It’s been some time since I wrote my first post on South-Africa: The Ultimate Roadtrip through Incredible South-Africa from Johannesburg to Cape Town (in 3 weeks), so it’s definitely time to write the next! In this first post I only briefly touched upon the Kruger Park, and our experience was so wonderful, that I’d like to tell you more about it. And more importantly, show our best pictures of all the beautiful animals living there!
We stayed in Kruger Park from September 11th-14th 2018, which is in the wintertime – early spring. It actually appeared to be the perfect timing for animal watching, as winter is the dry season in South-Africa, and animals tend to get together at the limited water resources there are. It was actually still quite hot in this period of the year, so we were quite happy to not be there in the summertime. You spend a lot of time in your car, standing still, and with the sun burning that could get quite tough. However, good to note is that the nights are still cold, so also bring something warm to wear! I’ll now dive into other tips that will help you get the best Kruger experience you can get!
4 Tips for Exploring the Kruger National Park
1. Book your nights in different rest camps
As the park is really big, all different regions have different animals that live there. It would be a shame to only drive around in circles in one area of a campsite! Therefore, we decided to book overnight stays in 3 different rest camps (no private game reserves). However, make sure that your rest camps are not too far away from each other, there’s a speed limit of 40 km/h, so you don’t want to be speeding to reach your destination before night falls. Also, make sure to pre-book your accommodations online, as they will fill up quite quickly!
Our first night we spend in Lower Sabie Rest Camp, a very well maintained camp alongside the river. It’s stunning there – you could literally sit down for a drink and a bite with Elephants walking by! There’s a restaurant, supermarket, gas station – everything you need. We stayed in a nice rondavel cabin, equipped with kitchenette and braai (unfortunately did not get to use that, as it gets dark early and it’s quite cold to sit outside). The second night, we spend in Satara Rest camp, about 100km north, a camp in a less green area, but still very nice with similar facilities as the Lower Sabie Camp. The last night, we spend close to the gate in Tamboti Tented Camp, we really wanted to stay in a tent and actually these were very well equipped. I was a bit scared as it sounded very adventurous to stay in a tent in the park, but it was very pleasant and in a more quiet area. It was a rural place within nature, still gated, but some animals crossed the fence – there were monkeys walking past our tent! However, there were little facilities there, so you need to come well prepared and cook something for yourself. The camp is also situated next to a river, but unfortunately, it was dried up completely, so maybe it’s better to stay there in summer and spot animals at the water.
2. Combine self-drive with game drives
Before going, I was slightly afraid that driving yourself between these wild animals would be super dangerous. Funny enough, that wasn’t true at all, and I felt super safe in my car. Most roads are doable for any type of car so you can drive around yourself without any problems. Fuel is available at most of the large rest camps. We experienced animals from only meters from our car, which sometimes felt like they did not even notice us! As long as you drive with care, get out of the way when the big animals are approaching, keep your windows shut and most importantly – Don’t get out of the car, you’ll have the best experience ever!
However – even though I really recommend exploring the park on your own, I would also recommend booking a safari with a ranger. You’ll notice animals you didn’t see before, and you’ll learn a lot about the animals as well, rather than just observing them. Also, driving yourself is not allowed in the dark, you need to be inside the campsites by 6pm. This is actually a bit of a pity, cause most animals are most active when the sun is coming up or going down. That’s when they wake up and start looking for water and food.
You can book different types of drives at any campsite, the options available can be found on the SANParks website. We booked a sunrise drive from Lower Sabie rest camp, which was quite cool – literally and figuratively ;). In wintertime, before the sun comes up, it’s still super cold! So make sure you dress warm, as your tour starts around 4am in the dark. We did, however, have a great experience: shining with flashlights into the eyes of night animals and when the sun rose we had the most exciting experience with spotting lions op close – fighting over territory! From another rest camp, we booked a sunset tour, which actually appeared to be a private tour, as no-one else booked it. Both really special experiences, which made our Kruger trip complete.
3. Buy a park map at the entrance gate
I’m so happy we did this, you can purchase a map for about 4 euros at the entrance, before entering the park. It helps you to find your way all around the park and find water sources. These are especially important since that’s where the animals join together. When you get to one, turn off the engine, slightly open your window and just relax and enjoy what you will see and hear. Patience is key!
Also, this map contains an overview of all animals that are present in the park. I enjoyed it so much to be able to know what animal you see, there are so many and some look alike so much! With this map, you’re able to keep track of all the different animals you’ve spotted :) Unfortunately, we didn’t get to spot the big 5, we didn’t see the cheetah and the rhino – so I guess we’ll have to come back some day!
4. Bring your binoculars & a zoom lens for your camera
Last but not least, the thing that brings you to Kruger are the animals. However – you might not be able to see all of them up close. Therefore, bringing binoculars is really worth it! You’ll be able to spot animals you wouldn’t be able to see with your bare eye: lions lying under a tree in the high grasses, alligators lying on the other side of the riverbeds, colourful birds in the trees, you get it! If you’re into photography like I am, for the same reasons I would recommend you to bring a lens with a good zoom on it. I really underestimated this – with my standard camera I was able to take beautiful pictures, but some moments couldn’t be captured without a good zoom! Most animals don’t run around all the time, so often you do have the time to get a good shot. I guess this is a good timing to share the best animal pictures we’ve taken – enjoy!
So, that was enough for now, I can go on forever. I just have to say, the Kruger park really amazed me. In general, I was really pleasantly surprised by safaris and African wildlife, I couldn’t get enough of it! In the beginning, I imagined it would be nice, seeing some animals in their natural habitat, but most of them weren’t new to me, as I’ve seen them in the zoo. At least, so I thought! There were so many diverse species and in huge numbers. It was so different and indescribably special to be part of nature like that. Even though the park is gated and touristy, I’ve never felt more alive honestly. All these animals wandering around, I really felt like that’s how it should be. Definitely not something I was used to with the limited wildlife in the overpopulated Netherlands ;) So if you can visit Africa, go on safari, spot as many animals as you can, and just appreciate nature!