There is something about safari life that makes you feel heartfelt gratitude for being alive – the same as when you drank half a bottle of Amarula watching a bush sunset.
The Kruger National Park is probably one of the best Safari experiences South Africa has to offer. The best the world has to offer. This National protected area is larger than some countries like Israel. It is one of my favorite breakaways. You can drive the same route every day and never see the same thing twice.
The Kruger National Park is rich in nature and culture and even history. It also hosts a memorial to Jock of the Bushveld – a true story of a South African author traveling with his dog during the gold rush of the 1880s. Jock started out as the runt of the litter and soon became known for his unparalleled loyalty, courage, and bravery. If you have never heard about this legend I highly suggest you read the book or watch the movie. If do find yourself in Kruger go have a look at the memorial. There are quite a few memorials around the Kruger that is worth the read if you are fascinated by history.
A lot of archeology artifacts dating back to the stone age have been found in this park as well. If you are lucky you can still spot some of the pictures painted on the walls from the San people. This is without a doubt one of the best National Parks in the world. It has played a big part in protecting South Africa’s historical heritage and protecting wildlife in Africa.
In 1898 one of South Africa’s best known presidents, Paul Kruger, started this park officially as the Sabiewildreservaat. He started this to protect the African wildlife from the growing ivory trade and the insane trophy hunting industry.
In 1927 The Kruger National Park was opened to the public.
The Kruger National Park Fun Facts
- The Kruger National Park spans across 19 633 square kilometers – just a fraction smaller than Belgium. More than 90 countries are smaller than the Kruger National Park.
- The Kruger National Park is home to over 12 000 elephants – the babies are the cutest thing you’ll ever see.
- The Kruger National Park is home to the big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino) but it is also home the ugly 5 (warthog, vulture, wildebeest, marabou stork, hyena)
- The Kruger National Park has more large mammal species than any other park in Africa, and likely the world.
- The Kruger National park got its name from South African President Paul Kruger.
How Long To Visit The Kruger National Park
The Kruger National Park is such a rich experience that I recommend staying at least five days allowing yourself time to take it all in. At the very very least I would say no less than two nights. If you have time plan your trip well and make your way all up to the north and back in a loop. There are so many roads and nooks to explore and if you do have time on your side book a night or two or three at each of the rest camps and give yourself time to explore the maze of roads around each rest camp. You can drive the same road each day for a week and have a different encounter every single time.
Where to stay at the Kruger National Park
There are a multitude of options available from staying outside the Kruger National park and making daytrips, although I would suggest staying at one of the bungalows in the Kruger or camping at the many campsites. There are also a couple of Private game lodges, tented campsites and more luxury sites available. I am not going to host an opinion on which site it the best, because each holds its own charms and are really dependable on what type of experience you are looking for. Also remember that costs differs dependent on what option you choose. If you are on a tight budget, rather opt in for a camping site. The last Bungalow I stayed at had two cute Bushbabies that lived in one of the fence pipes.
The Kruger National Park Experience
I have visited the Kruger National Park many times before. My dad in an intense conservationist and activist for protecting our animals, as is one of his friends who is one of the leading conservationist in the world and who has done a lot for protecting our wildlife against poaching. With this being the case we had some crazy and great interactions from my parents being chased up a tree by rhinos, to having the large-spotted genet crawl up in bed with me, to having hyenas break into our campsite and steal our meat. If I write down every experience I will be writing a not so short novel, so instead I will keep to the last experience a few weeks ago.
My brother and I decided to convince my parents to have a mini 3-night break away to the Kruger, not that they needed much convincing. What a trip it was. We were lucky enough to spot the entire big five all in one day. My favorite sightings were the elephants. Majestic. Breaking down trees like they were twigs, feasting on amarula fruit – an acquired taste, but delicious. They bathed in the river played with mud, played with each other, but there are two things that always stuns me about these gentle giant. One bein how incredibly cute the babies are – no seriously they are adorable! The second being how something so big can move so silently and almost disappear in an instance.
My mom, of course, has a new bird book so we had to stop for every tiny little bird whether we have them by the hundreds at home or not. Be that as it may, we had incredible bird sightings. Unfortunately, I did not heat my own warning and thus did not pack an extra memory card or battery for my camera which leads to me not taking a photo of the leopard pulling an impala up the tree. Not taking photos constantly also made that I could be more present in the moments and just take it all in in real life. Below is a very blurred photo of the bushbabies that lived at our bangalow.
We also stopped to stare at the smaller animals which are just as entertaining – if not more so. And lets be honest, who doesn’t love a giraffe?
We had awesome hippo sightings. Don’t let these full-bodied cuties fool you. They are one, if not the most dangerous animals in Africa. They are fast speed freaks in water and super fast on land. They are also very protective of their space. See if you can spot the HUGE crocodile in the photo below. These two are on constant battles with each other.
