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How to Prepare for Your Visit to Kruger National Park

Johnathan Muller is a very inquisitive Capetonian who takes an interest in everything around him. Follow his journey of lifelong learning

Sunset from our snack stop spot in Kruger

Sunset from our snack stop spot in Kruger

Having traveled through Kruger so many times over the last 12 years has given me some good insight into the do's and don'ts and how to get the best out of a game viewing experience.

I would like to share my hint and tips but I'm hoping to get some interaction from others who have traveled through Kruger as well because I am pretty sure I will not have covered everything at the end of this article.

Gate Entry

It is advisable to get through the gates as early as possible, in the morning. This way you have a chance of seeing the animals that are usually active at night. It is really worth getting up early for.

Download the park entry forms beforehand to avoid spending time at the gate completing forms. There is an entry and an exit form. Make sure that you download and fill out the correct form. There are also forms for groups.

Note: You are required to carry your identity document or passport with you in the park at all times.

What Equipment to Bring

  • Binoculars: There are great advantages to using high-quality equipment. Get professional advice.
  • Camera: You need one which will be able to capture animals from a distance. The little digital pocket camera is not great for this.
  • Cellphone: Make sure it has a local connection and emergency numbers.
  • Batteries: Always carry an extra set.
  • Memory Cards: Always carry spare ones.
  • Insect Repellent: This will be especially useful in the open vehicles.
  • Sun Lotion: This is very important. Don't forget to wear it.
  • Sun Hat: Choose one blocks the sun but has ventilation.
  • Hiking Pole or Stick: You'll want this for adventuring.
  • Water Bottle: Take along on hikes and stay hydrated.
  • Map: Get one to plan your route. Do not purchase the ones at the front gate. Buy one, from a shop inside the park, which has the animal pictures in the back section and an animal checklist inside.

General Information and Tips

  • Time-keeping is very difficult on a game drive. If you're on your way to lunch and suddenly there are lions in the road, you're definitely going to be delayed.
  • If you need to take medication, consider the point above.
  • The park has operation times and if you do not leave on time you're liable for a penalty.
  • You are not allowed to step out of your vehicle unless in a designated spot.
  • Should you experience a breakdown, stay in your vehicle and try to draw the attention of passing traffic by flashing your lights.
  • Toilets are available at the rest camps only.
  • There is a bank, ATM, and a post office at the main rest camp, Skukuza.

General Safety

  • It is very important to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations of the park. Please note that there are speed limits in the park that must be adhered to.
  • There are many traffic officers monitoring the roads. Also, beware of speed-checking devices.
  • Never get out of your vehicle inside the park unless in designated spots.
Lone Elephant Bull

Lone Elephant Bull

Best Time of Year to Go

It all depends on what are you hoping to see.

  1. In this part of the world, we have a tropical climate. The main thing to remember is that game movement and concentration are governed by the availability of water.
  2. The dry season is from May to October. After good summer rains, the dams may hold good amounts of water to sustain the animals through most of the dry season.

September

September is generally a good time to be in the park as the grass is low and animals are easier to spot.

During the rainy season, the grass is longer and the game is harder to spot. However, the animals would choose the path of least resistance to move around and you have a good chance of seeing animals on or along the roadside. They will however also be more widespread.

November and December

November and December are excellent months of the year for bird lovers.

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Be aware that the above scenarios are not cast in stone. There are years when water is scarce due to low rainfall. You have to consult with the park, directly, or with people who go there regularly, or with your tour operator.

Typical 4x4 open vehicle for game viewing

Typical 4x4 open vehicle for game viewing

Self-Drive vs 4x4 Game-Drive

  1. My choice is to do the game-drive option and by that I mean to book yourself onto a 4x4 open vehicle and do your viewing that way.
  2. Some people prefer the self-drive option because they enjoy being in an air-conditioned vehicle or they do not enjoy traveling with a group.
  3. The third option is a game walk. This is possible but only on the concessions like Lukimbi in the Southern part of the park. However, there is an age limit of 60 years.

1. 4x4 Game-Drive

Advantages

  • You have elevation and can see further to spot animals.
  • You have a professional field guide on board.
  • There is very little danger of being trampled or attacked by big game.
  • On the private concessions you are allowed to go off-road to view the big five and you are allowed to do night drives.
  • You are allowed to use the gravel road that big coaches are not.
  • The guides are in touch with each other by two-way radio to inform of sightings.
  • in some parts of the park, only these 4x4s may go off-road for the big five sightings.
  • you experience the sounds and smells of the bush.
  • When viewing elephants, they often come right up close to the vehicle and if you were allowed to you could actually touch them.
  • You have the advantage of more eyes on the bush looking for animals.

Considerations in a Group

  1. Always obey your guide.
  2. Drink lots of water to stop yourself from dehydrating.
  3. When viewing animals, do not speak loudly.
  4. Consider your fellow passengers to afford them an opportunity to take pictures as well.
  5. you may have situations where some people in the vehicle are not able to take a picture. Offer to take the pictures for them.
  6. If you have been lucky to get a seat on the side of the vehicle, then consider changing seats, during the course of the day, with someone who has been sitting in the middle seats.

Finding the Best Seat

The game drive vehicles can seat ten passengers. The seat configuration on the 4x4 vehicles is as follows:

  • one seat next to the driver
  • three rows of three seats each on the back of the vehicle

The very last row on the back gives the best elevation and panorama.

  • However, if you're driving on bad roads it's the worst for your back. It's very bouncy back there.

The middle row is the most constricted.

  • Very few complain about sitting here. However, if you're sitting between two people, it's a problem.

The front row offers great views and you're close to the guide.

  • It's the easiest of the seats to get in and out of.

The front seat is lower than all the others but you're right next to the driver.

  • Elderly people who have difficulty climbing onto the back of the vehicle prefer this seat.

My Recommendations

  • You do not want to be sitting between two people. However, people who are afraid of wild animals prefer this position.
  • You do want to be sitting on the side...any one of them

2. Self-Drive

Tips and Considerations

  • Make sure that you purchase a map of the park and an animal checklist.
  • Plan your route.
  • Consult the spotting chart at the rest camps. Each camp has a chart indicating where various animals have been spotted in the park on that day.
  • Start your drive the moment the park opens in the morning. The best times are when the weather is cool.
  • Water holes are good places during mid-morning and generally during the dry periods.
  • Speak to other travelers at the rest camps to hear what they have seen etc.
  • You can hire a suitable vehicle in Kruger. If you are a local or a tourist you may want to hire a vehicle more suitable for Kruger Park conditions once you're there. Just follow the link and you can exercise that option.

Disadvantages

  • You miss out on a lot of game viewing since you do not have the two-way radio networking advantage of the game drive vehicles.
  • Your chances of spotting game are lower without an experienced game ranger.
  • You do not have the height advantage of a 4x4 vehicle.
  • Have you ever tried jostling for space with 4x4's, huge coaches, and other vehicles at a viewing? It can turn ugly…and it has.
  • You often have little clue of what you're looking at.
  • You end up, more than often, disturbing other people to find out what they're looking at.

Etiquette

When you arrive at a viewing you have to consider others as well.

  • Do not hog the best spot and block the view of others. Take pictures and move along.
  • Do not force animals out of the road because you're in a hurry.
  • Never blow your horn.
  • When you come across animals like Lion and Leopard on the roadside and you've positioned your vehicle favorably, turn off your engine. Often the noise from the engines and air-conditioners can disturb the animals.
  • Share information of sightings with others along the way.

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