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On Safari in Greater Kruger National Park

Updated on July 10, 2016

Why Go on Safari?

Kruger National Park

A markerKruger National Park -
Kruger National Park, Skukuza Camp Rd, Skukuza, 1350, South Africa
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Hippos wallowing and playing in the river. Photo: Matt Feierabend.
Hippos wallowing and playing in the river. Photo: Matt Feierabend.
Scrub typical of this region of South Africa. Photo; Di Robinson
Scrub typical of this region of South Africa. Photo; Di Robinson

10 Great Facts About Kruger

  1. Kruger National Park is South Africa's first national park. It was set up in 1926.
  2. Greater Kruger National Park comprises the national park and the nature reserves around it.
  3. South African National Parks (SANParks) manages the park, while private owners manage the nature reserves.
  4. Fences between reserves and park were removed in 1993. Animals now roam freely between them.
  5. Most nature reserves are in the south west of the park. The exception is the Makuleke Wilderness Area which is in the north.
  6. Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park is a massive conservation area consisting of Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa, Limpopo National Park in Mozambique and conservation reserves in Zimbabwe.
  7. This vast region has a total surface area of 37 572 square kilometres and is the size of the Netherlands.
  8. Park authorities removed 50 kilometres of fencing between Kruger and Limpopo national parks in 2006, allowing animals to move freely between them. Tourists can also travel between the two, by entering one of the three northern gates (Pafuri, Punda Maria or Phalaborwa) or Orpen Gate in the west.
  9. The national park consists of a series of plains criss-crossed by rivers. Savannah and scrubland are common, with areas of riverine forests, baobab scrub and rocky outcrops. The north of the park is more remote, and hillier.
  10. The highest point of the park, in the south, is only 839 metres high.

Seeing the powerful yet gentle African elephant is a great reason to visit Kruger. Photo: Di Robinson.
Seeing the powerful yet gentle African elephant is a great reason to visit Kruger. Photo: Di Robinson.

5 Wonderful Reasons to Visit Greater Kruger National Park

  1. It needs tourist dollars to meet its conservation agenda.
  2. You will see a lot of amazing wildlife.
  3. There is heaps to do.
  4. There is accommodation to suit all budgets.
  5. You can meet fab local people.

These five points are each fleshed out below.

This baby black rhino has a future, thanks to Kruger National Park's efforts to save rhinos from poaching. Photo: Di Robinson.
This baby black rhino has a future, thanks to Kruger National Park's efforts to save rhinos from poaching. Photo: Di Robinson.

1. It needs tourist dollars to meet its conservation agenda

Conservation projects are Greater Kruger's mainstay, with park managers committed to protecting the animals. For example, Greater Kruger and Limpopo national park managers are working together on a Rhino Protection Program, with financial help from European charities.

By going on safari in Kruger, you contribute to this massive conservation effort.

A kudu mum feeds her baby. Photo: Di Robinson
A kudu mum feeds her baby. Photo: Di Robinson

2. You will see a lot of amazing wildlife

Animals are secretive and hard to see In some conservation areas. They are wary of people, as they have been hunted for bush meat or poached for their skin or body parts. The wildlife in Kruger is used to human beings, so is easy to see.

Biodiversity is astounding here. The park protects 147 mammal species, many of which are endangered, such as the black rhino, wild dog and roan antelope. There are also over 500 bird species.

For information on the Big 5 animals of Kruger, see my hub page: Fun facts about South Africa's Big 5.

Cheeky vervet monkeys are never short of things to do in Kruger. One of their favourite activities is stealing sugar from people's rooms or food from an unwatched plate. Photo: Matt Feierabend
Cheeky vervet monkeys are never short of things to do in Kruger. One of their favourite activities is stealing sugar from people's rooms or food from an unwatched plate. Photo: Matt Feierabend

3. There is heaps to do

Kruger is large enough to offer all sorts of safaris, including:

  • safaris in land cruisers with a guide. Sit back, grab your camera and watch the wildlife. Follow animal paw prints with the tracker. Enjoy a sundowner at sunset.
  • self-drive safaris. Hire a land cruiser and drive yourself around. Get maps and choose routes. Be your own safari director.
  • walking safaris with a guide. Meet the wildlife up close. Walk between campsites for three or four days. Enjoy the remoteness, the beauty, the exercise.

