Kruger Park Safari Experiences with Viva Safaris
From humble beginnings in 1991, Viva Safaris has grown to become the most sought after tour operator servicing the Kruger National Park region. Our diversity of Kruger Park safari experiences easily beat those of any competitor.
Kruger National Park Safari Packages and Tours
We are completely self-sufficient and highly experienced….we own our lodges; we have a fleet of air conditioned mini busses that will bring you from your location in Johannesburg right to the bush; we have our own fleet of game viewing vehicles; our own rangers and trackers; our own chefs and lodge management staff and of course a range of 26 different Kruger Park safaris that vary from cost effective on night/two day safaris to combined Kruger Park and Private Reserve safaris where you can experience the thrill of walking in the bush amongst the Big Five of Africa – of course for those who demand the luxurious, our Fly In safaris and Luxury Lodge safaris are legendary !!!
Book with Confidence: Postponing your safari (Covid-19)
Book your safari with confidence knowing that if you have future concerns about the Covid-19 (“Corona Virus”) or any other bona fide reason, you need not cancel your safari and forfeit your deposit. Unlike almost all of our competitors, Viva Safaris owns all its own accommodation and will happily postpone your booking for either your use or that of your friends/family with no penalty or fee, crediting your existing deposit to a future booking of your choice.
Click play below to see a brief video overview of what you may experience on a safari to the Kruger National Park with Viva Safaris:
Viva Safaris was established in 1991 by people that love wildlife. Family-owned and wholly South African, our aim has always been to enthusiastically share that love and passion with the thousands of satisfied tourists that have been through our hands. We do not aim for exclusivity – we have made our Kruger Park safari packages accessible to a wide range of pockets.
We are aware that current tourists are a lot smarter, more price-conscious and have high expectations for their money. If one compares our tariffs to other Kruger National Park safari operators, it is evident that our safaris are not only eminently affordable but also offer our guests a value-filled product with a personal touch. There can be no doubt that our safari products constitute the very best value for money safaris to the Kruger National Park.
Mindful of our guests’ need to share their wonderful wildlife experiences with friends and family at home, we have introduced FREE 24hr WIFI at all our lodges.
Kruger Park Safari Lodges
Viva Safaris is in the unique position of owning its own accommodation establishments. We are thus able to guarantee levels of excellence expected by our valued international guests. We offer a wide spectrum of products that are affordable to backpacker and bush connoisseur alike.
TREMISANA GAME LODGE is our flagship establishment and is relatively upmarket. It is the largest and leading Big Five game lodge in the Balule Section of the Greater Kruger National Park. We have 15 chalets as well as a 2-bedroom guesthouse. All units are en suite and airconditioned. The exquisite luxuriant gardens and water features make this camp a veritable oasis. Guests at Tremisana enjoy the best of both types of safaris : the traditional lodge operation includes a 4 hour bush walk and 4 hour sunset game drive on open Landcruisers including an unforgettable Bush Braai (BBQ) in the middle of wildest Africa while our guests will also enjoy full day open vehicle Kruger National Park safaris.
We are delighted to have received the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence Award yet again for 2018! This makes it the 8th year in a row that Tremisana Game Lodge has received this prestigious award – and in recognition of this phenomenal achievement, TripAdvisor has included us in their “Hall of Fame”!
The wildlife viewing at the Tremisana Game Lodge waterhole is unbelievably good. We have sightings of all the Big Five on our property.
MARC’S TREEHOUSE LODGE is a unique lodge beautifully positioned along the banks of the perennial Klaserie River. It is situated in the Motlala Game Reserve which has 3 of the Big 5 : Black and White Rhino, Buffalo and Leopard. The rustic treehouses are romantic and restful and blend perfectly into the bush.
KATEKANI TENTED LODGE comprises of eight beautifully appointed Tented Chalets with bathtub, indoor and outdoor showers, splash pool and deck. Each chalet has a thatched roof and is elevated so as to allow for spectacular views of the bushveld.
MASANGO CAMP is named after the late Ronald Masango, Viva Safaris’ and the whole region’s first ever black Camp Manager, and is extremely popular with budget-conscious travellers. The camp comprises 8 en suite chalets and each chalet has an overhead fan, electric lights and power points and all the comfortable beds are covered by mosquito nets. The camp has a good-sized swimming pool and an open BBQ Boma. The central common room has a bar, a breakfast nook, a lounge as well as indoor dining facilities.
