The world-famous Kruger National Park is the oldest Park in Africa and one of South Africa’s most popular tourist destinations. Affectionately known as the “People’s Park”, it offers everything from budget-friendly accommodation to 5-star luxury lodges. Conservation projects and a commitment to protecting the abundance of game have created a wildlife sanctuary of world-class standards.
The Kruger National Park was first proclaimed in 1898 as the Sabie Game Reserve by the then President of the Transvaal Republic, Paul Kruger. He initiated a drive to create a ‘no-hunting’ zone to protect the wild animals of the Lowveld. Unchecked hunting was decimating the herds of wild game that roamed free at that time.
Kruger’s vision for a protected national Park only materialised twelve years later when the area between the Sabie and Crocodile Rivers was set aside for restricted hunting. On 31 May 1926 the National Parks Act was proclaimed and the Sabie and Shingwedzi Game Reserves were combined to form the Kruger National Park.
Motorists and game enthusiasts were allowed entry to the Park in 1927 for a fee of one pound.
FAST FACTS ABOUT THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
The Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa, covering an area of just under 20 000 square kilometres (7 500 sq/miles). It is about the size of Israel, slightly smaller than Belgium and about the third of the size of Ireland.
The Park is wedged between the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga in the north-eastern region of South Africa, with Mozambique on its eastern border and Zimbabwe on its northern border.
The Kruger National Park is 350 kilometres long and 60 kilometres wide.
The Park was proclaimed a ‘no hunting’ zone by the Transvaal Republic government in 1898 and proclaimed a national Park in 1926. It recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, making it the oldest Park in Africa.
The Kruger National Park has over 2 000 plant species, including over 330 plant species. The Park is home to the Big 5 (lion, rhino, buffalo, elephant and leopard) and 500 bird species.
The Kruger National Park has suffered terribly from crippling drought on a number of occasions. The driest period recorded was between 1980 and 1997, with the worst year being 1993. The ongoing drought in 2016 led to the culling of hippos by Park management that caused a public furore.
Its borders are marked by two rivers; the Crocodile River creates a border in the South of the Park, and the Limpopo River creates a border in the north. The Lebombo Mountains border the Park on its Western side, dividing the Park from its eastern neighbour, Mozambique.
The Park falls within a malaria zone and visitors are advised to take anti-malaria tablets. The southern regions are not a high risk malaria area but tourists visiting the Park in the wet summer months and those travelling to the northern parts of the Park are advised to be vigilant and take precautions against this life-threatening disease.
EVIDENCE OF PREHISTORIC MAN
There is ample evidence that prehistoric man – Homo erectus – roamed the area between 500 000 and 100 000 years ago. There are almost 254 known cultural heritage sites in the Kruger Park, including nearly 130 recorded rock art sites.
More than 300 archaeological sites of Stone Age man have been found from the period dating back 100 000 to 30 000 years ago. Evidence of Bushman tribes (San people) and Iron Age inhabitants dating back to 1 500 years ago have been found, aswell as the presence of Nguni people and European explorers.
Thulamela and Masorini are two areas where significant archaeological ruins are found, and there are numerous examples of San art scattered throughout the reserve.
The value of tourism from game reserves as a source of revenue was already cemented by the time the area was officially proclaimed a national Park in 1926. Excursions to the Park and overnight stays had been arranged by Stevenson-Hamilton, Warden of the Park at the time. However, there were no facilities for tourists and they usually slept on the train that brought them down from the Witwatersrand.
A main road was built aswell as a few secondary roads to attract more tourists to the Park, with the idea being that paying tourists would be accompanied by a guide. News reporters were invited to write articles on the reserve to attract foreign tourists and, over time, the Park gained national and international repute.
There was still a problem with the lack of accommodation facilities and, in 1927; the South African Railways (SAR) approached the board with a request to erect quarters that the Park could rent to visitors. A joint venture between the Park and SAR led to the development of much-needed infrastructure and roads. Rest huts and facilities needed for the guides and game rangers started popping up throughout the Park.
In exchange for use of these facilities for their paying tourists, SAR undertook to provide all transport, by rail and road, and launched an advertising campaign, set up catering services and paid the board a percentage of the income received.
Four two-track roads were built initially; from Crocodile Bridge to Lower Sabie, from Acornhoek to the Mozambique border, from Gravelote to Makubas Kraal (near Letaba) and from White River to Pretoriuskop.
The Pretoriuskop area was opened to tourists in 1927 but only on the issue of a permit from the secretary of the board in Pretoria and the game warden on duty at Pretoriuskop. This arrangement was restrictive and confusing and eventually the board appointed an agency in 1931 to issue permits at Numbi Gate.
There were still no overnight facilities built at that time and the general public had to leave the Park before the gates closed in the evening. Hunting by this stage had been strictly prohibited but visitors could carry a revolver on them for their personal protection.
SAR received permission from the board to open the railway bridges over the Crocodile, Sabie and Olifants Rivers for motor vehicles, and to run a train service on the Selati Railway for tourists. The number of visitors to the Kruger National Park steadily grew as it became more accessible and convenient.
GROWTH IN TOURISM
From 1928, the board committed to extensive plans to boost tourism to the reserve. Three rest huts were built at Satara, Pretoriuskop and Skukuza. A year later, two rondavels (round houses) were built at Skukuza, and two were built at Satara. Plans to build more rondavels at other camps were submitted and old ranger quarters were restored and made available to tourists. The Kruger National Park was set to start attracting overnight stays.
The design of the rondavels was in the “Selby” style, named after an American mine engineer, Paul Selby, that was on the board at the time. There was a gap between the wall and the roof for ventilation, and there was a hole in the door that was used as a peephole to see if there were dangerous animals outside the hut. The rest camps were not fenced and animals roamed freely in and out of the designated visitors’ area.
The original rondavels were not well-liked as they were stiflingly hot in summer and mosquitoes came in through the open gaps. From 1931, new rondavels were built that were closed to the thatch roof and had windows in them. The board rolled out further developments which included tented rest camps and traditional huts made form wattle and local cement.
The first ablution block went up at Skukuza in 1932, with four baths and four showers. The rest camps were finally fenced at the same time. New and improved designs were introduced and the Kruger National Park took on a more uniform look, where it was previously quite haphazard. Facilities focused on the comfort and needs of tourists, aswell as their safety.
Hot water for bathing was a luxury in those early days. Eventually the board relented and provided hot running water to the camps on the condition tourists paid one shilling per bath.
By the mid-1930s the demand for accommodation had increased so much so that the board asked the government for a donation of £50,000 and additional beds and rest camps were made available for some 200 visitors.
Things developed from there and the Park received more financial support from the government. Money was spent on luxuries such as mosquito nets, septic tanks and hot showers, aswell as game management programmes.
The board started charging a fee to visit the Park for the first time in 1928 to raise much-needed revenue. A princely sum of five shillings for day visitors and a nominal charge per car was implemented. Visitors could hire a game ranger to escort them through the Park for an added fee. Visitors were also charged to cross the rivers on pontoons that were set up.
The board outsourced the management of the rest camps and refreshment stops for Skukuza and Satara to independent contractors when tourist traffic increased to a point that the Park staff could not manage the demand.
