Expert Reviews – Kruger NP

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Killing time in Kruger
Overall rating

The mothership of South Africa’s parks, Kruger is more organised and has more variety of accommodation than any other park. It also has a HUGE number of animals with the Big 5 and every other kind of 5 you can think of rustling around in the bush. Kruger also has a sublime beauty that changes in different sectors - in general the north is the wildest section.

Yes, it could be called Africa for beginners, however it also has wilder offerings, such as bush walks in some beautifully scenic and remote areas. When I entered the park for the first time, I was greeted by the sight of two dwarf mongoose mating by the side of the road - they didn’t even look up. Next I saw a huge herd of impala, and couldn’t believe my luck, what a sighting! Two days later when I was leaving I whizzed past a herd double that size without a many animals glimpsed elsewhere are so common here. Sadly, rhino poaching has again become a major problem in the park - 252 rhino were slaughtered in Kruger for their horns in 2011.

In early 2012 the park was devastated by floods with chunks of road and bridges washed away - most roads and facilities have reopened but picnic sites such as Tshokwane had serious damage and will be closed for a long time: check with staff at the gate you use to enter the park.

Safaris for everyone
Overall rating

I love the Kruger. But I admit that this sometimes puts me in a minority. Many safari purists scorn the tarred roads and large public camps of South Africa’s premier park as a travesty of ‘real’ wilderness. And they have a point: the heavily developed infrastructure can feel intrusive and certainly attracts hordes of visitors. Nonetheless, this huge park – the size of Israel – has space for all comers: while the masses fill the larger public camps, those seeking a more unspoiled bush experience can enjoy the remote back roads and bush camps. For the independent, self-drive traveller, this is the most accessible and cheapest of Africa’s major safari parks. But there are also numerous top-notch private lodges, both within the park and in private concessions to the west, to cater for those seeking a more exclusive safari. Either way, the Kruger’s scenery and wildlife are outstanding. A rich spectrum of habitats, combined with perennial rivers and all-weather roads, makes for great year-round wildlife viewing in some spectacular landscapes.

There is little I haven’t seen in this park, and all of it – from cheetah kills to wild dog dens – enjoyed from my own humble vehicle. The central savanna regions hold the greatest game concentrations, while the far north is best for birding. In general, the further north you go, the wilder it gets. For a serious wilderness experience, you can’t beat the three-day guided wilderness trails. Conducted far from any public area, these have brought me memorable on-foot encounters with all the Big Five and a real insight into the secrets of the African bush.

Kruger – lion country
Overall rating

The first time I went to Kruger as a small child, I remember being profoundly shocked. This was a game park but not only did it have tarred roads (not all of them – just the main ones) but there was even a railway line running through the middle of it! Since then, Skukuza, the main camp, has grown from a busy park into a bustling small town. If this frightens you, stop, draw breath and don’t worry – Kruger is unlike any other national park on the planet. For a start it is quite literally the size of a small country – about the same size as Wales or Israel. It covers around 20,000 sq kms (7,722 sq miles) and stretches 353 kms (219 miles) from north to south. It is by way and far the largest in South Africa. When the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park is complete, the Kruger will be incorporated into a giant 35,000 sq kms (13,514 sq mile) reserve in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. In addition, around the edges of Kruger are numerous private concessions and game farms such as Sabi Sands and Timbavati, home to some of the world’s most luxurious lodges, with animals wandering freely between the park and the private lands. This, then, is wildlife equivalent of the motherload, the giant jewel in South Africa’s crown. It’s just left to decide where to go and where to stay. There’s too much choice.

Kruger is lowveld savannah country – the edge of the escarpment is just nearby, easy daytrip distance and stunningly beautiful (well worth a detour). Roughly speaking, the park is greener and lusher in the south and hotter, drier and with sparser vegetation in the north, around the Hoespruit area. There are far fewer people in the north if you want to get away from other tourists. If you have the time, try and do a couple of nights in the south and a couple of nights further north, as you do see different animals and birds.
There’s a huge array of accommodation at all price ranges, both within the park and around the edges from humble family-friendly motels and chalets to world-class luxury hideaways with price tags to match. There really is something for everyone here.
The nearest international airport is Johannesburg, about 5 hours drive west, but there are regular internal flights from Jo’burg International to Skukuza and many of the luxury lodges also run their own private charter flights.

South Africa’s flagship park with excellent facilities and unrivalled game-viewing
Overall rating

South Africa’s largest park most certainly fulfils most visitors’ expectations of seeing magnificent herds of game roaming across acacia-studded savannah. After countless visits at different times of the year, I have found it can get a little crowded in peak holiday times, and sharing a view of a lion pride with several other vehicles is not ideal. But then it’s always been easy enough to explore the quieter roads away from the major tourist routes too. There’s so much game in Kruger, animal sightings are virtually guaranteed, and on my last visit I was lucky enough to spot all of the Big Five in one morning along the Sabie River. Some camps such as Skukuza and Satara are like small towns, and along with tarred main roads, this takes away the wilderness vibe somewhat – but other camps are beautifully remote with just a few peaceful rustic cottages hidden in the bush. In short, the greatest appeal of Kruger is its varied characteristics and choices, and it’s equally suitable for a day visit as it is for a multi-day safari. First-time visitors will get through their tick lists with ease in the southern part of the park, while seasoned safari-goers will enjoy seeing animals and birds in a wilder environment in the remote north.

Kruger: South Africa’s Most Prolific Park
Overall rating

Kruger belongs in the elite of African wildlife parks and experiences. At once a byword for abundance and hugely accessible, Kruger is a brilliant place for first-time safari-goers. The infrastructure of paved roads is classic South Africa, and there are numerous guided activities, and excellent accommodation to suit a range of budgets. Ample opportunities also abound to follow quiet, unpaved roads through cheetah-rich plains or riverine woodlands. On one such drive, amid the clamour of high season, I spent a blissful half hour alone with a young leopard, then watched hyenas emerge from their den beneath the earth. Perhaps needless to say, the wildlife here is peerless – Big Five, big cats…everything here seems writ on an epic scale. The park’s north is the highlight for birders with plenty of northern specials you just don’t find elsewhere in the country. Other highlights, if any were needed, include soulful baobabs, serpentine river systems and the chance to spot everything from honey badgers to Sharpe’s grysbok.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.2/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star 5
  • 4 star 11
  • 3 star 1
  • 2 star 0
  • 1 star 0
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