This is part one of my three-part Kruger guide. aimed at introducing you to all the wonders on offer in the park. Ideal for those who've never been or need a helping hand in planning their first-ever trip.
South Africa has numerous nature reserves and private game parks to choose from. But what makes the Kruger remarkable is that it offers an almost infinite number of different experiences all in one location.
From budget-friendly camping to unsurpassed luxury lodges. From popular spots in the South, where game viewing is almost guaranteed, to secluded back roads up North where only the most avid of Birders venture to.
You can find a visual guide with all our recent sightings in the park in the highlights section on my profile.
What type of Visitor are you?
With such a vast variety of experiences on offer, the first step in planning a trip is identifying what you'd like to get out of your visit. I'd suggest you start off by looking at what type of visitor you identify with and then picking your location accordingly.
This is your first time in the park or you're short on time. You're looking to see as much as possible with a focus on the big 5. Keeping it simple for an all-around entertaining trip.
You're happy to travel further and see a bit less in exchange for something new. Quieter and secluded roads appeal to you. You feel comfortable navigating through the park.
You've just about seen it all. Now you're on the lookout for very specific sightings and are happy to risk seeing little else while in pursuit.
Picking your Camp:
Try to stick to the South, the density of wildlife is much higher here than further North. These camps also tend to have major convenient factors; easy to reach, good restaurants and a range of accommodation options.
My recommendation, based on budget:
Skukuza & Lower Sabie Rest Camps. Both camps offer great campsites and a range of bungalows for small to larger groups. The routes between these two camps (especially the Golden triangle up to Tshokwane) are popular and well known for the high likelihood of game sightings along the Sabie River.
Skukuza Safari Lodge. This is my personal favourite but I will share more details in a later post. The two rest camps mentioned also offer more luxury and larger bungalow options but I actually don't find them to be as good value for the price so won't recommend.
Private camps like Kruger Selati, Lion Sands & Jock Safari lodge. Please note I've not tried any of these myself. These suggestions are off of hearsay.
Picking your Camp: Intermediate
Here your focus would move away from 'ticking off the checklist' and focus more on relaxing and enjoying the remoteness of the Bush.
Skukuza & Lower Sabie: these are equally enjoyable on all levels.
Olifants: Accommodation options are more basic but the views over the river are unmatched. Multiple gravel routes leading North and South that are great for landscape photography.
Tamboti Tented Camp: Small secluded camp with the option of heading out to big cat territory around Satara or head South via the S36 for some interesting birding.
Shimuweni: Ideal for those looking to unplug. This small bush camp doesn't have cell reception, a shop or a restaurant close by so make sure to come prepared. Large family cottages are beautifully set on the river and very comfortable for a multi-day stay.
Picking your Camp: Specialists
Wonderful locations in their own right but preferred by those on the lookout for very specific sightings:
Crocodile Bridge: Ideal location for birding in the South. Its densely wooded and Eastern location offers great photographic opportunities for birders in the morning (Driving East to West as the sun rises).
Biyamiti: Another secluded bush camp preferred by those looking to photograph more elusive game like the African Wild Dog and cheetahs that are often spotted in the region.
Punda Maria: The game is less dense than in the North but it's an utter paradise for bird lovers. This is the most popular SANParks camp in the region for those looking to frequent the bird-rich Pafuri picnic spot. (Also see the Outpost if you're looking for a higher end option).
Picking a time for your trip
There seems to be an endless debate over when is the best time to visit the Kruger. In my opinion, any time is a good time to be in the bush.
But when a trip is so heavily affected by natural conditions it's worth looking at the differences to help you decide:
Getting to the Kruger
Fly from Joburg:
1-hour flight to Skukuza, Hoedspruit and Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport with Airlink.
Prices start at around R 1 400 and increase depending on demand.
Avis car rentals are located at the airport or if you're staying at one of the lodges you can arrange airport pick up.
Drive from Joburg:
+-4,5 hour drive from Joburg to Malelane Gate.
+- 5 hours from Crocodile Bridge Gate
+- 6 hours to Paul Kruger Gate
Other Details to Consider
My second segment of this guide will look at more general but helpful tips for planning, packing and travelling through the park.
In the third segment, I'll focus more on my top choice rest camp and why I think it makes for the best city escape.