Explore the best of South Africa - Kruger National Park
November 13, 2018
by Rosalyne Field
The stunning Mpumalanga Province is situated in eastern South Africa, bordering the nations of Mozambique and Swaziland. It is home to some of the best delights South Africa has to offer, including the world-famous Kruger National Park. Mpumalanga is a Zulu name meaning ‘ The place where the sun rises’ and hosts some truly spectacular places for watching that marvellous sunrise over African skies, for example, the breathtaking Blyde River Canyon – one of the largest canyons in the world. I have been fortunate enough to visit the region many times, so join me as I take you on a tour of one of the most magical places on earth – Kruger National Park.
Why visit Kruger National Park?
Kruger National Park covers a vast area, making it one of the largest National Parks in Africa. It makes up part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a ‘Peace Park’ that links with National Parks in Zimbabwe to the north and Mozambique to the east. It stretches across both the Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces in South Africa and has nine main gates spread throughout for access.
Of course, the main reason Kruger is famous for is its high population of native African wildlife, including the ‘Big Five’ – lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard. Kruger also boasts many other magnificent African creatures such as the endangered African Wild dog, cheetah, giraffe, zebra, lappet-faced vulture and many more, including stunning native vegetation.
Things to do in Kruger National Park
I remember the first time I went to Kruger National Park. It was the most exhilarating experience of my life. There are no words to describe the feeling of awe and a little trepidation when a huge African elephant ambled along beside our car, free and unchained and enjoying its natural habitat. My heart sped up as I remembered the signs posted at the entrance to the park: “Beware, elephants can tip your vehicle if provoked.” and I wondered if we should back up a little. I will never forget the pure delight of watching a baby elephant run in circles and splash in the river or the joy of seeing a hippo bask, mouth gaping, in the water. It is an experience of a lifetime.
The easiest way to explore Kruger is by booking a tour through a professional guide. There are many to choose from including day trips, two or more days with overnight accommodation, family trips and more. An experienced guide will drive you through the park, usually in an open safari truck, providing you with vast amounts of information about the land, vegetation and wildlife. The benefits of going with a guide are that they all communicate with each other via radio, and if one guide sights something interesting, like a leopard – who are very hard to spot (pun intended), they will communicate with the other guides who will then take you there to have a look.
Self-drive Kruger National Park
If you’re on a budget, another extremely enjoyable way to experience Kruger is to self-drive. You can hire a car in nearby Nelspruit and drive through the park at your own leisure, and it doesn’t cost much at all, just an entrance fee at the gate. This is my favourite way to experience Kruger, and there are tricks to getting the most out of the experience, such as Apps you can download onto your smartphone which give you real-time updates of different animal sightings with locations and maps to help you get there. Maps are also handed out at the gates to help you plan your route through the many roads and tracks of the park.
There is something so magical about peering through your window into the bushes as you slowly amble down the dirt track, keeping your eyes peeled for some sign of anything, and then suddenly, “There! Lion! Stop the car!” You pull over with bated breath and heart pounding as everyone leans over to check out the huge male lion yawning in the sun under African skies. The excitement, the joy of it is truly unforgettable.
Places to eat and rest
Kruger Park rest camps
There are many rest camps located throughout the park, which are perfect places to stop and rest for a while as you tour Kruger. The main rest camp, where the administration building for Kruger National Park is also located, is called ‘Skukuza Camp’, and is located not far from the main gate into the park in Mpumalanga Province – the ‘Paul Kruger Gate’. It is a beautiful, gated camp within Kruger, boasting cafes serving delicious food and drinks, gift shops, kiosks and restrooms as well as an information centre. It’s just far enough away from the gate that by the time you reach it after a morning of meandering around the park being wowed by the wildlife, it’s about time to stop, get out of the car, stretch your legs and have a bite to eat. You can also bring your own packed lunch and snacks and sit on the seats overlooking the Sabie River, watching the monkeys swing through the trees.
Picnic areas and ‘Hides’
There are various viewing areas called ‘Hides’ and picnic areas situated throughout the park, but these are generally not gated, so you need to keep your eyes open and stay alert for any prowling wildlife as you exit the vehicle. Most picnic areas have small kiosks or cafes where you can buy food and drinks, and many of them contain barbeque areas for those who bring their own meat and want to experience the South African tradition of a ‘Braai’ whilst sipping on a cold beer. Hold on tight to your sandwich, though, or a cheeky monkey might snatch it right out of your hands! Just ask my son.
Accommodation – Top places to stay
Inside Kruger National Park
If you want to stay longer than a day inside the park, many of the rest camps offer accommodation ranging from small, cosy bungalows to larger guesthouses. They offer a great way to remain in the park and get an early start at the mystical hour of dawn the next morning, beating the traffic coming from the gates. Because there is accommodation at many of the rest camps throughout the park, you can plan to spend several days within the park, travelling from camp to camp. Many of the tours also offer several nights within Kruger and are a great way to see more of the park.
Outside of the park, there are many options for accommodation. My favourite is the small town of Hazyview, just a fifteen-minute drive from Paul Kruger Gate. As the name implies, the town is situated in the hills and is often blanketed in a magical mist. There are many types of accommodation to choose from, from camping grounds to luxurious lodges. Hazyview is also a central location from which you can enjoy the other delights Mpumalanga Province has to offer, such as the Blyde River Canyon.
If you prefer the comforts of a larger city, Nelspruit is only about an hour’s drive away and offers everything a large city can offer, from budget to bed and breakfast, backpacker to luxurious accommodation, shopping centres and a beautiful Botanical Garden to explore.
Kruger National Park is truly a treasure and one which I return to every time I’m in the area. I have enjoyed some spectacular moments there, from the time a pack of endangered African wild dogs ran past us to the time a rhino got a little too close for comfort. I could say so much but it is a place you truly have to experience for yourself.