Visiting the Kruger National Park is always special. I felt such a sense of hope for a strange world being in the vast open spaces, viewing the great variety of wildlife, bird watching and just the magnificence of the bushveld.
We look forward to our 5 days in the Kruger National Park aka BPOE (Best Place on Earth) every year and December 2020 was one that we anxiously awaited to see if we would be able to visit. We were elated to find out that our trip was still possible and couldn’t wait to head out of the Jozi rat race into the tranquillity of the park for some seriously needed bush therapy. We booked to stay in 4 camps over the 5 nights, Crocodile Bridge, Lower Sabie, Skukuza and Tamboti Tented Camp, mostly the southern and central part of the park.
Crocodile Bridge Main Rest Camp is a small and delightful camp situated in the Southeastern corner of the Kruger National Park, on the northern bank of the Crocodile River, from which it derives its name. We travelled on the N4 to Nelspruit, through Malelane and on to Komatipoort. Then turned left onto the R571 just after Komatipoort towards the Crocodile Bridge Gate. Allow between 5 to 6 hours for the trip to the gate from Johannesburg.
With much excitement arriving late afternoon, we decided to check-in and go for a 2-hour drive before heading back to camp for the evening. Within minutes we saw Impala, Warthog and two Black Backed Jackals crossing the road. A short drive on the S25 to Hippo Pools we came across our first “Kruger Roadblock”, three Giraffes in the road. Immediately we knew we were in our happy place! Our souls connecting with the bush at this beautiful display. Giraffes have an unmistakable, awkward charm about them. The two males were showing signs of some low intensity “necking”. These are not serious brawls and typically involve the animals leaning their full weight into each other, pressing their necks together until one becomes too tired to continue. They usually part as friends, and the stronger of the two gets to nibble on the best acacia tree or try his luck with the girl. Low intensity necking is sometimes engaged in as a pastime just to say “see, I told you I was stronger”.
We spent a good 15 minutes enjoying their behaviour and saw some Hippos snorting and grunting in the pools of the Crocodile River flowing to the side of the road. Needing to head back to camp before camp gates close at 18h30, we were spoilt with a few more sightings such as the Brown Snake Eagle, Wildebeest, Kudu, Waterbuck, Booted Eagle, the beautiful Woodlands Kingfisher and Lilac Breasted Roller. A count of 21 combined species of birds and animals in the 2 hours before gates closed.
We opted for Safari Tent Accommodation, a mere R 750.00 for a spacious 2 bed safari tent, with fan and fridge. Communal bathroom and kitchen facilities. (Amenities include a laundromat, grocery shop and liquor store at most camps). We enjoyed a few sundowners and the sounds of the bush before a good night’s rest. Falling asleep to a chorus of insects, frogs, birds and mammals. A lion or hyena solo will often be heard above the sounds of the night. This, is what’s known as the Kruger lullaby.
We woke up to a cloudy day and had our standard coffee and rusks for breakfast. Checked the sightings board and saw there had been a sighting of Cheetah at Dukes Waterhole. We enjoyed some light rain and the cooler weather on our way up to Lower Sabie. We travelled the S28 gravel road towards Lower Sabie and headed to Dukes. Along the way we saw over 30 species and yes, we’re avid birders. Burchell’s Coucal, Crested Barbet, Jacobin Cuckoo, Magpie Shrike, Barratts Warbler, Striped Kingfisher, Black Crowned Tchagra, European Roller, Southern Yellow-Billed Hornbill and so much more! A honey badger (which was rare to see during the day), Elephant, Hippo’s, Buffalo, Hyena and Giraffe to name a few. We didn’t get to find the elusive Cheetah and her cubs but did see a pride of lions sleeping under some trees. Three out of the big 5, what a great drive!
Located just a few minutes from the Lower Sabie Rest Camp is Sunset Dam, which always has something on show. It’s one of the best places in Kruger to watch the sunset. An excellent spot to see Hippos, Crocodiles, and a variety of water birds as it separates a portion of the Sabie River into a watering hole. We parked right at the water’s edge, enjoyed a bottle of wine with some cheese and biscuits while getting ready for the sun to set.
Kruger lovers will remember the legendary battle that took place at Sunset Dam in March 2007? Battle at Kruger is an eight-minute amateur wildlife video that depicts a confrontation between a herd of Cape buffalo, a small group of young lions, and two crocodiles.”
On arrival at Lower Sabie Rest Camp, we checked into a 2-bed air-conditioned hut with fridge also at the cost of R 750.00 for the night. We decided to have dinner at the Mugg & Bean camp restaurant which overlooks the Sabie River. Another beautiful night in Africa listening to the sounds of the bush from the deck. Uhm, which was kind of spoilt by the biggest bug we’ve ever seen that frightened the living daylights out of us! It was about the size of my hand, had huge black and orange wings and was lying on its back scuffling on the deck. After a shriek and girly-giggles, we decided to head to our hut for a nightcap and call it a night.
The Lower Sabie Road (H4-1) to Skukuza is a particularly scenic drive that closely follows the Sabie River through riverine forest and thornveld. On route the sightings didn’t disappoint even with some scattered showers here and there. Giraffe, Steenbok, Zebra, Kudu, Buffalo, Hippo, Elephant, a beautiful Hamerkop and a rare sighting of a small family of Southern Ground Hornbills also known as Thunder Birds.
The Sabie River’s name is derived from the Swazi word ”Sabisa“ which means “to be careful” – apparently in reference to crossing the river because of the slippery rocks and resident population of crocodiles.
Skukuza Rest Camp
Skukuza Rest Camp is situated in the heart of Big Five territory and is easily accessed by road and by air. Skukuza features a variety of accommodation options such as camp sites, furnished safari tents, semi luxury bungalows, cottages and 4 guesthouses.