Other things to do include:

  • guided walks. Learn from rangers or guides about plants, animals and animal tracks.
  • cycling – for example, there is a mountain bike trail at Olifants Camp.
  • bird watching. There are bird hides in the national park and in the reserves.
  • boat trips – some lodges offer river trips which are a great way of seeing wildlife.
  • photographing the wildlife. Lurk in a hide or take your shots from the back of a land cruiser.
  • swimming – some camps in the park and lodges in the nature reserves have swimming pools.
  • golf. There are a couple of golf courses in the vicinity.
  • relaxing, eating and drinking.

What Would You Do on Your Kruger Holiday?

What would you be most likely to do in Kruger?

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Verandas are wonderful places to relax, read a book or watch birds flitting around the garden. Photo: Matt Feierabend
Verandas are wonderful places to relax, read a book or watch birds flitting around the garden. Photo: Matt Feierabend

4. There is accommodation to suit all budgets

Kruger is an equal opportunity experience. Whatever your budget, you can find somewhere affordable to stay.

Accommodation options in the national park range from pitch-your-own-tent to luxury lodges.

For accommodation options in the nature reserves, see the reserves' home pages. These are:

Sabi Sands is a huge nature reserve that incorporates some smaller conservation areas, including:

Each reserve has its distinctive geography and provides different services. For example, Balule is bushy and provides great habitat for the black rhino whereas Sabi Sand has areas of open land favoured by cheetahs. Some reserves, such as Klaserie, offer boat trips. Browse round to find a reserve and lodge that suits you.

Tripadvisor has reviews of places and accommodation. Once you have found an area and lodge you like, check out what other people say. Sites like Kayak. Bookings.com and Hotels.com can offer discounted rates on some lodges.

Rangers and guides are interesting, informative, friendly and fun. Photo: Di Robinson
Rangers and guides are interesting, informative, friendly and fun. Photo: Di Robinson

5. You can meet fab local people

Kruger is a huge employer of local people. Rangers and guides are passionate about the plants and animals of the region, and have a lot of knowledge they are keen to share. Trackers know everything there is to know about tracks, scat and animal behaviour. Administrative staff manage access, trails in the park, accommodation, land cruiser and walking safaris, and training and conservation programs.

Going on safari keeps these hard-working professionals in employment

While lurking in a hide by a waterhole, you can see squirrels drink from the water before scuttling back into the trees. Photo: Matt Feierabend
While lurking in a hide by a waterhole, you can see squirrels drink from the water before scuttling back into the trees. Photo: Matt Feierabend
Sunsets are a highlight of any evening safari. Photo: Matt Feierabend
Sunsets are a highlight of any evening safari. Photo: Matt Feierabend

What Sort of Safari?

Guided safaris in land cruisers

These safaris are great fun. Everyone piles aboard a land cruiser and goes off to see the animals. Land cruisers in some lodges only take 8 people but they can sit up to 15. All safaris have a ranger and guide on board, and some have a tracker who is expert in finding wildlife.

Johnathan Muller's hub page: 'How to prepare for the Kruger National Park experience', provides good information on the layout of a land cruiser and what to take on safari with you. His hub page also advises you of the best months to visit the national park.

Most lodges include guided safaris as part of their package. These are fantastic value, and enable you to view, photograph and learn about a huge variety of wildlife.

Self-drive safaris

Hire your own land cruiser from Johannesburg, one of the airports or a nearby town, and drive yourself round the national park. Stay in accommodation in or outside the park. Driving distances and the route from Johannesburg are described in 'Getting to Kruger.'