These contractors were responsible for the issuing of permits, supervision at the camps and catering services. The rest camps were only equipped with wood and ‘riempie’ beds and visitors could hire mattresses and linen from the camp supervisors.
The board eventually employed their own management staff to run the rest camps because of the number of complaints from the tourists. The board took over all trade activities and employed the first tourism manager in the mid-1940s. In the 1960s, the first liquor license was issued.
The rules and regulations for the Park when it first opened to visitors were pretty relaxed, except that firearms were strictly prohibited. Tourists had pretty much free range and did not even have to return to the rest camps at night. However, the first list of regulations was published in the 1930s when poor behaviour started causing problems.
Tourists were limited to driving through the Park between sunrise and sunset, and were made to return to their rest camp for the evening. A strict speed limit was implemented and littering was prohibited. The board appointed the Automobile Association (AA) to run a service where patrol cars would monitor traffic on the Park roads.
The only mode of transport when the Park was first proclaimed was the Selati railway line, ox wagons, buggy carts, pack donkeys and horses. There were no roads and no vehicles in the Park in those days.
Bush clearing started in earnest in 1927 and the first roads were put in to create more convenient routes between the ranger’s posts. The construction of roads within the Park for tourists followed a few years later. Three pontoons were built on the main rivers and a new causeway was built over the Sand River and the Letaba River.
The road network that had developed by 1946 was a massive achievement, considering the fact that the Kruger National Park was in dire financial straits, had a shortage of equipment and lacked manpower.
Requests to tar the roads were vehemently opposed, with the thinking that it would turn the reserve into a “glorified Park” and it would lose its natural appeal. Stevenson-Hamilton was strongly opposed to tarring the roads, saying it would result in speeding incidents and the death of animals.
Permission to tar the roads was only granted in 1965 and only for the main strip between Pretoriuskop and Skukuza. Today there are more than 850 kilometres of tarred roads in the Park.
HOW KRUGER NATIONAL PARK GOT ITS NAME
The man behind the development of the Kruger National Park was then president of the Transvaal Republic, Paul Kruger. He was not a well-educated man, with only three formal months of education spent in a rural farm school, but he grew up in the wild frontiers of the old country and had an enduring love of nature and wildlife.
At the urging of early conservationists who were alarmed at the scale of unchecked hunting in the Lowveld region, he made an indelible mark in history by proclaiming an expansive area would be allocated for the protection of South Africa’s wild animals.
Kruger was born in 1825 on a rural farm. When the Great Trek started in 1836, his father uprooted the family and moved them to what was known as the Transvaal, where they settled in a town called Rustenburg.
At the age of 16 years, he was entitled to choose his own farm and settled on a property at the base of the Magaliesberg Mountains. He married in 1842 and shortly thereafter moved to the Eastern Transvaal. He lost his wife and young infant son to what was suspected to be malaria and re-married a woman who bore seven daughters and nine sons, although many of his children died in infancy.
Kruger showed strong leadership qualities and eventually became Commandant-General of the then South African Republic, later known as the Transvaal. His leadership skills became more prominent when he was appointed member of a commission of the Volksraad, the Transvaal Republican Parliament who were tasked with drawing up a constitution.
He resigned as Commandant-General, in 1873 and retired to his farm, Boekenhoutfontein. His retirement was short-lived and he was elected to the Executive Council. Shortly after that he became Vice-President.
Kruger led a resistance movement and became leader of a deputation. The first Anglo Boer war was 1880 and the British forces were defeated in a battle at Majuba in 1881. At this time Paul Kruger was instrumental in negotiations with the British, which later led to the restoration of Transvaal as an independent state under British rule.
In 1882, the 57-year old Paul Kruger was elected president of Transvaal. He left for England in 1883 to revise the Pretoria Convention of 1881, an agreement which was reached between the Boers and the British that ended the first Anglo Boer War. Paul Kruger acquired many allies in Europe during this time. In Germany, he attended an imperial banquet at which he was presented to the Emperor, Wilhelm I, and spoke at length with the renowned Bismarck.
The political climate of the Transvaal changed with the discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand basin. It spurred a gold rush and immigrants from around the world descended on the gold fields in search of fortunes.
Kruger’s leadership was put to the test at the end of 1895 when the failed Jameson Raid, led by Doctor Starr Jameson, brought about a breakdown in relations between the British and the Boers. It ultimately led to the second Anglo Boer War, known as the South African war.
Kruger was known as a fierce protector of the Afrikaner nation and on being elected as President of South Africa in 1883, he tirelessly campaigned for South Africa’s complete independence from Britain and the abolition of British supervision.
The South African war broke out in 1899 and Kruger, now 74, remained in Pretoria due to ill health until 1900. When the war swung in favour of the British army, Kruger was forced to flee the capital just days before Lord Roberts occupied the city. He boarded a Dutch warship at Lorenço Marques (Maputo) and left for Europe, where he lived out his remaining years in exile. He died of heart failure at the age of 79 years while still living in Switzerland.
Kruger made allies of the European sovereignty and arch enemies of the British and was regarded as a fierce politician and military man. However, his abiding legacy was the formation of the Kruger National Park.
THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK UNDER THREAT
The Park had a precarious start with numerous factions threatening its survival. Hunters wanted access to the Park; soldiers returning from the First World War expected land for sheep farming; prospectors wanted access to the land to search for gold, copper and coal; and South Africa’s vets were campaigning for a mass slaughter of wildlife to contain the spread of tsetse fly disease.
It was the South African Railways (SAR) that unwittingly saved the Kruger National Park when they opened a new route from Pretoria to Lorenço Marques (now Maputo). The train stopped in the reserve and travellers were allowed to explore the surrounding bush with a game ranger on hand.
Awareness of the Park and growing interest in it empowered conservation lobbyists to secure the future of the Kruger National Park as a tourist destination that would generate revenue for it to be self-sustainable.
Kruger National Park finally received international acclaim when Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret visited the Park on their royal tour of South Africa and stayed in one of the first luxury lodges built in the reserve. By 1955, over 100 000 people visited the Park each year.
The Kruger National Park grew in size when the game fences between the private reserves on Kruger’s western border came down in 1994. In 2001, the fences were removed between South Africa, Mozambique on its eastern border and Zimbabwe on its northern border. This was the creation of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area.
Known as the Peace Park, it incorporates Parque Nacional do Limpopo in Mozambique and Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, making it the largest conservation reserve in Africa. The Park forms part of the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere, an area designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO ) as an International Man and Biosphere Reserve.
FIRST WARDEN OF THE PARK
Scottish-born James Stevenson-Hamilton was appointed as the first Warden of the Park in 1902 when it was still known as the Sabie Game Reserve. The reserve was later merged with Shinwedzi Game Reserve in 1927 and became the Kruger National Park. His journals are housed in the Memorial Library in Skukuza and make fascinating reading.
James Stevenson-Hamilton (1867-1957) was born in Scotland, the eldest of nine children. He came to South Africa in 1888 as a member of the 6th Enniskillen Dragoons. This is the first time he came across wild game in the bush and he immediately fell in love with the country.
