So many people I know have visited South Africa’s Kruger National Park only to go home somehow feeling cheated and disappointed. Personally I think this is simply because they didn’t do Kruger right.
Some of the above mentioned folk refer to Kruger as a big zoo as your chance of seeing big game species is extremely high. Its true that you can see the Big 5 in one day, I know I have, but this “Wham Bam – Thank you Ma’am” approach to Kruger just doesn’t do it any justice. Booking a full day guided game drive is one way to ensure that you see all the ‘big hitters’ in one day and if you only have one or two days in the Kruger then this is an option. Personally this type of ‘bucket list’ viewing is not for me and I recommend that you take at least a week to explore the park.
If you don’t want to miss a thing then book one of these drives on your first day, tuck those sightings under your belt and then enjoy Kruger for what it really is.
Self-driving Kruger Park is a magical experience that relatively few other places in the world can match. If you drive down the tar road alongside the Sabie River between Skukukza and Lower Sabie in the middle of winter you will see loads of other cars. You will see lions, maybe just, if you can find an open gap to view them between the other 30 vehicles. You will drive from big cat sighting to big cat sighting (and that in itself is enough reason to love Kruger) but your sightings will be shared with others. This is not the right way to enjoy Kruger.
Take it slow! Wake up at 6am and travel the roads less travelled. Turn down dirt roads, enjoy the mist as it rolls away with the heat of the day. Sit with your coffee at a dam and wait to see what turns up.
Get out where you can, smell the air, listen to the birds (instead of just driving past the birdwatchers like so many people do) and appreciate the bush for what it is.
Give yourself the time to do Kruger properly and you may see less in one day but what you do see will mean so much more. On a recent trip to Kruger National Park I drove for a whole hour without seeing another car – “Unheard of in the Kruger”, you say? Not if you do Kruger right! Sure, I didn’t see an animal around every corner but I did see three lone elephant bulls, completely relaxed in my presence, close to the side of the road and I enjoyed a private lion sighting – two male lions and me with no one else for as far as my eyes could see.
Then a little later on I gasped in wonder at my first wild cheetah sighting – this one shared with just a couple of equally in awe travellers.
Combine self-drives in the Kruger with stays at the rest camps. Staying in the park itself really adds to the experience as hyena lurk just outside the fence, owls hoot throughout the night and wild cats wander past your chalet.
Now self-driving around Kruger can get a bit tedious, particularly if you get bored of your own company or a particularly bad game spotter. That is why I also recommend booking at least a night or two at a private safari lodge. A place like Tanda Tula Safari Camp in the Timbavati (which is open to Kruger National Park itself) provides a wonderful experience as it is unfenced, meaning bushbuck and other animals are free to chase each other through camp.
Game drives at places like this also provide a deeper understanding of the bush as little tit-bits of information are dished out by well-trained guides, trackers pick up leopard footprints alongside the road and off-road driving is allowed. Guides at these private lodges are normally extremely knowledgable about the animals in the area, allowing up close and personal experiences without fear.
If you have done Kruger inside out and back to forth, a new, and delightful, way to experience it is in foot. Many of Kruger’s rest camps offer walking safaris and some private camps like Tanda Tula offer field camp experiences where you can bunk down in the wilderness, learning about the little nuances of Kruger and you may even get the chance to track a wild dog or a rhino on foot – now that is how to do Kruger right!