Johnathan Muller's hub page weighs up the pros and cons of guided versus self-drive safaris.

The Kruger National Park website offers some good resources for self-drive safaris, including maps, suggested routes and information.

Note self-driving is not normally allowed in the nature reserves.

Walking safaris

National park authorities offer three- or four-day hiking trips with a qualified ranger on seven wilderness trails. These are very popular, and need to be booked a long time in advance.

Private operators and lodge owners arrange tours on trails in the nature reserves. These include:

  • Limpopo Trail and Luvuvhu Trail in the remote and ecologically diverse Makuleke reserve in the north-east
  • Letaba Trail in Letaba Game Reserve in the west
  • Balule Trail in Balule Nature Reserve in the west
  • Klaserie Trail in Klaserie Game Reserve in the west
  • Timbavati Trail in Timbavati Game Reserve in the west
  • Mutlumuvi Trail in a private concession next to Sabi Sands Nature Reserve in the south-west
  • Mitomeni Trail in a private concession in the south
  • Lawakahle Trail in the south
  • Machampane Trail in a riverine region of Limpopo National Park in Mozambique.

Many walking safaris do not run between November and February, as it is too hot then. Some also limit the age of participants, to the age of 60.

Get close to the animals on a walking safari. Photo: Matt Feierabend
Get close to the animals on a walking safari. Photo: Matt Feierabend

Nature Reserve, National Park or Both?

Category
National park
Nature reserve
Budget accommodation
Plenty. Pitch your own tent or stay in a rustic lodge or self-catering bungalow.
Some. Stay in a budget lodge, backpacker lodge or tent camp
Mid-range accommodation
Plenty. Stay in cabins, safari tents, bungalows, units or lodges. These are generally self-catering, with nearby shops and restaurants.
Plenty. There are lodges to suit all tastes, generally offering land cruiser safaris and all meals as part of the package.
Luxury accommodation
Some. There are luxury safari tents and lodges offering activities and all meals as part of the package.
Plenty. There are lodges to suit all tastes, generally offering a large range of activities or specialised activities, safaris and all meals (and in some cases, drinks) as part of the package
Guided land cruiser safaris
Yes. Park rangers and guides offer day and night safaris. These can be crowded. Safaris can cover a lot of ground. Vehicles must stay on the trails and cannot go off-road. There can be many land cruisers at any animal sighting. Rangers inform participants of animals' habits and behaviour, and are very knowledgeable.
Yes. Each lodge has one or more land cruisers for its guests, and offers day and night safaris. Land cruisers must stay in the relevant nature reserve, but can go off-road into the bush. There are fewer land cruisers at any animal sighting. Guides will cater for individual tastes, and track animals according to their guests' requirements. They are very helpful and knowledgeable. The best safaris also have trackers who know where to find wildlife.
Self-drive safaris
Yes.
Generally not.
Walking safaris
Yes. Numbers are limited, and walks go to remote areas of the park. These walks are popular, and need to be booked a year in advance.
Yes. Numbers are limited, and walks go to areas of the nature reserve away from land cruiser safari routes.
Other activities
Cycling (at Olifants Camp), guided walks, golf, swimming, barbecues (called braiis), sunset tours, hides for wildlife viewing
Guided walks, safaris designed for individuals, hides for wildlife viewing, birdwatching, boat trips, swimming, other specialised activities.
Geography and extent
The sky's the limit. Visitors can go anywhere in the national park.
Visitors are limited to the extent of the nature reserve, but all reserves are large.
Wildlife
Plentiful. Huge herds can be seen.
Plentiful. Reserves are well-patrolled by rangers.
Food and drink
Self-cater or go to restaurants. Some lodges offer food and drink.
Lodges provide food and drink for their guests. Some lodges specialise in gastronomy.
Exclusivity
Other than in luxury lodges, not exclusive. Accommodation can be crowded.
Exclusive. Lodges are normally small and restricted to their guests. Special requirements can be catered for.
Should you stay in the national park, a private nature reserve or both? Decide with the help of this table.