He returned to South Africa during the second Boer War, as a major in the British army. He did not want to return to England at the end of the war and secured the position of Warden of the Sabi Game Reserve. There was no clear instruction on what to do in the position except to make himself “thoroughly disagreeable to everyone”.
Stevenson-Hamilton took his job seriously and when he caught two policemen poaching game he had them arrested and convicted. This incident earned him quite a reputation. Amongst other tasks, he stopped the movement of cattle through the Park and stopped all prospecting for coal and minerals.
In 1914, Stevenson-Hamilton joined the forces at the start of the First World War. He left the management of the Park in the hands of a ranger who ultimately let the administration slide. On his return to the Park, Stevenson-Hamilton found his beloved Park was in a shambles. He fought tooth-and-nail to save the Kruger National Park, as the war had stimulated greedy development of the land for agricultural purposes.
The Selati Railway Line was established and this ultimately saved the Park. A 9-day tour of Mozambique and the Lowveld included a one-night stop at what is present-day Skukuza. Stevenson-Hamilton invited members of the Provincial Council to visit the reserve which helped these influential members of government to understand the value and importance of the proclaimed Park.
Stevenson-Hamilton was called Skukuza by his staff, a Shangaan name meaning either “he who sweeps clean” or “he who turns everything upside down. Skukuza, roughly interpreted, is taken from the Zulu word for “broom”. However, it wasn’t a positive term as the Tsonga tribe was bitter at being deprived of their historical land. The main rest camp at Sabie Bridge was called Skukuza in his honour.
Stevenson-Hamilton remained with the Park until he retired in 1945, on the eve of his 80th birthday.
DEVELOPMENT OF WILDERNESS TRAILS
Dr Player is probably one of South Africa’s most highly regarded environmentalists and a conservationist who led efforts to rescue the southern white rhino from extinction. He was instrumental in developing the first wilderness trails in 1957 in the Kruger National Park.
Player was a game ranger on the Umfolozi Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, the oldest nature reserve in Africa. When it was established in 1897, there were only about 50 southern white rhinos left in the world and all of them were on the reserve. The rhino faced extinction as vast numbers of Zulus that were displaced by the government’s land policy had settled on the borders of the reserve and poaching was out of control. There was also the threat of an anthrax breakout from stray infected cattle that wondered into the reserve.
By the 1960s the Umfolozi’s population of white rhino had grown to 600; however, Player realised the danger of keeping an entire subspecies restricted to one small Park and drove a campaign to allow him to move a small herd of rhino to the Kruger National Park. This would ensure the survival of the rhino by establishing a gene pool in other regions of the country.
By this stage, veterinarian Toni Haarthoorn had pioneered a “dope darting” technique that was used in Operation Rhino, one of the most successful wildlife translocation programmes that included moving rhino to other parts aswell as to overseas reserves.
GEOGRAPHY OF THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
The Park lies in the north-east of South Africa on the confluence of the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces. The Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers converge at Crookes Corner in the Pafuri triangle at the most northerly point of the Park and if you stand in the river bed, you have Mozambique on your right, Zimbabwe straight ahead and South Africa on your left.
The Lebombo Mountains in the eastern region of the Park separates it from Mozambique. The Limpopo and the Crocodile Rivers act as its natural boundaries on the north and south of the park.
The Kruger National Park varies in altitude between 200 metres (660 feet) in the east and 840 metres ( 2 760 feet) in the south-west near Berg-en-Dal. The highest point is a hill called Khandzalive.
Several rivers run through the park including the Sabie, Olifants, Crocodile, Letaba, Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers.
THE GREAT LIMPOPO TRANSFRONTIER PARK
A vision to create what is otherwise known as a Peace Park came to fruition in 2000 when a multi-international agreement led to the fences being brought down between the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique, the Kruger National Park and the Makuleke region in South Africa, and Gonarezhou National Park, Manjinji Pan Sanctuary and Malipati Safari Area in Zimbabwe.
Fences were removed based on a Memorandum of Understanding that did away with political boundaries that restricted the free movement of animals along old migratory routes. In 2001, the first 40 (including 3 breeding herds of a planned 1 000 elephants) were translocated from the over-populated Kruger National Park to the Limpopo National Park.
The transboundary protected area (TBPA) is an area that spans the boundaries of more than one country, where the political border sections that are enclosed within its area are abolished. This includes the removal of all man-made physical boundaries, such as fences. Such areas are also known as transfrontier conservation areas or peace Parks.
The aim of these transfrontier parks is to preserve traditional animal migration patterns, and ensure there are sufficient food and water sources as the population of animals increase. Peace Parks also encourage tourism and economic development that is mutually beneficial for all parties. It is entirely reliant on the goodwill and integrity of the frontier countries.
The Kruger National Park lies in a subtropical zone where summer days are hot and humid, with temperatures often reaching the 40°C (100°F) mark.
It is a summer rainfall area and the rainy season lasts from September until May. The driest period in the Park is September and October, and is regarded as the best game viewing time as the grass is thin and short which is excellent for seeing animals.
The winter months from May to end of August are popular because the mosquitos are less active in the cold months and there is less chance of contracting malaria if you are not taking prophylactics. The game stay close to the waterholes in the drier winter months and this attracts the predators which makes it an ideal time of the year for game viewing.
PLANTS AND TREES OF THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
There are currently 6 Biosphere Regions established within South Africa, of which the Kruger to Canyon Biosphere is the largest (and the third largest in the world). The Kruger to Canyon Biosphere comprises savannahs, grassland and forests that roughly cover over 4.8 million hectares of land bordering South Africa and Mozambique.
The Kruger to Canyon Biosphere finally received international recognition when it was registered as a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2001.
The Kruger National Park is characterised by four bushveld regions that each have their own distinctive appeal:
Thorn trees and red bush-willow veld
This area lies between the western boundary and roughly the centre of the Park south of the Olifants River. Combretums, such as the red bush-willow (Combretum apiculatum) and Acacia species predominate while there are a great number of marula trees (Sclerocarya caffra). The Acacias are dominant along the rivers and streams.
Knob-thorn and marula veld
South of the Olifants River in the eastern half of the Park, this area provides the most important land for grazing. Species such as red grass (Themeda triandra) and buffalo grass (Panicum maximum) predominate while the knob-thorn (Acacia nigrescens), leadwood (Combretum imberbe) and marula (Sclerocarya caffra) trees are the main tree species.
Red bushwillow and mopane veld
This area lies in the western half of the Park, north of the Olifants River. The two most prominent species here are the red bushwillow (Combretum apiculatum) and the mopane tree (Colophospermum mopane).
Shrub mopane veld
Shrub mopane covers almost the entire north-eastern part of the Park. There are a number of smaller areas in the Park which carry distinctive vegetation such as Pretoriuskop where the sickle bush and the silver cluster-leaf (Terminalia sericea) are prominent. The sandveld communities near Punda Maria are equally definitive, with a wide variety of unique species.
BIRDS OF THE KRUGER PARK
The Kruger National Park is a birder’s paradise boasting 517 species of birds; 253 are residents, 117 non-breeding migrants and 147 nomads.
