Kruger National Park is the top spot in the country to see amazing wildlife and big game. Whether it is the excitement of coming face to face with a giant elephant, observing the powerful movement of large herds or witnessing an intense moment of life, death or survival among different species of the animal kingdom, every day in Kruger is one guaranteed to be worthy of recounting over an evening campfire.
Driving through the park and observing the impressive variety of wildlife is an overwhelmingly satisfying experience for most visitors. But for those looking for more adventure, sunrise and sunset game drives, hiking into the wild with a ranger, mountain biking, camping, game hides, and even golfing in an unfenced 9-hole course in the middle of the park are sure to thrill.
Kruger National Park (S 24 59.574 E 031 35.536, 012-428-9111, www.sanparks.com/parks/kruger, daily conservation fee: adult R180, child R90) is for many visitors the country’s number one attraction, a place where a high concentration of lions, elephants, rhinos, giraffes and zebra roam freely and where a casual afternoon drive through the park can mean spotting hundreds of animals.
Kruger covers nearly 19,000 square kilometers and is one of the top game reserves in the world, both in terms of sheer size and in variety of wildlife. Many visitors drive through Kruger in their own vehicles, taking in these wild lands at their own pace and staying at one of the main rest camps. But for those looking for a more rustic bush experience, there are smaller and less developed satellite and bushveld camps as well as guided multi-day hikes. For those without a vehicle, there are all-inclusive tours that include transport, all-day game drives in open safari vehicles, accommodation and meals (see Tours for more information).
All of the main rest camps have cell phone coverage, but there is no coverage along many of the roads and at the smaller camps. The Kruger Park 24-hour emergency call number is 013-735-4325. Kruger Park is in a malaria zone and visitors to the park should make sure to wear insect repellent and clothes that cover any exposed skin. Consult with your doctor about taking anti-malaria medication and go to a clinic to get tested if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms.
There are a number of private game reserves that border the western edge of Kruger National Park. Originally separated from Kruger by a fence, many of the fences between the private game reserves and Kruger have been torn down so that the wildlife now roams freely. Most of the private reserves feature upmarket lodges, but in addition to the luxury accommodation they offer a more exclusive game viewing experience as entrance into many of the private reserves is limited to overnight guests only and game drives are conducted by well-trained rangers in lodge safari vehicles. The majority of the lodges operate on an all-inclusive basis and offer a morning and afternoon game drive, occasionally interspersed with a guided bushwalk and frequently including sunset cocktails in the bush, followed by a gourmet evening meal.
Sabi Sand (www.sabisand.co.za, R20/person, R110/vehicle) is a collection of a number of smaller adjacent unfenced private game reserves that together share a 50 kilometer unfenced border with Kruger. Sabi Sand has a reputation as one of the top upmarket safari destinations in the country with superb game viewing and exclusive luxury lodges. Unlike in Kruger or most of the surrounding private game reserves, the lodge safari vehicles within Sabi Sand are allowed to drive off-road into the bush. Well-trained guides in a limited number of vehicles are easily able to track animals and provide for some incredible up-close sightings of otherwise elusive animals.
The Sand River splits the reserve roughly into a northern and southern section. There are three entrance gates into the reserve, the Gowrie Gate (S 24 41.681 E 031 30.912) in the northern section, and the Newington Gate (S 24 52.149 E 031 24.272) and Shaws Gate (S 24 55.698 E 031 28.764) in the southern section. Guests with their own vehicles will be directed to enter through one of the above gates depending on which lodge they are staying with.
Timbavati Game Reserve (www.timbavati.co.za, R100/person, R80/vehicle) was formed by an association of 50 landowners who removed fences and joined their land together to form a 530 square kilometer game reserve in the 1950s. Later the fence between Timbavati and the Kruger National Park was torn down and the wildlife now roam freely across the borders. In addition to the big game, Timbavati is known for its small number of white lions. These rare animals are not albino but are a result of a recessive gene that causes their hair to be white.
Manyeleti (www.golimpopo.com, R20/person, R20/vehicle) means “place of the stars” in Shangaan and is a hidden gem when it comes to big game parks within South Africa. It is one of the unique private game reserves that allows day visitors to drive through the park in their own vehicles in addition to lodge safari vehicles. This is a great opportunity to view the same animals from neighboring Kruger, with fewer vehicles and at a fraction of the price.
Under apartheid, access to Manyeleti was reserved for the black population and was neglected and underfunded while nearby Kruger catered exclusively to whites. There used to be a fence between the parks, but it has since been knocked down, leaving wildlife to wander at will.
The main entrance gate (S 24 32.566 E 031 22.450, R531) is located on the same road as the Orpen Gate entrance into Kruger.