Guided Tours

Many organisations offer tours of Kruger. These take the headache out of organising your own transport and accommodation. Some will pick you up from your hotel in Johannesburg and drop you back there a few days later. The average tour is from three to five days long.

There are tours to suit all budgets, and tours offering land cruiser and walking safaris. Some provide accommodation in the national park, whereas cheaper tours provide accommodation outside the park and drive into the park for safaris.

When to Go

The following hub pages have information on when to go to Greater Kruger National Park:

Any time of year is good for seeing beautiful antelope species like this bushbuck. Photo: Di Robinson
Any time of year is good for seeing beautiful antelope species like this bushbuck. Photo: Di Robinson

Getting to Kruger

Arrival in Johannesburg

Most international flights arrive in Johannesburg too late in the day for a connecting flight or bus ride. There are two good hotels at the airport: the InterContinental and the Travelodge. Book online in advance to ensure you get a room at both these places.

Flying to Kruger

There are three airports serving Kruger. These are:

1. Kruger Mpumulanga International Airport (KMIA)

Fly directly into this airport from some countries, or fly domestically from within South Africa. There are four flights a day to and from Johannesburg and Durban, and one a day to and from Cape Town. Facilities include car hire places, a national park information office, an ATM, shops and cafes. There are hotels and guesthouses in nearby White River and Nelspruit.

This airport is ideal for those visiting the south end of the national park.

2. Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport

You can fly domestically to this airport, and there are also facilities for charter flights. There are two flights a day to and from Johannesburg, and one a day to and from Cape Town. There is one car hire outlet (major brand), money-changing facilities and a restaurant open during office hours.

This airport is ideal for those visiting the centre of the national park, or driving through to Mozambique via Orpen Gate.

3. Phalaborwa Airport

This airport is situated only 2 kilometres from Phalaborwa Gate, so suits those visiting the north of the national park. There are two flights a day to and from Johannesburg. The airport has car hire facilities. There are a range of accommodation options in nearby Phalaborwa.

Some lodges will pick you up from the nearest airport, or arrange a taxi for you to their lodge. Some will even offer charter flights.

Driving to Kruger

You can hire vehicles from any of the airports listed above, as well as from Johannesburg OR Tambo International Airport. There are plenty of car hire places in the international airport. Booking in advance ensures you get the vehicle and company of your choice.

It is between four and seven hours' drive to the national park from Johannesburg, depending on where you are going. It is four hours' drive to the south, five to the west and six to seven to the north.

The drive is mainly along well-posted major roads, with service stations where you can stop, refuel, and stock up on food and coffee.

Car hire places will provide GPSs if required for an extra charge. Most lodges will give you their GPS coordinates when you book, or they will be on their website. You can then just drive to the coordinates.

When you book accommodation, park authorities or lodge managers will tell you which gate to enter through. Follow directions to this gate, and keep a look out for it, as the GPS coordinates are not always 100% accurate there.

The ranger on the gate will give you directions to your lodge, and sometimes a map. They will also contact your lodge to let them know you are coming.

The roads inside and outside the national park are in generally good condition.

Enjoy your Kruger holiday.

Fly to Kruger now. Its wonders, including the lovely black-headed eastern oriole, are waiting for you. Photo: Matt Feierabend.
Fly to Kruger now. Its wonders, including the lovely black-headed eastern oriole, are waiting for you. Photo: Matt Feierabend.

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    • profile image

      John 24 months ago

      Love the baby black rhino

    • Di Robinson profile image
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      Di Robinson 24 months ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thank you John, he was a sweetie in real life too

    • profile image

      Nancy 24 months ago

      Thanks for this thoroughly comprehensive account of the delights one can enjoy when visiting the Kruger National Park. Absolutely everything one needs to know to have a great time in what is clearly a must-visit location.