Affectionately known as the Big 6, there are six large species that are by and large restricted to the Park’s conservation areas. They are the lappet-faced vulture, martial eagle, saddle-billed stork, kori bustard, ground hornbill and the reclusive Pel’s fishing owl, which is localized and seldom seen.
There are between 25 and 30 breeding pairs of saddle-billed storks in the Park, besides a handful of non-breeding individuals. In 2012 178 family groups of ground hornbills roamed the Park and 78 nests were known, of which 50% were active.
Pafuri and Punda Maria in the far north of the Park are regarded as one of the birding hotspots of the world. There are a number of species in the Kruger National Park that are not found anywhere else in the world.
The rest camps in the Park are where birds often see some of the best birds, particularly those bushveld camps that are situated on one of the main rivers. The comical hornbills and glossy starlings have made the rest camps their home, with easy pickings from picnic scraps and family barbeques.
The many dams scattered around the Kruger National Park are excellent birding spots, with the African Fish Eagle being a prize sighting. Its signature call is an absolute delight.
Let us take a look at the few bird routes in the Kruger National Park that attract avid birders to the region.
Lowveld Mpumalanga Birding Route
This is a popular birding route in the southern part of the Park which is a sub-tropical area with a lot of open bushland. Typical species of trees in the area include the acacia, leadwood, marula and tamboti trees.
Common species found in the area include the African scops-owl, bateleur, crested francolin, lilac-breasted roller, southern ground hornbill and white-crested helmet shrike.
Some of the sought-after and rare birds found in this route include the martial eagle, narina trogon and southern bald ibis.
Soutpansberg-Limpopo birding route
This route falls within the northern region of the Kruger National Park and is part of the Greater Limpopo birding route which extends beyond the borders of the Park through Mapungubwe National Park, the Soutpansberg mountain range and Venda.
Punda Maria is known for sightings of the crowned hornbill, eastern (yellow-spotted) nicator and mosque swallow. The mopani bush and woodland areas attract the Arnott’s chat, black coucal, little bittern, racket-tailed roller and white-breasted cuckooshrike.
Along the banks of the Levuvhu River, look out for the Böhm’s spinetail, Dickinson’s kestrel, lemon-breasted canary, mottled spinetail, river warbler and sooty falcon.
Kruger to Canyons Biosphere birding route
This route incorporates parts of northern Kruger National Park and big sections of the central region. It begins outside the park in Graskop, moves along the Blyde River Canyon, down to Hoedspruit and on to the Kruger National Park via Phalaborwa.
Popular sightings include the African barred owlet, collared (red-winged) pratincole, Pel’s fishing-owl, white-crowned lapwing (plover) and yellow-billed oxpecker.
HOME TO THE BIG 5
The Big 5 was the collective term given by hunters to five of the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot. With hunting now strictly prohibited in the Park, the Big 5 is a tourism term that attracts animal enthusiasts to the Park.
The Big 5 includes elephants, the Transvaal lion, the Cape buffalo, the rhino and leopard. All five species are endangered to some extent and under threat of extinction from rampant poaching that continues despite earnest anti-poaching programmes.
The Kruger National Park can only sustain a population of 8 000 elephants but by last count in 2012 had close to 17 000 elephants. The Park stopped culling elephants in 1994 but the significant increase in numbers has put severe strain on the Park’s habitat.
The Park suffered from extensive elephant poaching in the 1980s which has since abated. It holds over 48 tons of ivory in storage and, according to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), has been allowed to sell 30 tons to raise much-needed revenue for anti-poaching measures.
Rhino and anti-poaching measures
The total population of white and black rhino in South Africa is in the region of 22 000, which represents about 93% of the world’s population of this vulnerable species. Kruger is home to at least 12 000 rhinos.
Rampant poaching is the scourge of game reserves in South Africa but the Kruger National Park is particularly vulnerable as its western boundary lies on the border of Mozambique, a country ravaged by civil war and one of the poorest in southern Africa. Asian criminal syndicates have captured the heads of poor villages, luring desperate men into their trap with promises of extreme wealth.
Anti-poaching units consist of SANParks game rangers who are assisted by the state police and defence force. Extensive use of drones, Aérospatiale Gazelle helicopters and automated movement sensors in the buffer zones and a specialised dog unit have been deployed but the poaching endemic remains unabated.
The Asian crime syndicates have equipped the poachers with state-of-the-art equipment like night vision googles and large calibre rifles fitted with suppressors and sophisticated rifles. A number of SANParks’ employees have succumbed to the lure of easy money and have been caught operating poaching syndicates from within the Park.
The rhino population of the Kruger National Park is most vulnerable during the Full Moon when the night sky is illuminated. Most private game reserves in southern Africa have implemented de-horning programme to reduce the incidences of poaching but the Kruger National Park has not taken this route. Some Kruger rhinos have been fitted with invisible tracing devices in their bodies and horns which help the anti-poaching teams keep track of them via satellite systems.
The Transvaal lion is the southern-most African lion most commonly seen in the Kruger National Park, living in the savannah, grasslands and hilly regions of the Park. There are more than 2 000 lions of this protected subspecies in the Kruger National Park and one of the more famous Big 5 that visitors delight in sighting.
They are majestic animals, with males weighing up to 225 kilograms and females up to 150 kilograms. The average lifespan of a lion in the bush is about 15 years. They tend to live in prides although males lions come and go, and pride leadership often shifts between several individual males. The intimate social structure depends heavily on related lionesses that are the primary hunters and jointly rear young cubs.
Intense battles over territory and individual dominance occur between the male lions but the pride is usually led by the dominant females. Lions will follow the big game herds and hunt mostly at night, resting for long periods of time during the hot daylight hours. The best time to view lions is between dawn and dusk when they are most active but a sighting of a resting pride is just as exciting, particularly if it is a pride with young cubs.
Lionesses usually give birth to litters of between two and four cubs. They are kept well hidden in the bush for about six weeks and then brought out to mingle with the rest of the pride. Lionesses hunt exclusively for their cubs and will have taught their young offspring to hunt by the time they are two years old.
At around this age, male cubs are kicked out of the pride and form groupings of nomadic bachelors. They will either find new territories or return to their pride and challenge the aging male in spectacular fashion.
A grazing or resting herd of Cape buffalo may look like a group of lazy, domesticated cattle but don’t be mistaken. This massive and powerful bovine is one of the most dangerous animals you’ll encounter in the bush. A mass weight of 750 kilograms and a heavy boss and upward curved horns, you don’t want to walk into a lone buffalo on a walk through the bush.
Buffalo herds are very important for the ecological health of the bushveld. They are known as bulk grazers and are responsible for converting long grasslands into short grassy environments that are suitable for other browsers.
Female cows are pregnant for 330 days and usually give birth to a single calf in the months between January and April. Herds can consist of up to several hundred buffalo although a herd might break up into smaller groups during dry, arid seasons. A lone male buffalo is usually what they call an old “dagga boy” (mud boy) who has been kicked out the herd or has got too frail to keep up with the group.
