Making the most of your visit to the Kruger Park
Viewing wildlife in the Kruger National Park should not be taken for granted. There is some skill to it and there are things you can do to make your visit more rewarding as far as viewing wildlife is concerned. This article is the first in a series of short articles to be published here about South Africa's most famous game reserve - the Kruger National Park. For close to 30 years, I have been a regular visitor to this great wildlife reserve, and for me it remains the greatest place to be. Even as I leave the exit gate, I already look forward to my next visit to 'Kruger'.
These articles are written to benefit you, the traveler who intends to visit this magnificent place. I will share with you the knowledge I have acquired over the years of visiting the Kruger Park and viewing its wildlife. I will tell you where to go, what to bring, what to look for, when and how to spot the animals, where to stay, what routes to travel and what to expect on those routes. You will find each article full of handy travel tips, game spotting hints and generally useful information that will help you make the most of your visit to the Park. Most of all, you will find each article full of the passion and love I have for this place, which I hope will rub off on you and inspire you to come here and experience it for yourself!
Introduction to viewing wildlife in the Kruger Park
A triumph in conservation and nearly 2 million hectares in size (about the same size as Belgium), the Kruger National Park is one of Africa's largest and best-managed game reserves. It is home to an astonishing variety of species: 336 trees, 49 fish, 34 amphibians, 114 reptiles, 507 birds and 147 mammals, including the famous 'big 5'. Interestingly, the term 'big 5' refers not to the 5 biggest mammals in the Park, but it dates back to the early days of hunting when the buffalo, leopard, lion, elephant and rhino where considered the most dangerous animals to hunt (in that order). There are not many pristine, untouched wilderness areas in the world that are as well preserved and yet also as accessible as the Kruger National Park.
The Park has an excellent network of well-maintained roads, connecting 12 main rest camps and a similar number of smaller camps. The main routes are tarred and in excellent condition, and even the dirt roads are easily navigated in a normal 2-wheel drive family vehicle. Each rest camp offers a variety of accommodation, including comfortable 'bungalows' with bathroom and air-conditioning, permanent safari tents, luxury guesthouses as well as camping facilities. Most camps also have a petrol station, basic shop and restaurant, as well as laundry facilities, public telephones, clean tap water, and more. In that sense the Kruger Park can be no means be called a 'remote wilderness', because as wild and beautiful as it is, the facilities and amenities are world-class and you do not need a Landrover packed with a month's supplies to visit this game reserve.
The first important step you need to take in order to make the most of your visit to the Kruger Park, is to prepare yourself for it. It will be a mistake to just add a couple of days in the Park to the end of your journey to South Africa, as an after-thought. Rather plan your trip carefully, do some research, book the right accommodation and bring the right things with you. With a bit of preparation, you will get that much more satisfaction from your Kruger Park experience.
Making a reservation
Avoid the disappointment of finding the Park fully booked. Make a reservation in advance. You can do that through a local tour operator, like Wild Wings Safaris (visit www.wild-wings.co.za for more information), or you can book directly with the South African National Parks Board. Visit their website at www.sanparks.org.
Where to stay
You will need to choose a place to stay in order to make a reservation. Of course, where to stay depends on your budget, how much time you have and whether you want a guided tour of Kruger or drive yourself around. You also need to choose the type of accommodation you would like (from luxury guest cottage down to camping).
First choose a rest camp or lodge. There are many camps to choose from, and not all of them are situated in ideal game-viewing areas. In order of preference, I would recommend Lower Sabie, Olifants, Letaba, Satara and perhaps Skukuza. Skukuza is the main camp and has a host of facilities and activities on offer (even a golf course), but it is also a very busy camp and the roads around Skukuza are noticeably busier than roads elsewhere in the game reserve. But perhaps for a family with children, Skukuza just offers more options and more activities. There is even a fascinating library and wildlife museum, as well as an open-air movie theatre where you can watch wildlife documentaries in the evenings. All of these rest camps I mentioned are situated in good areas as far as game viewing is concerned.
Another affordable option is to stay just outside the Park and make day visits into the Park. There are a number of superb lodges and guesthouses right on the border of the Kruger Park (some of them on the banks of the Crocodile River overlooking the game reserve), which offer excellent accommodation at very reasonable rates. This allows more flexibility on the days when you want to do something other than game viewing - like explore nearby Swaziland for example. Tour operators like Wild Wings Safaris offer a variety of guided day tours from lodges and guesthouses in this region, including Kruger Park game drives, day visits to Swaziland and tours of the scenic Lowveld and Blyde River Canyon.
The most expensive option is to book into one of the private lodges, which use their own open safari vehicles and do not drive on the public roads. This is an altogether different way of experiencing the Kruger National Park, and it usually costs more. If the budget allows it, by all means treat yourself to the exclusivity and luxury of one of the many private lodges. Of course, at such lodges all the details are taken care of, and detailed information like this will not be needed. But for those who wish to build their own Kruger Park adventure, look out for part 2 in this series on visiting the Kruger National Park.
Part 2: Planning your wildlife tour.
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