All our lodges have 24 hour WIFI available to all our guests
The Kruger National Park
One of South Africa’s most popular tourist destinations, the Kruger National Park is famous the world over. It is the oldest Park in Africa and also one of the largest.
In 1898, then president of the Transvaal republic, Paul Kruger established The Kruger National Park – then called the Sabie Game Reserve. Paul Kruger recognised the need to protect the wildlife of the Lowveld region and created an area where no hunting was allowed.
In 1902 when Scotting-born James Stevenson-Hamilton was appointed as the first Warden of the park it was still known as the Sabie Game Reserve. Finally, in 1926 Paul Kruger’s vision was realised and the national parks act was brought into effect, following this in 1927 the Sabie Game Reserve & Shingwedzi Game reserves were amalgamated and merged to become the Kruger National Park. (Named for the efforts and drive of the honourable Paul Kruger) When the park first opened to the public Game enthusiasts and motorists were allowed entry into the Kruger National Park at the cost of one pound.
The Kruger National Park stretches across the vast tract of land between the Sabie & Crocodile Rivers. The Kruger National Park is similar in length to England and is about 65% of the area of England.
- Kruger is approx 350km long and 60km wide and covers an area of 19,485 square kilometres
- The Kruger National Park is located in the north-eastern provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga in South Africa, and borders Mozambique and Zimbabwe to the east and north respectively.
- It was first protected by the then Transvaal Republic in 1898 and known as Sabi Game Reserve
- In 1926 it became South Africa’s first national park, when Sabi Game Reserve was combined with the adjacent Shingedzi Game Reserve and farms and given the name Kruger National Park
- The Kruger Park is named after the President of the Transvaal, President Paul Kruger (1825 – 1904) who was responsible for creating the original protected area of Sabi Game Reserve in 1898
- The Kruger Park is home to all of the “Big Five” (lion, rhino, buffalo, elephant and leopard), as well as more large mammals than any other game reserve in Africa (147 species in total).
- An amazing 517 species of birds can be found in the Kruger Park.
- In 2000, a multinational agreement between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique lead to fences coming down between Kruger National Park, Limpopo National Park in Mozambique and Gonarezhou National Park, Manjinji Pan Sanctuary and Malipati Safari Area in Zimbabwe. This new combined area is called The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, and is the first phase of a larger conservation area that is planned to measure almost 100,000 square kilometres when complete!
- Over 300 archeological sites of Stone Age man have been found in the park, containing cultural artefacts from 100,000 to 30,000 years ago.
- There is also numerous evidence of San and Iron Age people from around 1500 years ago in the park, with San Art found throughout.
KRUGER NATIONAL PARK – A BRIEF HISTORY
The mastermind and animal lover behind the development of the Kruger National Park was then president of the Transvaal Republic, Paul Kruger. He was not a well-educated man, with only three formal months of education spent in a rural farm school, but he grew up in the wild frontiers of the old country and had an enduring love of nature and wildlife.
At the urging of early conservationists who were alarmed at the scale of unchecked hunting in the Lowveld region, he made an indelible mark in history by proclaiming an expansive area would be allocated for the protection of South Africa’s wild animals.
Paul Kruger was born on a rural farm in 1825. When the Great Trek started in 1836, his father uprooted the entire family and moved them to what was known as the Transvaal, where they settled in a town called Rustenburg.
At the age of 16, Paul Kruger was allowed to choose his own farm and chose to settle on a property at the base of the Magaliesberg Mountains. Kruger married in 1842 and shortly thereafter moved to the Eastern Transvaal where he lost his wife and young infant son to what was suspected to be malaria and re-married a woman who bore seven daughters and nine sons, although many of his children died in infancy.
Kruger showed strong leadership qualities and eventually became Commandant-General of the then South African Republic, later known as the Transvaal. His leadership skills became more prominent when he was appointed member of a commission of the Volksraad, the Transvaal Republican Parliament who were tasked with drawing up a constitution.
He resigned as Commandant-General, in 1873 and retired to his farm, Boekenhoutfontein. His retirement was short-lived and he was elected to the Executive Council. Shortly after that he became Vice-President. Paul Kruger led a resistance movement and became leader of a deputation. The first Anglo Boer war was 1880 and the British forces were defeated in a battle at Majuba in 1881. Paul Kruger was instrumental in negotiations with the British at this time, which later led to the restoration of Transvaal as an independent state under British rule.