Lions are the greatest threat for buffalo and a herd will aggressively defend one of its own if taken down by a lioness. As an angry, defensive group, buffalos can hold off an attack by a whole pride of lions. A wounded buffalo is probably the single-most dangerous animal you will encounter in the bush, a trait that gave rise to the original term the Big 5 (most dangerous animals to hunt on foot in Africa).
The Cape buffalo is a carrier of viruses that are fatal for domestic livestock. Breeding programmes in the Eastern Cape have been implemented to breed up a stock of virus-resistant bovines. These buffalo sell on auctions for ridiculously high prices.
Leopards live a solitary existence in the bush and will only spend a brief time together with a mating companion. A male leopard will aggressively defend his territory against other males but will share his space with females. Their territory can vary in size form 10km/square to several hundred square kilometres.
Leopards usually spend a restful day in dense riverine bush or in deep crags on rocky outcrops, coming out late afternoon or early evening to hunt. Unlike lion, they are silent creatures and you may only be aware of its presence when it gives a soft cough-like call.
With an average body mass of between 60-70 kilograms, this graceful cat has an elongated body, fairly short legs and a long tail. Leopards have often been spotted in the trees when only the white tip of their long tail has given them away. They also live up to 15 years, like their cousin the lion.
Much like the domestic cat, a leopard will either ambush its prey or stalk it. It needs to get as close as possible to its prey before it makes a short and explosive charge. It is heavier than a cheetah and lacks the speed to chase down a panicked meal on legs. A leopard can carry animals much heavier than its own weight and will usually drag its prey up a tall tree and lodge it in a fork in the branches several metres off the ground. Once ensconced up a tree with its prey, it will take its time to feed without having to worry about other scavengers.
This majestic big cat will eat anything from wildebeest and antelope to fish and baboons. If you hear blood-curdling screaming in the Park, it is usually a group of panicked baboons who have spotted a leopard lurking in the area. A leopard will approach a group of baboons cautiously because one leopard does not stand a chance against an attack by a number of angry male baboons and their lethal fangs.
A leopard will lick the fur off its prey before it feeds, starting with the thighs and chest. They get most of the moisture they need from their prey and can survive long periods without drinking water from riverbeds and streams.
ENDANGERED SPECIES OF THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
The heavily-poached rhino population receives the most attention as a highly-threatened species in the Kruger National Park, but there are many Red Data (severely endangered) species in the Park – including a number of bird species.
The status of the African wild dog, affectionately known as the painted wild dog, is actually far more perilous. The Kruger National Park is home to the only viable pack of wild dogs in South Africa and without protection, their future looks bleak. There are about 400 wild dogs left in the whole of South Africa.
The wild dog has been brought to the brink of extinction due to persecution by humans (they were viewed as pests), genetic inbreeding and diseases like rabies and distemper that they contract from domesticated dogs in the rural areas.
A continent-wide programme has been established by the The Wildlife Conservation Society and Zoological Society in London, and the group is rolling out plans to save this precious species.
On the birding list, there are a number of species that are endangered and being monitored by conservation groups. These include the Baleleur and southern-ground hornbill, aswell as the lappet-faced vulture, martial eagle, kori bustard and grey-headed parrot. These bird species are relatively well-protected in the Park but they are under threat from poaching and poisoning in areas outside of the Kruger National Park.
WILDERNESS TRAILS IN THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
The Kruger National Park offers nine different wilderness trails; some of them are in the deep bush and virtually untouched by humans. Game rangers take groups on trails made by the animals, and armed with a rifle in case they run into something wild and hungry.
Almost half the surface area of the Park’s 2 million hectares is zoned as wilderness and these are the areas that various operators conduct wilderness trails. Groups stay in rustic, fairly primitive accommodation and the aim is for guest to experience an authentic wilderness experience with game viewing being a secondary attraction. Trails offer the more adventurous tourists complete isolation, tranquillity and peace.
A walking trail generally lasts between three and four days, and you are accompanied by a highly-experienced armed ranger. Guides who take walking safaris in the Kruger National Park have to complete a series of rigorous assessments and must renew their advanced rifle-handling certificate every two years.
There are walking trails designed for an extreme wilderness experience and others that cater for those who want a less rustic experience.
The Mphongolo Trail in an area that is completely remote, no tourist roads currently run through this area of the park, and tourists are equipped with the bare essentials. Everything you need is carried on your back.
The Lonely Bull Trail takes you along the Letaba River or you can opt for the Olifants Backpack Trail; both are for the more adventurous and fit tourist, with the Olifants trail being probably the toughest.
There are seven trails that are run by the Kruger National Park that provided catered meals, and sleeping quarters that are simple but comfortable. Wilderness Safaris run the Pafuri Walking Trail, which is located in the far north of Kruger in the private Makuleke concession.
For a five-star option, Tanda Tula has a field camp that is immersed in the bush but offers tourists delicious meals, all your home comforts and comfortable accommodation in luxury tents.
ACCOMMODATION IN THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
The main camps in the Park offer a selection of accommodation to cater for everyone’s budget. Typically you have the choice of the following:
Camping: most sites for caravans and tents have an electrical point, with a few camping sites dotted around the Park that offer the more intrepid traveller a rustic experience with no electricity.
Rest camp huts: these single room units are remnants of the early tourism days and add to the character of the Park. Visitors share communal kitchen and ablution facilities.
Safari tents: permanent canvas tents have been erected on platforms, where visitors share communal kitchen and ablution facilities while some tents are fully equipped with bathroom and kitchenettes and have more luxurious trimmings.
Bungalow: single bedroom units with a bathroom, and visitors share communal ablutions. Have a choice between basic bungalows or more luxurious types that are situated on the river banks.
Basic cottage: single bedroom units with a living room, bathroom and kitchen
Family cottage: 2- or 3- bedroomed units with a living room, bathroom and kitchen
Guest cottage: 3- to 4- bedroomed units with at least 2 bathrooms, of which one is en-suite, and a fully-equipped kitchen
Luxury lodge: these exclusive private lodges are part of a unique suite of products known as the SANParks “Golden Kudus” and offer luxury accommodation for the more discerning traveller.
WHERE TO STAY IN THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
The main rest camps are all self-catering but each one has a good restaurant on site if you feel like a few days break away from the stove. The rest camps have purposely been kept humble and there is nothing flash about them.
Staying at one of the main camps is reminiscent of the early days, where accommodation is relatively basic in rondavels (round houses) that were part of the early character of the Park.
The 12 main rest camps in the Kruger National Park are:
Berg en Dal rest camp
The scenery is characterised by beautiful koppies and small hills, so it’s a hotspot for leopard. It’s also a great area for rhino and elephant, and you may even spot a honey badger, wild dogs, giraffe and klipspringers. The Matjulu Spruit runs through the rest camp so the gardens are usually kept green and lush, and there is a path that follows the perimeter of the fence which is popular for evening strolls or a quick jog.
Berg en Dal is a great spot if you own a caravan or prefer to camp, and has all the usual facilities. It has two guesthouses, a selection of bungalows and a six-bed family cottage. Caravan and camping sites have their own braai facility and a power outlet.
Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp
This is the ideal rest camp if you want to get away from the crowds and prefer a smaller, more intimate camp. It is perched on the banks of the Crocodile River and you’re fairly guaranteed to see lion. There is no restaurant at this camp but there is a small shop that stocks the basics and takeaways.