      LOVE the photos.

    • Di Robinson profile image
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      Di Robinson 24 months ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thank you Nancy, I hope you can get there soon. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

    • profile image

      Matt 24 months ago

      Loved the squirrels by the waterhole, not wildlife you think of been in Africa

    • Di Robinson profile image
      Author

      Di Robinson 24 months ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, Matt. The squirrels were very cute, they rushed to the waterhole, drank, then scurried up the nearest tree as soon as they could.

    • profile image

      Christine Koziel 24 months ago

      Great photos, great layout, and most important, great information. Well done!!!

    • profile image

      Nikkirose 24 months ago

      Great article and images, thanks heaps (cheers, Rosie) Nikkirose

    • Di Robinson profile image
      Author

      Di Robinson 24 months ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thank you, Chris and Rosie. Appreciate your support, as always. Much love to you both

    • profile image

      Tabel & Jonty 24 months ago

      Wonderful photographs, as ever, team. What's the name of the gorgeous canary yellow / black tweetie just taking off, Matt? Gorgeous colours, totally absorbing picture.

      I'd no idea you can fly direct to Kruger Park and also that there's a tweetie-pie watching tour option. Having been to reserves previously in SA, you are showing something new and different ( from the Eastern Cape and southern coast regions ). Still very anxious about the mozzies, though, - as it's bordering on the Mozambique swamps, isn't it - so please some very detailed advice on that, please. Great work, Matt and Di.

    • Di Robinson profile image
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      Di Robinson 24 months ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks so much for commenting 'tabel. We went to Kruger in the at the end of the dry season (September) and there were no mozzies at all. So best to go then to avoid those biting creatures. I thought the tweetie was some sort of weaver bird but there are no red-billed weavers in my reference book. I'll find out and let you know.

    • profile image

      meron 24 months ago

      What a great rundown of what's on offer and how to access it.

      Now all I need to do is find the time to go!

    • Di Robinson profile image
      Author

      Di Robinson 24 months ago from Sydney, Australia

      Cheers Meron, I hope you get there, it is a fab place for sure.

    • profile image

      Kit 24 months ago

      seductive presentation of the delights of Kruger .. we're going! ... even tho' you neglected to mention the products of Paarl and Stellenbosch

    • Di Robinson profile image
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      Di Robinson 24 months ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks Kit, so glad you're going. You guys will have the fabbest time.

    • profile image

      Peter 23 months ago

      That is a really comprehensive run down on Kruger. Many thanks.

    • Di Robinson profile image
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      Di Robinson 23 months ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thank you, Peter, for taking the time to comment. Much appreciated. Maybe you can use this info to go there yourself sometime.

    • profile image

      bren 23 months ago

      I've sent this page to a colleague who has just booked a trip there for July. Very informative, nicely written and wonderful photos Di.

    • Di Robinson profile image
      Author

      Di Robinson 23 months ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks ever so, Bren. If you like, you can go to my other page, 'Fun facts about South Africa's Big 5', and do the quiz on which Big 5 animal you are. I'd be interested to find out, so let me know. Cheers.

    • profile image

      Pete 23 months ago

      Wow Di, well laid and informative, as expected from a coms professional. We will get Galapagos out of the way first then think about Africa.

    • Di Robinson profile image
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      Di Robinson 23 months ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks Pete, you white rhino you. Glad you enjoyed the hub.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 23 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Your layout is fantastic, informative and the photos are very professional looking and beautiful. What an enticement to visit Kruger National Park or one of the many nature reserves. It is wonderful that most of the animals have free range between the park and reserves. I will probably never get to go on a safari but will certainly be happy to share this information far and wide with others. Tweeting, pinning and the rest!

    • Di Robinson profile image
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      Di Robinson 23 months ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thank you Peggy, I'm glad you got a lot out of this hub.

    Indulge and Enjoy

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