The Kruger, possibly the best-known safari destination in the world, synonymous with safari. Established in 1898, The Greater Kruger Park extends over some 22,000 square km (8,500 sq. miles). That’s the size of Wales if you are European, and Massachusetts if you are North American. (If you are neither, it’s flippin’ big). It supports a total of 500 bird species, 145 mammal species, and 110 reptile species, including an estimated 13,000 elephants, 40,000 buffalo, 2000 lions and more rhinos than any other protected area. We aren’t allowed to say how many, but it is lots and lots. The only decent wildlife reserve with a higher density of rhino is Hluhluwe-Imfolozi in KwaZulu-Natal.
What's the difference between the Greater Kruger Park and Kruger National Park?
The Greater Kruger Park is comprised of the Kruger National Park (KNP) and a number of private reserves next to the KNP. The fences between the private reserves and the KNP came down 23 years ago allowing the animals to move freely..
The KNP is managed by Sanparks, a government-run organisation, and covers about 80% of the total area. Tarmac roads run through the middle of it, there are numerous large rest camps, of which at least half a dozen have over 100 one to four-bedroom units, camping sites, and fast food restaurants catering to self-drive clients. The private reserves are managed by groups made up of small lodges and camps. Many lodges and camps only have between six and twelve one-bedroom chalets or luxury tents. No self-driving is permitted, there are no tarmac roads, and vehicle movements are carefully managed.
From a fauna and flora point-of-view, there there is not much difference. The parks are next to each other and there are no fences between them, so the animals and birds who call the area home can roam freely, and are found in both. In saying that, however, the area is large, so habitats differ and of course animals gravitate toward whichever habitat is best for them. Some areas are better known for their leopard sightings, others for elephant, and so on.
The parks that make up the GKP are quite strict about how many people are allowed in at a time. This means that your safari experience is far more exclusive and you won't be trying to get through dozens of other cars to see a lion kill or catch that special photo of a zebra baby. This is not an exaggeration. I have seen 50 vehicles in a scrum to look at a pride of lion lazing in the bush 50 yards from the road between Satara and Skukuza.
Guided Wildlife Experiences
Game-viewing in the private reserves is facilitated and managed by experienced and knowledgeable guides with excellent tracking skills in open-sided 4x4 game-viewing vehicles with a maximum of 9 guests from your lodge in them. Some lodges limit it to six No self-driving is permitted. The majority of the time, your vehicle will be the only one at a sighting.This ensures that you see not only the keystone species, but also the birds and the little fellas, who are arguably equally important in the local eco-system. On each game drive you stop for a break at a scenic point, get out of the vehicle, and enjoy refreshments and snacks. Game-viewing can also be conducted on foot, allowing a greater understanding of and connection with the bush.
The lodges and tented camps in the private reserves are more high-end than those found in the KNP. With limited numbers of guests at each, you are assured of a far more private and exclusive experience. Hospitality is personal and service is a priority, to ensure that you get the best possible safari experience. All the lodges have a watering hole, river, or lake, meaning that there is good chance of seeing wildlife when you are not out on safari too. Many lodges are also unfenced, so having interesting visitors around the grounds is not uncommon.
Our favourite private Kruger reserves
Sabi Sand with Mala Mala covers 780 sq km. The Sabi River and Sand River run through the area providing diverse habitats for the huge range of animals. Sabi Sand is known especially for its big cat sightings, most notably of the elsewhere elusive leopard. We have never had a client who has spent three night here without a good leopard sighting. It is the least budget-friendly of the private reserves, but at the upper end of scale has some excellent value-for-money lodges, with excellent attention to detail and fine dining combined with top=drawer wildlife sightings. My “Big Five record” of 2 hours 35 minutes was set here. Granted, the rhino was a 10-second arse-end encounter, but we had 45 minutes with a leopard and her two cubs eating a kudu up a tree, and a 20-minute coffee break watching mating lions…..
One of the largest privately-owned reserves in South Africa, Klaserie covers 600 sq. km of land along the Klaserie River. The owners are strongly committed to conservation and the park hosts three great conservation projects: the Ground Hornbill Project, Rhino Protection and The Elephant Project. Generally, the habitat is more open than Sabi Sand, which is great news for cheetah fans. With less of a reputation than Sabi Sand, the prices for the same level of comfort are lower too.
Bordering the KNP on one side and Klaserie on the other, Timbavati is also a prime game-viewing area, and a hot spot for African wild dogs (Cape hunting dogs), my favourite mammal (other than my kids), great for cheetah, and also pretty good for leopard. It also has the only wild white lions left in the world. Lodge rates here are also, on average, lower than in Sabi Sand.
Balule, Thornybush, Umbabat, Manyeleti, are good private reserves, and there are also Jocks and Lukimbi private reserves within the KNP.
When to go
Dry season –May to September – Winter
There is virtually no rainfall during the whole of winter, humidity is very low. and there is almost no risk of malaria. As water becomes scarce wildlife is attracted to permanent water sources. Temperatures from the evening to mid-morning can be chilly.
Wet seasons–October to April – Summer
It is hot and humid in summer. Temperatures can reach over 40°C/104°F, although average daytime temperature is 32°C/90°F. Mostly rain falls in the afternoon or at night. The rains bring green grasses, seeds, flowers, and as a result, more birds. The rains also mean there is no dust, and, other than Christmas and Easter, fewer tourists.
Photographer, conservationist, dive and field guide, teller of bad jokes.