The camp has a choice of accommodation including camping facilities, and there is a picnic spot for day visitors. Morning and night game drives can be booked, aswell as bush walks with an armed ranger.
Letaba Rest Camp
The spectacular views over the Letaba River make this one of the most beautiful rest camps in the Kruger National Park. The restaurant doubles up as a viewpoint where you can watch animals coming down to the water’s edge. It’s an excellent birding spot.
The Elephant Museum is at the Letaba Rest Camp which is a hugely popular attraction. Letaba Rest Camp has a variety of accommodation from the typical rondavals to bungalows, guest houses and cottages. It also has a charming site for caravans and camping.
Lower Sabie Rest Camp
Lower Sabie is ideally situated in the central region of the Park and is popular because of the large variety of animals in the area. The Sabie River flows past the camp and you can see just as much game from the camp as you can see on a game drive. The chalets and safari tents positioned on the river bank offer visitors fantastic views and excellent game viewing.
Lower Sabie Rest Camp boasts one of the best restaurants in the Park with a spectacular view. Visitors have the choice of secluded safari tents that are positioned away from the camping site.
Mopani Rest Camp
Mopani Rest Camp is situated on the banks of one of the original dams, which means visitors sometimes prefer to remain in the camp for excellent game viewing. The Pioneer Dam is fed by the Tsende River, and the surrounding bush is lush and green for most of the year. The camp is named after the Mopani tree that is a dominant species in the area.
Mopani Rest Camp lies very close to the Tropic of Capricorn, and in fact there is a drive called the Tropic of Capricorn loop which allows you to drive along the parallel of latitude. It’s an excellent area for birding.
Mopani Rest Camp offers a variety of accommodation from budget-friendly cottages to more luxurious guesthouses. Dine in a beautiful setting at Tindlovu restaurant, or enjoy a sundowner at Pioneer Dam.
The magnificent Lonely Bull Trail starts at Mopani Rest Camp. This is a four-day trail that crosses the divide between the Mingerhout Dam and the low-water Letaba Bridge.
Olifants Rest Camp
This is one of the more prestigious camps in the Park with a rich history. A fully-equipped shop and a good restaurant sits perched higher above the gorge with sweeping panoramic views. Chalets on the river frontage are booked way in advance because they are so popular.
The camp offers guided tours down to the river and walking trails in the wilderness region (the Oliphant’s River Backpacking Trail). A real treat is an authentic African bush braai.
There are two luxury guesthouses in the Oliphant’s Rest Camp, as well as two, three and four-roomed bungalows complete with en-suites. There are also two huts available that are wheel-chair friendly.
Orpen Rest Camp
This is a smaller camp situated close to the Orpen gate. It is one of the lesser well-known rest camps so it’s perfect for those wanting to avoid the hustle and bustle of the larger, busier rest camps.
All the bungalows face onto a watering hole that is illuminated at night. It’s an excellent spot for game viewing, particularly for elephant herds that come down to the dam for an evening drink.
Honey badgers, hyena and leopard are often spotted on night drives, aswell as the white-tailed mongoose.
There is a small shop that sells the basic necessities and there is a nice pool for hot summer days. There is no restaurant at the camp so accommodation is completely self-catering.
Your accommodation at Orpen Rest Camp is a choice of two- or three-bed thatched cottage, but there are also guest cottages offering room for six people. It’s a great option for families or groups of friends.
The Orpen game was named in honour of the Orpen family who donated land and boreholes at a time when the Park had only recently opened up to visitors. A white hut in the camp acts as a museum to JH Orpen and his wife, Eileen. It stands in the exact spot where the original gate in the Kruger National Park used to be.
Pretoriuskop Rest Camp
This rest camp has huge sentimental value for those that know the history of the Park and is the oldest rest camp. It was named after Willem Pretorius, a pioneering developer in its early days.
The rest camp has a spectacular pool, built around a massive granite rock. There is a restaurant on site but it offers simple food without all the bells and whistles of other camp restaurants. It is one of the more convenient rest camps for local South Africans as it is less than 10 kilometres from Numbi Gate (closest gate to White River).
Punda Maria Rest Camp
The Punda Maria Rest Camp is one of the northern most camps in the Kruger National Park and quite spectacular. It offers visitors a wilder, more remote experience. The area is most popular for birding, with game viewing being a bit leaner than the southern regions.
Punda Maria Rest Camp caters for a slightly wealthier clientele who favour the luxury safari tents. More budget-friendly accommodation includes two-bed bungalows that share a communal kitchen and ablution facilities.
The Pafuri picnic spot and Crooks Corner are popular destinations, but you are there more for the spectacular scenery than for game viewing. The surrounding vegetation does not support too many of the large game species but you will still see buffalo, elephant and tsessebe. Watch out for the Pel’s fishing owl who loves this area.
Pafuri is well-known for its striking vegetation, with a magnificent Fever Tree forest and an abundance of majestic baobabs.
Satara Rest Camp
Satara Rest Camp is the third largest camp in the Kruger National Park and centrally located. It’s also regarded as the best area to be in to see the big cats.
There is a good restaurant on site and a popular Park shop. The popular camping sites are positioned right up against the fence where habituated hyena stroll up and down, hoping for someone to throw a piece of their dinner over the fence. It’s quite usual to fall asleep at night to the sounds of roaring lions.
Shingwedzi Rest Camp
This charming rest camp is set amongst a forest of Mopani trees with a river running through it in the summer months. The camp gets its name from the Tsonga name for the nearby river.
It is the stomping ground of many breeding elephant herds and most famous for being the area where the legendary tuskers roamed. One of the Magnificent Seven elephants, Shingwedzi, died near the camp. The Magnificent Seven are the top seven elephants with the largest tusks that were known to roam the area in the 1970’s to the 1980’s.
The usual selection of accommodation is available, including bungalows, rondavals, a guest house, camping sites and a cottage that sleeps four people.
Skukuza Rest Camp
Skukuza camp is one of the more popular camps in the Park and can get a bit busy as it is also a pit-stop for day visitors and safari tour groups. It is the largest camp in the Kruger National Park and the administrative headquarters. The staff village for permanent staff and management is located next to Skukuza Rest Camp, with a school, sports fields, a golf course, shop and large swimming pool.
Skukuza Rest Camp also boasts an auditorium and conference centre, two swimming pools, a garden nursery and car wash and hire facilities. It was named after the first Warden of the Kruger National Park, James Stevenson-Hamilton. It was the nickname given to him by the Tsonga tribe. It is also where you will find the Stevenson-Hamilton Memorial Museum.
The camp has great views and a wheelchair accessible promenade along the Sabie River bathed in the shade of tall bushveld trees. Enjoy sitting under the large, shady tree and enjoy a delicious ice-cream or dine at the upmarket steakhouse on site.
The full range of accommodation is available to suit all budgets, from safari tents to luxury riverside bungalows, to caravan spots and guesthouses.
OTHER REST CAMPS IN THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
In addition to the 12 main rest camps that are popular destinations for overnight visitors, the Kruger National Park has an array of bush camps and private lodges for those wanting a more exclusive experience.
