The size of a small country, Kruger National Park, or KNP, stands by its reputation: you will definitely spot many animals during your game drives and other guided drives or walks.
The first surprize we had when organizing is that you actually drive your own car through the park. How does that work? Are we going to know where to go? Will we find the animals?
As it turns out, yes.
Your main reason for coming to Kruger (or at least for the majority of people).
Kruger offers a vast range of animals to spot, from the big five to many types of birds.
The park is basically divided in two areas, north and south. The north is known for its bird spotting, and suits the bird lovers, as the south is all about the big animals, therefore attracting most tourists, also as it is the closest when coming from Johannesburg.
We were lucky enough to see many animals. At first, we were really searching through the bush, driving really slow, but you’ll quickly notice there are enough animals around for you to just leisurely drive and eventually cross the path of yet another species.
Driving in the park
My first advice will be: buy the map at the shop when entering the park. This way, you’ll easily choose which way to go to get to your destination.
My second advice would be: don’t linger too much. Even though the distances don’t seem so big, the low speed limit and the numerous stops to spot animals or for a lunch break will make it for a surprizing long drive between camps, especially the leg from Olifants to Lower Sabie.
On the map, you’ll notice there are two types of road: tar road and gravel road. Naturally, you’ll think you’ll have more chances to spot animal on gravel road, probably because that’s what would happen in real life. Well, that’s not so true. My conclusion was that, as you actually drive a little faster on tar road, make less noise from the trembling of the car, and you will more often encounter a group of cars spotting something, you will end up preferring the tar roads.
We did encounter elephants fighting, one of the most tense and exciting experiences of our tour in the park, while driving on a gravel road, so don’t forego them either.
The animals are used to the cars, and they wander through their territory regardless of the roads, which they consider as part of it. You will notice urine and poop often lay on the roads (avoid driving on elephant poop! they conceal thorns that might flatten your tires…)
That’s why you must follow the rules:
- never getting out of your car, or letting any part of your body out of the car, so that they won’t know it’s humans inside, as humans are the super-predator to them.
- Respect speed limits, as animals can come out of the bush unnoticed.
- And any other obvious rule like no feeding the animals, no honking or loud music, etc… written on the flyer they give you when you get in the park.
And you’re good to go.
All of this being said, the last criteria will be which type of car you should go to Kruger with. Well, I’d say… anytype. The tar roads are as good as new, and the gravel road don’t present any difficulties, as they are well maintained (we even saw the tractor pass by once). We went in with a Renault Sandero Stepway, it went all well. Many camps have a petrol station, but we didn’t have an empty tank after three full days in the park.
An important criteria of your time in the park, it is where you will relax after a long day in your car.
The main point is to have a place to sleep, so we’ll start with that. Many options are available, more or less luxurious:
– Guest houses with several bedrooms, a kitchen, good for groups or families
– Bungalows: some have equipped kitchens, some don’t, but all have a braaii.
– Huts, some with bathrooms, some without, but communal ablutions are neat enough and clean.
– And, last but not least, camping, for people traveling with camping cars or tents.
The camps also offer to eat at the restaurant, often a Mugg & Bean which offer good value for mony, or a Wimpy’s (less good value for money).
Most camps have a pool, but some were closed in winter time.
Camps close at the same time as the gates close, around sunset. These are written on the flyer you’ll get getting in the park.
The other interests in camps are the guided drives, at sunset, night or sunrise and/or guided walks. We did one of each, trying to get most of the experience. It might have been a little too many, but we always ended up with a good surprise, like spotting a cheetah last minute on a freezing night drive (again, we were there in winter).
The drives tend to be in one of those big trucks with no windows, for better spotting. Therefore, don’t forget to bring enough clothes, at it gets windy and cold. Also, the truck was systematically full, and people tend to be not as silent as you’d think they’d be.
Quick thoughts on the camps we went through and the drives/walks we did:
Stopped for lunch on our first day. Great view from the M&B terrace.
One of the all time favorites, it is on top of a hill, the restaurant terrace overlooking the Olifants river and the bush. Amazing at breakfast. We spotted hippos resting between the rocks and an elephant group coming down to have a sip.
We went for a sunset drive, interesting not so much for the animals but for the great sunset view you get on the river from the near bridge.
We also went for a morning river walk, which was not very instructive, but we did spot a few crocodiles.
Small camp, perfect for a lunch stop at the restaurant or near the pool.
– Lower Sabie
Another famous one, mainly for the many animals living in its vicinity. On the way there, we spotted rhinos, cheetahs, zebras, hyenas and more, arriving last minute at the camp because we had so much to see.
We went for a morning drive, not so interesting either.
The “capital” of the park, a very big camp, therefore a little crowded.
The oldest camp of the park, and the Wimpy’s didn’t suit us too much.
We had booked a night drive, which we had hoped to cancel upon arrival as, like I said, you tend to get too much of them. We had read about a bush braaii, which sounded like an amazing plan, but that doesn’t happen everyday. In the end, we went anyway, as there’s nothing much to do in the camp anyway. It got a little boring (I even slept), but we did spot a cheetah just on the way back near the camp, making it up for the rest of the drive.
We also went for a morning walk, which ended to be my favorite of all activities. After a quick drive during sunrise, with magnificent views, the small group that we were got out for a simple walk through the bush. The guides told us right away we would not necessarily spot animals, but that we were here to catch the sensation of what it’s like to be in the bush. It was very interesting and instructive, in the early morning air. And we did get to spot a couple of elephants and a rhinoceros and her baby from afar.
So, don’t give up on the drives! But know they won’t all be interesting.
How to book
Go online! Only one website to go to: sanparks.org. It is the officialy website for all the South-African National parks.
That being said, it’s not such an easy friendly website, that’s why we’re writing a quick how-to section on it.
The most forward is to start by picking which park you want to book for in the Explore Park icon. This way, the menus now all relate to that specific park. Following the same idea, you best then pick a specific camp in the Select a camp menu that showed up on the next page.
Once there, the sub-menus now relate to that camp, especially the ones about accomodation. There, you will find all the info needed on what types of accomodation is offered, and, most importantly, their availability.
You can check availibility in several ways: by type, by month or by particular date. The one by month is very practical, as it lists clearly for each day of the month what is available.
Pick whatever suits you best, put it in your basket, log in and you can pay directly online.
But, as you’ll notice quickly, the camps you want are mostly fully booked. That’s a bummer. Don’t lose faith! Here’s what happens: the cancellation policy is very lax, allowing to cancel and/or change up to quite a reasonable time in advance. How to take advantage of that?
Here’s what you need to know:
- if you pay by credit card, you will have to pay upfront, entering the time frame for cancellation fees
- but if you call, you are allowed to make your payment under a lengthy amount of time (a week or more, I’m not sure anymore)
Therefore, you can start booking places, in order to safeguard a decent journey through the park, and go back and check everyday on the website if something better hasn’t turned up, calling to change if it has. Each time you change, you will get a new invoice, further postponing the payment limit.
And, as many people do so, availibality frees up on a daily basis, so you’ll have a fairly good chance of ending up booking the camps you wanted.
You might also book activities in advance, as these tended to be full also. But you can do that in a second time.