kruger Park concessions)
Up until fairly recently the only accommodation in the Kruger was the government run rest camps. However, large tracts of untouched land have been leased, in a fairly unusual commercial move by the park, to private operators who have established lodges run in a similar way to the luxurious private reserves on the western boundary of Kruger National Park, like Sabi Sands and Timbavati. These private game lodges might still be bound by most of the rules of the Kruger park, but they offer incredible luxury, superbly guided game drives, and the freedom to move into the greater park area if desired, although there is more than enough to occupy you when staying here. These private game lodges offer a more intimate and exclusive experience of the vast Kruger Park.
The most celebrated of these luxury private concessions includes Buhala Game Lodge situated on the banks of the Crocodile River where the familiar call of the Fish eagle, gracefully thatched accommodation and breathtaking scenery are yours to enjoy.
Jock Safari Lodge has as its southern boundary the old wagon route from Delgoa Bay to the gold fields of the interior, and, true to the surrounding wilderness, offers romantic and elegant suites influenced by indigenous Zulu and Swazi cultures; whilst Pestana Kruger Lodge lies on the Nkomazi tourist route known as the wild frontier, with views over the Crocodile River, just 150 metres away from the Malelane Gate on the south side of the Kruger National Park.
The Private Game Reserves within Kruger
Flanking the western boundary of the Kruger National Park are a number of private game reserves. Though none of them fall within the park’s boundaries, together they form the heart of South Africa’s big game country and some of the most famous private lodges and the best wildlife viewing in the world take place here. The main reason for rich game viewing is the free movement of animals between the private reserves and the Kruger National Park - at least 100 kilometres of fencing has been removed, ridding the area of man-made borders. The private game reserves allow for vehicles to leave roads, and animals on the whole are more used to the presence of man so there’s a greater chance of seeing them. Private game reserves include Sabi Sands Game Reserve, which is home to the well-known lodges of Ulusaba and Lions Sands; Timbavati Game Reserve and Klaserie Game Reserves.