For my annual holiday this year I decided I wanted to do a bit of local exploring and so embarked on a three week road trip around South Africa, ending in Kruger National Park. Despite living in South Africa his whole life, my fiancé had never been to Kruger and I wanted to show him the place that had a hand in moulding me into who I am today.
However prior to our trip whenever we mentioned that we were going to Kruger, we were confronted by quite negative opinions of the place. We were told “don’t bother”, that it would be “the worst, most disappointing part of our holiday” and that “Kruger is best avoided nowadays”. Since I myself had not been to Kruger for about ten years I was worried, had it really become that much of a tourist trap and was the wonder and amazement I felt as a child visiting the Kruger just silly little girl dreams?
But upon returning I am happy to say that Kruger still holds a special place in my heart, it is still one of my great loves and in this I am certain that I am not alone.
The reason I love Kruger is because it is for everyone. So many of Africa’s parks are difficult to get to, having to be reached by expensive international flights, charter planes, helicopters or boats and if this doesn’t break your bank account then the price of the lodges certainly will. In Kruger you can camp, stay in a self-catering chalet, a fancy lodge if you feel like it or you can even stay at a house, guesthouse or hotel outside the park and simply come in for the day. This means that along with the Germans, Brits and Americans I met in the private concessions like the Timbavati, in the Kruger I met friendly Afrikaans people, retired South Africans with caravans towing their cars around, groups of friends from all walks of lives and big families with lots of children stuffed into kombis towing trailers.
While many people may not like the addition of franchises such as “Mugg and Bean” to Kruger – this also provides a unique aspect not found in many national parks. Kruger is a park that the majority of people can enjoy and this makes conservation so much easier. It’s not a hassle to go to Kruger – everything you need is there be it a supermarket, a petrol station, a golf course, a take away joint, a braai place or yes, even a Mugg and Bean. This easy accessibility means hundreds of internationals and locals enter the park daily, paying conservation fees or purchasing Wild Cards thus aiding in supplying necessary funds to SANParks and the conservation of the special species found in Kruger and elsewhere.
Aside from the other obvious reasons to love Kruger like watching the sunrise over the Lebombo Mountains, sitting at a waterhole in the early morning as the mist clears or simply observing how an elephant strips clean the bark from a tree branch, the main reason I love Kruger is because it breeds conservationists, animal lovers and caring locals.
I watched the smile of a driver light up his face as he got to point out a zebra to the American he was taking to her lodge (she had come to Africa to see zebra and giraffe). I got to talk to a guide at Tanda Tula about how coming to the Kruger as a kid was something that, despite following another path and landing up overseas, brought him back to South Africa and led him down a path of conservation.
His story echoed in my heart and maybe it was those silly little girl dreams and the magic of Kruger that stayed with me and gently, gently nudged me in the direction I am following today. And for that I have nothing but love to give for this, South Africa’s quintessential national park.