South Africa’s Kruger National Park

Visitors to Kruger National Park encounter a lion

Just bring your sense of adventure…

At 20,000 sq kilometres, Kruger National Park is the largest game reserve in South Africa and boasts the world’s highest concentration of wildlife species, and where nearly 2 million hectares of unrivalled diversity of life forms fuse with historical and archaeological sites – this is real Africa.

Created in 1898 to protect the flora and fauna of the South African Lowveld, Kruger National Park is named after its original proponent, President Paul Kruger. Today, the park is home to a wealth of wildlife, including cheetahs, leopards, lions, rhinos, wildebeest, buffalo, elephants, giraffes, antelope and impala. The park is also renowned for its cultural heritage sites, including many native rock art sites. At Thulamela Hill, visitors can see the excavated remains of a late Iron Age settlement, while the village of Masorini provides an excellent example of the way of life of the Stone Age hunter-gatherers who inhabited South Africa long before the first white settlers arrived.

Truly the flagship of the South African national parks, Kruger is home to an impressive number of species: 336 trees, 49 fish, 34 amphibians, 114 reptiles, 507 birds and 147 mammals. Man’s interaction with the Lowveld environment over many centuries – from bushman rock paintings to majestic archaeological sites like Masorini and Thulamela – is very evident in the Kruger National Park. These treasures represent the cultures, persons and events that played a role in the history of the Kruger National Park and are conserved along with the park’s natural assets.

On Safari

You have, no doubt, come to Kruger National Park to go on safari and view the magnificent wildlife and timeless surroundings of this famous nature reserve. But the one thing you need to do is plan in advance to ensure that your time here is most beneficial. Following is a brief overview …

Entering the English language in the late 19th century, the word safari means “journey” in Swahili. A safari is an overland journey. It usually refers to a trip by tourists to Africa, traditionally for a big-game hunt, but today a safari has become eco-sensitive. People are on safari more to watch and photograph big game and other wildlife.

Many people will claim that there is no holiday more rewarding than spending time on safari. And the diamond of the crown is spending some days in the wilderness of the Kruger National Park. Just driving there from Johannesburg through the “ou Transvaal” is beautiful because of the magnificent scenery.

Each year some seven hundred thousand people visit Kruger National Park. These people from all over the world come to experience the best eco tourism available in Africa. Driving through, sleeping in African huts, having a braai and watching the five hundred twenty or so bird species, the nearly one hundred fifty mammal species and one hundred and thirty reptiles have enthralled visitors for decades. As one of Africa’s top three safari destinations, Kruger National Park offers visitors an iconic African safari – a dramatic environment rich in lion prides, elephant herds and thousands of other animals, played out against shifting backdrops of savannah, forest, river and mountain.

You can self-drive through areas of the park in a day, or during a longer period of time and find accommodation suitable to every scale of budget, but the most beneficial way to see and learn about your experience would be on a tour.

Many companies are available who will take you on a safari. Staying in Kruger National Park or one of the surrounding private game reserves is easily arranged. Safari and game lodges range from artistically elegant to super luxurious. And expert game rangers will whisk you off on game drives and walking safaris, tracking the wildlife in their natural habitat. From economy mini buses to luxurious land cruisers, transportation varies.

Elephants on safari | Photo credit: David Berkowitz

There is a myriad of safari tours available, ranging from privately escorted to whatever you want it to be, or can afford. You will hear and read about budget or luxurious safaris, fly/drive and family, off-the-beaten-track and unique, or romantic and walking safaris.
But whatever your choice may be, you really only need to bring two things … your sense of adventure and a good camera …

Did You Know?

  • The park was first proclaimed in 1898 as the Sabie Game Reserve by the then president of the Transvaal Republic, Paul Kruger. He first proposed the need to protect the animals of the Lowveld in 1884, but his revolutionary vision took another 12 years to be realised when the area between the Sabie and Crocodile Rivers was set aside for restricted hunting
  •  On May 31, 1926, the National Parks Act was proclaimed and with it the merging of the Sabie and Shingwedzi Game Reserves into the Kruger National Park. The first motorists entered the park in 1927 for a fee of one pound
  • There is ample evidence that prehistoric man – Homo erectus – roamed the area between 500,000 and 100,000 years ago. More than 300 archaeological sites of Stone Age man have been found
  • There are almost 254 known cultural heritage sites in Kruger National Park, including nearly 130 recorded rock art sites
  • Many accounts of the park’s early days can be found in the Stevenson-Hamilton Memorial Library

How to Get Here

Kruger National Park is about the size of Israel, so you will need to plan where in the park you intend to visit, and which gate entrance you will be using.

There are three airports in the Kruger vicinity. The busiest by far is Kruger-Mpumalanga International Airport near White River and Hazyview (the gates to southern Kruger). The other options are Eastgate Airport and Kruger Park Gateway Airport. There are daily flights from Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban.

Some hotels and lodges may provide transfers or shuttle services from nearby airports.

The park has 10 entrance gates, most a comfortable 5 to 6-hour drive from Johannesburg or Pretoria. The closest gate, Malelane, is 428 km from Johannesburg, while Pafuri (the farthest gate) is 580 km northeast. If you are driving, allow sufficient traveling time to the park; entrance hours are strictly adhered to. For safety and ease-of-access reasons, officials recommend using Phabeni, the park’s newest gate.

Self driving is an excellent way to discover the wonders of the Kruger National Park at your own pace. Being flexible can provide a more rewarding experience. The roads leading to the park are tarred and in good condition. Fuel stations are situated along the way and easy to follow road maps are readily available.

Free maps are distributed and available from a car rental agency, but, investing is a handheld GPS system featuring turn-by-turn voice directions could be invaluable. GPS systems today also feature points of interest that are nearby your location, and many other features that will provide a level of confidence while navigating in a foreign country.

Canadian or U.S. Dollar travellers cheques can be exchanged at banks in South Africa for Rand. You can check with your local bank about issuing travellers cheques in Rand prior to your departure. However, the exchange rate is much more favourable in South Africa. Alternatively, rather than exchanging foreign currency in South Africa, you can withdraw Rands from any ATM by using your bank debit or a credit card.

What will the seasonal weather be like?

Kruger is in a summer rainfall area. Such precipitation is usually convectional and can result in heavy downpours. The summer months (October to April) are hot and often balmy. Winters are warm and mild, although visitors going on night-drives will require warm clothing.

Local Customs and Etiquette

Most people will greet you with a hand shake, and there is a traditional handshake that is formally used amongst the “black” community. Amongst “white” South Africans, it is normally just a verbal greeting. You will have to discern for yourself if hugs will be welcomed.

There is no doubt that family is important to the local residents of South Africa. For some groups, the nuclear family is primary. For others, the extended family receives more priority than the immediate family. And for still others, the tribe is the fundamental expression of community. You should always bear this in mind when traveling in South Africa.

South Africa is filled with contrasts. This is perhaps most evident in the differences between urban and rural customs. Rural dwellers tend to hold to a narrower view of the world. Rural residents hold to traditional views and place high value on their families. South Africans in urban areas place greater emphasis on materialism and success, especially those residing in Johannesburg. Even among urban areas differences exist.

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