It is the largest game reserve in South Africa; the Kruger National Park is larger than Israel. Nearly 2 million hectares of land that stretch for 352 kilometres (20 000 square kilometres) from north to south along the Mozambique border, is given over to an almost indescribable wildlife experience. Certainly, it ranks with the best in Africa and is the flagship of the country’s national parks – rated as the ultimate safari experience.
The Kruger National Park lies across the provinces of Mpumalanga and Limpopo in the north of South Africa, just south of Zimbabwe and west of Mozambique. It now forms part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park – a peace park that links Kruger National Park with game parks in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and fences are already coming down to allow the game to freely roam in much the way it would have in the time before man’s intervention. When complete, the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park will extend across 35 000 square kilometres, 58% of it South African, 24% Mozambican and 18% Zimbabwean territory.
This is the land of baobabs, fever trees, knob thorns, marula and mopane trees underneath which lurk the Big Five, the Little Five (buffalo weaver, elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, ant lion and rhino beetle), the birding Big Six (ground hornbill, kori bustard, lappet-faced vulture, martial eagle, Pel’s fishing owl and saddle-bill stork) and more species of mammals than any other African Game Reserve.
Major Attraction: Graceful antelope are a highlight of Kruger, and two rare species to look out for are the roan and sable. Kruger is a stronghold for black and white rhino, although a sharp increase in poaching means they are becoming less plentiful. Black rhino, in particular, is very rare. The highly endangered wild dog (or painted dog) lives in large groups that range far and wide, although it is rarely spotted.
Wildlife: Kruger Park has an amazing variety of wildlife with all big safari animals present. All the big cats are found in Kruger and lion, in particular, are frequently seen in the south of the park. White rhino is under threat from a dramatic increase in poaching in recent years, although you still have a reasonable chance of spotting one. Buffalo and elephant are easily seen throughout. Wildlife is more difficult to spot in the Wet season due to thick vegetation.
Getting There: Most visitors to Kruger fly into Tambo International Airport (JNB) near Johannesburg. From here a connecting flight goes to Nelspruit Airport/Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (MQP) in Mpumalanga, the gateway to the southern sector of Kruger Park. Alternatively, fly to Hoedspruit (for the central and northern sections) or Phalaborwa (for the northern section).
It is also possible to take a scheduled flight to Skukuza Airport inside the park (the southern sector) and Federal Airlines (see below) offers scheduled flights to some of the more upmarket lodges’ airstrips.
Alternatively, you could hire a car in Johannesburg and drive to the park via the N4. The park has nine entrance gates, the closest of which is in the south between 420km and 500km from Johannesburg. The drive takes between 3½ and 4½ hours.
Where To Stay: In terms of the range of accommodation offered within Kruger, no national park in the world quite lives up to the same level of service. The Kruger National Park has a large number of rest camps, bushveld camps and lodges and even some overnight hides, all run by South African National Parks Board.
But it is the luxurious privately-run game lodges that steal the show when staying in the Kruger National Park, as a trip is transformed into something more like an experience – the pace of life slows to a leisurely tempo, your every need is catered for, and extravagance is not spared.