View the Big Five in their natural habitat on this world-famous reserve
Bordering Mozambique to the northeast of South Africa, lies its pride and joy: the Kruger National Park. It measures 350km from north to south, and approximately 60km at its widest point, covering a total surface area of almost 2 million hectares (or 18 989 sq km). In 2002, it became part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which links it to the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe and the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique.There are eight main gates in the Kruger National Park – Paul Kruger, Numbi, Malelane, Crocodile Bridge, Punda Maria, Orpen and Phabeni.
The climate is subtropical with the summers extremely hot and humid. The rainy season is between September and May, which sees young animals frolicking in green grass, but the best time to visit is in the dry season (June-August) when the vegetation is less dense and most of the animals gravitate towards watering holes. It’s cooler and the risk of malaria is significantly lower too.
The south and central regions of the park boast numerous camps because of the proliferation of animals, while the northern region tends to be quieter as there are generally fewer animals.
The term ‘Big Five’ was coined by 19th-century hunters, and refers to lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino, then considered to be the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot. Because the area is so vast, viewing all five in a single visit is not a given. With an elephant population of around
12,000, at least you’re pretty likely to see one of those. Rangers have recorded more than 600 species of water and bush birds in the reserve.
You’re here to see game in their natural habitat, and there are a few ways of doing this. Most visitors self-drive, but there’s a few things to keep in mind. You’ll be given a list of rules upon arrival – ignore them at your peril. Drive on approved roads only. The speed limit is 50km/h on paved roads, 40km/h on gravel roads and 20km/h in rest camps. Stay in your vehicle unless you’re at a designated picnic site.
Most of the camps offer game drives. Morning drives leave at 4.30am in summer and 5.30am in winter and last for two to three hours. Night drives are a great way to see predators in action feasting on their kills.
Guided walks are a thrilling way to experience the animals of Kruger. A knowledgeable guide will open up a new world for you, especially if you’re not that clued-up about animals. Most camps offer early morning, mid-day or afternoon walking tours, accompanied by two armed guides. It is an up-close-and-personal encounter with nature. The three- to four-hour walks are not too strenuous. Dress comfortably and remember to bring a wide-brimmed hat and sunblock. Wear your khakis – the idea is to blend in. Remember to stay hydrated, especially in summer. You’ll find hides close to rest camps or picnic sites throughout the park. All the hides are close to water points and allow you to observe animals as they come to drink.
If you want a seriously off-the-beaten-track experience, book a wilderness trail. These are two-day, three-night affairs for groups and there are seven different trails throughout the park, each chosen for its scenic beauty. If you’re lucky, you’ll come face-to-face with a huge variety of animals, including elephants and predators. A reasonable level of fitness is required, as you’ll walk up to 20km a day. Nights are spent around a fire at a base camp and meals are provided. The camp has gas-heated showers but no electricity.
The Kruger National Park has 11 rest camps, five bush camps, seven satellite camps and 15 private lodges – catering for luxe lovers, roughing-it campers, and budget-conscious families. The park’s camps and lodges, restaurants, camping sites and ablution facilities are spotless. All the rest camps have electricity, and all units except safari tents have air-conditioning. The larger rest camps have shops, restaurants, petrol stations, ATMs, swimming pools and emergency facilities. SANParks. +27 12 428 9111. Rates Daily conservation fee $21 per adult per day, $11 per child per day (foreign visitors).