- Camp Shawu
- Camp Shonga
- Hamiltons Tented Camp
- Hoyo Hoyo Tsonga Lodge
- Imbali Safari Lodge
- Jocks Safari Lodge & Spa
- Lukimbi Safari Lodge
- Pafuri Camp
- Plains Camp
- Rhino Post Camp
- Shishangeni Lodge
- Singita Lebombo Lodge
- Singita Sweni Lodge
- The Outpost Lodge
- Tinga Game Lodges
The Kruger National Park has 9 gates:
- Crocodile Bridge Gate, near Komatipoort
- Malelane Gate, near Malelane
- Numbi Gate, near Hazyview
- Phabeni Gate, near Hazyview
- Paul Kruger Gate, near Hazyview
- Orpen Gate, near Klaserie
- Phalaborwa Gate, near Phalaborwa
- Punda Maria Gate, near Thohoyandou
- Pafuri Gate, near Musina
Day visitors to the Kruger National Park are welcomed and encouraged. All the main rest camps have areas allocated for day visitors and there are a few picnic spots dotted around the Park where visitors can enjoy a mid-day break.
The Park manages the volume of traffic on its roads by imposing a maximum number of vehicles allowed in each day and during high-peak season it’s important that visitors book beforehand to ensure they will be able to enter the Park.
The Kruger National Park recently introduced a “Park and Ride” facility which is available at the Numbi, Phabeni and Kruger gates.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR AT THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
There is so much more to the Kruger National Park than the Big 5 (buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino). Birders and animal enthusiasts have the privilege of enjoying an abundance of game both big and small in the Kruger National Park.
The Little Five: buffalo weaver, elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, ant lion and rhino beetle
Birding Big 6: ground hornbill, kori bustard, lappet-faced vulture, martial eagle, Pel’s fishing owl and saddle-billed stork
Five trees: baobab, fever tree, knob thorn, marula and mopane tree
Most visitors head off into the bush for morning and evening game drives. The time in-between can be spent at one of the natural or cultural features in the Park:
Letaba Elephant Museum
The museum covers elephant evolution, biology, behaviour, ecology and research. It also showcases the ivory of eight of Kruger’s greatest tuskers (including six of the Magnificent Seven). This site introduces you to these, and some of Kruger’s other big tuskers. It also has fun and games for kids and information for schools and educators.
The Albasini Ruins are located at the Phabeni Gate and are the remains of the 19th century trading post of the famous Portuguese trader, Joao Albasini.
Albasini arrived in the then Portuguese-occupied port of Lourenco Marques (now Maputo, Mozambique) in the early 1800s and set up a trading business. He set up an extensive network of trading routes that reached inland as far as the Lowveld. By 1845, Albasini had established a vital trading post at Magashula’s Kraal (now the site of the Albasini Ruins) which was positioned along two of the most active trading routes.
Legend has it that Magashula’s Kraal was the first European settlement, where traders sought refuge from the disease-ridden Lowveld. Albasini and fellow intrepid traders lived under difficult conditions of poor trade and the threat of deadly diseases such as malaria and tsetse fly. Magashula’s Kraal was renowned for its fine white bread, which was made from grain grown at the trading post.
Evidence of early man from the late Iron Age can be found at a site on a prominent hill just 12 kilometres from the Phalaborwa gate on the tar road to Letaba rest camp. The site was inhabited by the Sotho-speaking BaPhalaborwa during the 1800s, who developed advanced methods of mining, smelting iron ore and trading in these iron products.
Dome-shaped clay furnaces used to smelt the iron ore are found at the Masorini site, which has been reconstructed as closely as possible to the original iron works. This living museum can be explored with a field guide.
Thulamela archaeological sites
Thulamela is a stone-walled site located in the northern region of the Park, and dates back to between 450-500 years. It comprises evidence of the Zimbabwe culture and is linked to the world-famous Mapungubwe Ruins.
When Great Zimbabwe was abandoned, several groups moved south across the Limpopo River into the north-eastern regions of South Africa (including northern Kruger). They established smaller chiefdoms such as Thulamela and started farming subsistence crops such as sorghum and millet. The grain was ground and used to make porridge and beer.
There is evidence of clay spindle wheels which would suggest that the people also grew cotton. There are remains of pots of various shapes and sizes, some decorated, which were used for cooking, eating and drinking.
Stevenson-Hamilton Memorial Library
The knowledge resource centre is located at Skukuza, the largest rest camp in the Kruger National Park. It consists of a library and a museum and holds many fascinating artefacts, books and valuable documents depicting the life and times of James Stevenson-Hamilton who was the first Warden of the Sabie Game Reserve, now the Kruger National Park.
The rest camp was named Skukuza as it was the nickname given to Stevenson-Hamilton by the Shangaan people. It was his job to stop poaching and to create a safe haven for wild animals that were being ruthlessly hunted. His nickname means “he who sweeps clean” or “he who turns everything upside down”. It has a more negative connotation as Stevenson-Hamilton was responsible for the relocation programme that move the native people out of the area when it was proclaimed a national park.
One of the most popular attractions at the museum is the knife that belonged to Harry Wolhuter, a ranger who killed a lion that had him firmly in his jaws and was dragging him through the bush.
There is also a small “Heroes’ Acre” outside the museum where the loyal pets who served their masters and played a role in protecting the park are remembered. Some died of old age and some in the line of duty.
Visitors are expected to adhere to strict rules and regulations that govern gate and rest camp opening/closure times. Plan your arrival/departure times and game viewing around these times as fines are imposed on late arrivals or you may be turned away from the entrance gates if you arrive too late. You have to factor in the time it will take you to drive from the entrance gate to your overnight rest camp, driving at the enforced speed limit.
Speeding is a prosecutable infringement and strictly monitored. Drive slowly for the sake of the animals.
Visitors may only get out of their vehicles at designated picnic spots or look-out points, and you will face a hefty fine if caught with heads and bodies out of the car. There is an online app that encourages visitors to post photos of badly behaved visitors and if they catch your license plate on camera, the driver may be banned from visiting the Park.
A list of the Park’s rules and regulations are provided on entry into the Park and visitors are expected to adhere to them or face the consequences.
The use of drones inside (and just outside) all national Parks is strictly prohibited in line with anti-poaching measures.
Visitors can occupy their accommodation from 14h00 and must vacate the premises by 10h00.
Late arrivals are only permitted in cases of emergency (proof and a valid reason is required) until 21h00 for guests with pre-booked accommodation at certain camps within 10kms from the entry gates. A late arrival fee of up to R500 will be charged. No late arrivals are allowed at Pafuri, Phalaborwa and Phabeni gates or any other gates where the rest camps are more than 10kms away.
KRUGER NATIONAL PARK FOR KIDS
Long game drives with small kids are not recommended, as most parents know. It is important then that you choose to stay in one of the main rest camps that cater for children. These rest camps have swimming pools and open space that is fenced and safe for children to run around in.
Berg en Dal in southern Kruger is a spacious camp with a stunning viewing area overlooking the Matjulu Dam. There is a well-kept walking path around the perimeter of the camp that is suitable for kids.