The most disturbing thing we saw was Southern Ground Hornbills fight over a tiny dead baby rabbit. As much as I find these birds impressive I also find them quite intimidating. This is definitely a bird for the ‘tickers’ – birdwatchers who ticks off their lifetime bird sightings.
Unfortunately their numbers has also decreased significantly due to being used in traditional medicine. They are now listed as an endangered species and one reason is because of the many myths, mysteries, and superstitions surrounding these birds. In some traditions you are not allowed to kill these birds unless an elder tells you to because for the most part they symbolize good fortune. To kill these birds are considered a grave sin. Many African cultures consider these birds sacred, in most African cultures however witch doctors would ritualistically kill them in times of draught because they are considered rain-bringers. This has lead to almost no sightings of these birds outside the Kruger National Park. Some of the believes such as if they are near your house and you do not shoo them away someone will die or that the ground they grace or good to keep livestock on actually comes from the fact that they eat snakes.
To be honest I can’t answer the question on should they be feared or sought out as a spirit guide, there is too many legends surrounding these birds dependent on culture to make a call – if you don’t know it yet, South Africa speaks 11 official languages and our cultures spread well beyond those languages. What I can say without a doubt is that I met myself once or twice in the good and evil nature of these birds.
My brother’s favorite sighting was a crocodile that chased evasive turtles. They would swim around with outstretched necks to taunt him and as soon as he opens is mouth and bite down they would pull into their shells. And then of course the cheetah sighting on a very misty morning our last day. This is his favorite animal and we were not left disappointed. This is the largest cat native to Africa and the fastest land animal capable of running at 80 to 128 km per hour. The Cheetah can also reach 112km per hour in just three seconds. That is faster than a sports car accelerates. They are built for speed so they need wide open spaces where they can run and hunt freely. Unfortunately these incredible animals are speeding towards extinction and it is up to us to protect them. They are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN red list. A final interesting fact about cheetahs is that they don’t roar but purr – they are a cat after all.
Kruger National Park Tips
The southern part of the Park has more rain and thus more animal sightings than the northern part of the Park, but the southern part also have a lot more traffic – this can be a blessing when you are stuck behind a car that is really good at spotting cool things to see.
Don’t try to drive too far in one go. Drive slower, stop at lookout points and dams and you will have a lot more sightings.
Early morning and later in the evenings are usually the best times to spot animals and the best time for photography. Midday over the heat of the day is the best spent having a braai, next to the pool, or chilling out in a restaurant. Maybe even catch up on some shopping.
Fuel is available at the bigger rest camps – but watch that needle. This is one place where you don’t want to be caught without fuel. You can also rent a car at Skukuza.
Book at the camp for Safaris. I will recommend early morning and sunset. The night safaris can be good, for example, we saw almost 13 hyaenas on the last one I booked, but this is a gamble and they are not always great.
Gates close so do keep that in mind if you are driving yourself. You don’t want to be caught outside the camp after curfew and be mistaken for a poacher. Also speeding is a hard no!
If you only have 2 days and are adamant to see the big 5 (lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo, and rhino) I suggest driving from Skukza to Berg-en-Dal, Korkodil Brug, and Onder Sabbie.
The north is great for bigger sightings so if you do have the time, it is worth the trip.
It is suggested that you take preventative medication for malaria before visiting, usually you start the medicine between a week and two days. I don’t take it because I have grown up close to this area, but I would suggest taking it and not taking chances. Especially if you are traveling with children. I would also advice against visiting if you are pregnant. Due to the malaria dangers and also the long hours that is sometimes spent in transit.
What to pack to the Kruger National Park
- Mosquito repellent – thank me later. I usually pack those peaceful sleep candles and you also get those peaceful sleep things that you can plug into the wall to keep the mosquitos at bay.
- Sunblock, hat, sunglasses – the African sun can be harsh, even in winter and no one wants to age prematurely.
- Penaculars – this is dragon country which means a lion can be killing a buck in the wide-open space and you don’t want to miss that.
- Bird and Animal books. In all my years of identifying birds and animals and growing up in Africa, there are still animals and birds that I see for the first time when I visit here. You think you will remember but you don’t after 10 new discoveries within the last 10 minutes. You think that Google will help when you type in brown bird red spots Africa, but that is not always the case.
- An actual Kruger map and guide. I do like the Tinker maps.
- Camera, extra battery (trust me you need this), extra memory card – I went through 5 in 3 days.
- Water and snacks! You need to be prepared here. You will sit in a car for hours and you need to be well-nourished to point out the once-in-a-lifetime thing that is happening right in front of your eyes.
- Flashlight and or headlamp – again this is dragon country, better known to the locals as another day in Africa.
- Remember those malaria pills.
To be honest – this is one of those places that will live in your heart always. It is incredible that President Paul Kruger had the vision that land to this extend needs to be protected for these animals to move freely. It is in each of our powers to continue this fight for conservation by spreading awareness, becoming activists ourselves and even donating to the cause.
Wild and untamed