After making it to the gate by 6h30pm, we checked into another 2-bedroom Safari Tent, R775.00 for the night. The safari tents were within close proximity of the camp and caravan site which we found to be a little too noisy for being in the bush and decided to have a quiet dinner at the popular Cattle Baron Restaurant on the Sabie River bank. After a good meal and a bottle of wine, we decided on an early night with a long trip ahead of us the next day to Tamboti Tented Camp for our last two nights. The real rustic bush experience awaits!
We were eager to hit the long road to Tamboti Tented Camp and normally prefer to stay off the tar roads which are a little busier with tourists and safari vehicles for day visitors. We much prefer travelling the gravel roads and enjoy the much slower drive at 30 Km/h speed limit with only a few cars sightings along the way.
Beautiful birds and majestic landscapes, the familiar call of the African Fish Eagle, the magnificent Bateleur Eagle perched on a branch and a personal favourite, the prettiest little Malachite Kingfisher catching fish. We watched this from the side of the bridge; how he drops suddenly with a splash and returns at once with a struggling captive. Moments like these in the Kruger are indescribable.
There was definitely something magical about this road, we didn’t find the elusive Cheetah but were spoilt to see a very handsome Nyala male, a Grey Duiker and a leopard kill in a tree.
The trip from Skukuza to Tamboti is 137 Km’s which should take about 4 hours at the general speed limit of 50 Km’s. We took a casual 7 hours to drive with a few lookout points and picnic stops to stretch and freshen up along the way.
On arrival at our safari tent, we unpacked and sat down to enjoy the evening with a sundowner, we had a Hyena pacing up and down the fence. The sheer magnificence of them being a few meters away is one of the greatest feelings. A visit from a Civet close to the steps of our deck took us by surprise as it casually walked around the braai area. Another first-time sighting for us!
Not long after, a lone Elephant walked past, stopping to eat from a bush 5 meters away. It’s really amazing how quiet they are. We heard him before we saw him! The adrenalin rushes through your veins and you tend to hold your breath in awe of these gentle giants so close. What a treat!
Enjoying a nightcap and reminiscing about the day’s drive and sightings, we stop talking when we hear the roar of a Lion in the distance. We smile and know that the bush therapy is working. A short while later, we hear the surreal “whoop whoop”, the Hyena’s are calling in the darkness. There’s just a little something special about a Hyena’s call that gives you a sense of excitement and goosebumps.
Just as we were ready for bed, we were delighted to have two very small visitors to our Safari Tent. They went back and forth and we saw them numerous times, jumping from the tree onto the fence and onto our tent and back again. The cute Lesser Bushbaby was the culprit! Tamboti is small and remote and unlike the bigger rest camps, we didn’t see our neighbours and felt utterly hidden in the bush.
We spent the next morning driving to Bobbejaankraan’s lookout point before leaving the park. Another great sighting! A huge male lion peacefully grooming and resting under a shady tree across the river bed. The Kruger National Park is a great getaway! A budget holiday, self-drive for two adults in the Kruger National Park for R 3 575.00. You can’t get better than that!
TIPS FOR VISITING KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
What type of car do I need? Higher profile cars can offer an advantage of sightline should you come across a bunch of cars at a good sighting. Having said that, a 2-wheel drive sedan is fine in KNP where the roads are either tarred or well-maintained dirt roads.
Get a Map: Kruger is huge, you’re going to need to buy a good old-fashioned map when you arrive. There is no cell service inside the park, and you won’t be able to rely on Google Maps. I recommend getting the “Kruger Park Map & Guide”. It comes with maps, suggested routes, info on all the camps and a checklist of all the mammals and reptiles!
Fuel: There are petrol stations at all the main camps.
Speed Limits: There is a 50 km/h speed limit on tar roads and 30 km/h on dirt roads. Make sure you stick to these rules as there are speed cameras and the park loves to set up traps near closing time to catch people racing back to the gates.
Sightings: The best time for sightings is early mornings and evenings. The Big Cats and Wild Dogs are active, and you’ll have beautiful, soft light for photographs.
Shops: There are shops at each main camp that have a range of fresh vegetables, fruit, meat and bread. You can buy firewood, biodegradable plates, cutlery, general groceries and beautiful souvenirs. The shops do accept credit cards and there are ATMs on site. If you don’t feel like cooking, the main camps have restaurants.
Wi-Fi: There is a Wi-Fi signal at all camps and restaurants at the camps will have free Wi-Fi for guests.
Malaria: The national park is in a malaria area, although the risk is low. Always consult your doctor before your trip.
Southern Kruger: For first-time visitors to Kruger, you should base yourself in the south to increase your chances of seeing the Big 5. It’s easily accessible from Johannesburg and it’s where you will find some of the most popular rest camps like Lower Sabie and Crocodile Bridge.
Central Kruger: Central Kruger is known as Big Cat country. Book a couple of nights at Satara or Olifants rest camp if you want to try your luck at spotting Lions sleeping in the grasslands or Leopards walking across the road. You’ll also see plenty of herbivores like Zebra, Buffalo and Impala.
Northern Kruger: If you want to explore northern Kruger, you’ll need a 4×4. As it’s the least popular portion of the Kruger, you won’t find many tourists here and the game density is far less than the south. If you don’t mind getting off the beaten track, you’ll find rare bird, huge Elephants and might even spot a pack of Wild Dog or Eland (rarely seen as there is only about 300 in the Kruger National Park)
SANPARKS Official Website: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/all.php
You can enjoy a day visit in the Kruger Park: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/tourism/day_visitors.php
All about Kruger: http://www.krugerpark.co.za/
Live Webcams Water Holes: https://www.sanparks.org/webcams/
Article and photos by Cindy Cousins