Skukuza in southern Kruger has a beautiful dining and viewing area overlooking the Sabie River. Children can be taken through the Stevenson-Hamilton library and museum to learn about the history of the Park. Skukuza has a large, well-stocked shop with something for everyone.
Satara in central Kruger is located in what is known as “cat country”, where you are fairly guaranteed to see one or all of the big cats such as lion, cheetah and leopard. There is a jungle gym and kids’ play area at the swimming pool.
Letaba in central Kruger is where you will find the Elephant Museum which is a must-see attraction for the whole family. Children can learn more about the past and current “Tuskers” and there are various wildlife displays, diagrams, models and pictures. The camp restaurant overlooks the Letaba River.
Punda in northern Kruger is remote and far from the maddening crowds. However, it is a long drive to the northern regions of the Park and not ideal for small children as it is a malaria area. Older children who have an interest in birding will enjoy Punda as it is renowned as the best birding area in the Park. The camp has its own hide that overlooks a small water hole. The area is floodlit which is perfect of late-night game viewing exertions.
The main rest camps are fenced and you are safe within its boundaries, except for the odd encounter with a greedy baboon at your braai. However, small rodents, bats, insects and snakes will find their way into the rest camps and you must always be aware of your surroundings.
Rodents and other hungry critters are lured to the rest camps for easy pickings in the litter bins or food left out. Take care to put leftover food away in cupboards or fridges and don’t throw meat bones in the nearby bushes.
To avoid stepping on a spider, scorpion or snake; firstly always wear closed shoes walking around the camp and don’t go anywhere without a torch after the sun goes down. If you see snake in your path or near your accommodation, alert a camp supervisor. Don’t poke or prod it, and definitely don’t try to pick it up. Snakes are usually more scared of you than you are of them, and will slither away quickly.
Bats are your friends as they eat literally hundreds of mosquitoes a night but if one flies into your room, do not panic. Calmly place a towel over the bat and release it outside. Call a camp supervisor for assistance if you’re not up to the task.
You will see signs all over the camps warning visitors not to feed the monkeys, baboons and tame bushbuck. They might look cute but they can become very aggressive and then they have to be destroyed. Pack away any edible foodstuff and close doors and windows when you leave your cottage. Monkeys and baboons are so clever they have learnt to open fridges and cupboards.
MORE ABOUT MALARIA
The Kruger National Park is located in a malaria area, although the risk of malaria is greater in the northern regions. Only the female mosquito is responsible for infecting humans and is most active in the rainy season that lasts from November to April.
Symptoms of malaria include an aching body, headaches, fever and sore stomach. In severe cases, symptoms include seizures and hallucinations. Cerebral malaria is an extreme case of malaria and people die from it.
Consult your doctor before you travel to a malaria area and he/she will recommend a course of anti-malaria prophylactics. If you choose not to take them, watch out for any of the above symptoms that will occur 10 days after you first enter a malaria area. Go to your doctor immediately and ask for a blood test. The symptoms are similar to a bad cold or flu but rather be safe than sorry.
As an added precaution, use insect repellents to spray rooms, cars and clothes. Mosquitos are most active in the early morning and at sunset. Most malaria-savvy tourists change into long pants and long-sleeved shirts just before the sun goes down.
RESPECT THE RULES
A Kruger National Park is one of South Africa’s most popular tourist destinations and experiences high-traffic volume, particularly in the peak holiday seasons. If everyone sticks to the speed limit and obeys the rules of the Park, you’re guaranteed to have a highly enjoyable holiday.
On a game drive
Visitors must remain in their vehicles unless in a designated area.
Remember that no part of the body may protrude from a window or sunroof or any other part of the vehicle. Vehicle doors should be closed at all times.
Stick to the speed limit! The speed limit is 50 km/h on tar roads and 40 km/h on gravel roads.
Look at the gate times in your green gate permit. You must be inside the camp or out of the gate before these times. No travelling before or after these times are allowed. Gate times must be strictly adhered to and late comers may be subject to a fine.
You are not allowed to drive “off-road” or on roads with a “no entry” sign.
The feeding or disturbing of animals is a serious offence.
Do not litter. It is unsightly and a danger to animals.
Day visitors are not permitted to bring alcohol into the Park. Alcoholic beverages may be consumed at restaurants in the main camps that cater for day visitors, but drivers must drink responsibly and not drive over the alcohol limit.
In the rest camps
Overnight visitors are only allowed to stay at a booked and recognised overnight facility and must report to reception before occupying accommodation or camping.
All accommodation and camping sites may be occupied from 14:00 on the day of arrival and must be vacated by 10:00 on the day of departure.
Respect the fact that visitors have come to the Park to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the bush. Keep noise down to a minimum. A strict noise restriction is enforced between 21:30 and 06:00.
The use of roller skates, skateboards, bicycles and motorbikes is prohibited.
No live animal (domestic or wild) may be brought into, or removed from the Kruger National Park. No pets are allowed in the Park.
Raw meat and dairy products may be brought into the Kruger National Park for your own consumption. However, no raw products from cloven hoofed animals (milk or meat) will be allowed to leave the Kruger National Park through any of the official South African entrance gates unless it is still packaged in a sealed container identifiably market to confirm its South African origin, source or distributor.
Commercially packaged fish and poultry are exempt from these restrictions.
Fully processed curios are exempt from these restrictions.
WHAT TO PACK
Pack a warm sweater for the evenings, even in summer which is the rainy season. Long socks, long pants and long-sleeved shirts are recommended for the evenings to prevent you from being bitten by mosquitoes.
The African sun burns, even in winter. Bring hats and a good supply of sunscreen protection. Also bring a good supply of mosquito repellent.
The rest camps are serviced daily but you are responsible for washing your own crockery and cutlery. Pack cleaning products such as dishwashing liquid, dish clothes and sponges.
Bring torches or headlamps. There are street lamps in all the main rest camps but you will need extra light as they are not very bright.
Bring extra cash just in case. Apart from an ATM at Skukuza and Letaba, there are no cash withdrawal facilities in the Park. The main camps have fantastic shops packed with food, drinks, clothes and souvenirs. These retail outlets appreciate your support so pop in, even it’s only for an ice-cream.
Overnight visitors are allowed to bring alcohol into the Park which may be consumed in the privacy of their cottage or campsite. Day and overnight visitors are not allowed to drink alcohol in the public areas and bad behaviour from inebriated guests will not be tolerated.
There are fuel stations in the main rest camps and they accept legitimate petrol/garage cards and Visa or MasterCard.
Linen and blankets are supplied but bring extra pillows and blankets for your own comfort, particularly if you are visiting the Park in winter.
Basic cooking utensils are provided in units with a kitchenette. Anything more fancy then that must be brought from home.
EMERGENCIES AND CONTACT INFORMATION
Kruger National Park Administration Offices: +27 (0)13 735 4000
Clinix Phalaborwa Private Hospital:
Telephone: +27 (0)15 101 3000/3059
Address: 86 Grosvenor Crescent, Phalaborwa, 1390
GPS Coordinates: 23° 52′ 28.64″ S; 29° 30′ 44.72″ E