Paul Kruger was elected as president of the Transvaal in1882 at the age of 57. He left for England in 1883 to revise the Pretoria Convention of 1881, an agreement which was reached between the Boers and the British that ended the first Anglo Boer War. During this time in Europe Paul Kruger acquired many allies. Paul also attended an imperial banquet in Germany at which he was presented to Emperor Wilhelm I, and spoke at length with the renowned Bismarck.
The political climate of the Transvaal changed with the discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand basin. It spurred a gold rush and immigrants from around the world descended on the gold fields in search of fortunes. Paul Kruger’s leadership was put to the test at the end of 1895 when the failed Jameson Raid, led by Doctor Starr Jameson, brought about a breakdown in relations between the British and the Boers. It ultimately led to the second Anglo Boer War, known as the South African war.
Kruger was known as a fierce protector of the Afrikaner nation and on being elected as President of South Africa in 1883, he tirelessly campaigned for South Africa’s complete independence from Britain and the abolition of British supervision.
The South African war broke out in 1899 and Kruger, now 74, remained in Pretoria due to ill health until 1900. When the war swung in favour of the British army, Kruger was forced to flee the capital just days before Lord Roberts occupied the city. He boarded a Dutch warship at Lorenço Marques (Maputo) and left for Europe, where he lived out his remaining years in exile. He died of heart failure at the age of 79 years while still living in Switzerland.
Kruger made allies of the European sovereignty and arch enemies of the British and was regarded as a fierce politician and military man. However, Paul Kruger’s legacy will always be the creation and the formation of the Kruger National Park.
The Kruger National Park had a precarious start with numerous factions threatening its survival. Hunters wanted access to the Park; soldiers returning from the First World War expected land for sheep farming; prospectors wanted access to the land to search for gold, copper and coal; and South Africa’s veterinarians were campaigning for a mass slaughter of wildlife to contain the spread of tsetse fly disease.
South African Railways (SAR) that incidentally saved the Kruger National Park when they opened a new route from Pretoria to Lorenço Marques (now Maputo in Mozambique). The train stopped within the reserve and travellers were allowed to explore the surrounding bush with a game ranger on hand.
Awareness of the Park and growing interest in it empowered conservation lobbyists to secure the future of the Kruger National Park as a tourist destination that would generate revenue for it to be self-sustainable.
The Kruger Park finally received international acclaim when Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret visited as part of their royal tour of South Africa and stayed in one of the first luxury lodges built in the reserve. By 1955, over 100 000 people were visiting the Park each year.
The Kruger National Park grew in size when the game fences between the private reserves on Kruger’s western border came down in 1994. In 2001, the fences were removed between South Africa, Mozambique on its eastern border and Zimbabwe on its northern border. This created the multinational Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area.
Now called a Peace Park, it incorporates Parque Nacional do Limpopo in Mozambique and Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, making it the largest conservation reserve in Africa. The Peace Park is part of the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere, an area designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO ) as an International Man and Biosphere Reserve.
THE FIRST WARDEN – KRUGER PARK
Scottish-born James Stevenson-Hamilton was appointed as initial warden of the Park in 1902 whilst it was still called the Sabie Game Reserve. The reserve was later united with Shinwedzi Game Reserve in 1927 and transformed into the Kruger national park. His journals are housed within the Memorial Library in Skukuza and make for fascinating reading. He came to South Africa in 1888 as a member of the 6th Enniskillen Dragoons. This is the first time he came across wild game in the bush and he immediately fell in love with the country.
He returned to South Africa during the second Boer War, as a major in the British army. He did not want to return to England at the end of the war and secured the position of Warden of the Sabi Game Reserve. There was no clear instruction on what to do in the position except to make himself “thoroughly disagreeable to everyone”.
Stevenson-Hamilton took his job seriously and when he caught two policemen poaching game he had them arrested and convicted. This incident earned him quite a reputation. Amongst other tasks, he stopped the movement of cattle through the Park and stopped all prospecting for coal and minerals.
In 1914, Stevenson-Hamilton joined the forces at the start of the First World War. He left the management of the Park in the hands of a ranger who ultimately let the administration slide. On his return to the Park, Stevenson-Hamilton found his beloved Park was in a shambles. He fought tooth-and-nail to save the Kruger National Park, as the war had stimulated greedy development of the land for agricultural purposes.
The Selati Railway Line was established and this saved the Kruger Park. A 9-day tour of Mozambique and the Lowveld included a one-night stop at what is present-day Skukuza. Stevenson-Hamilton invited members of the Provincial Council to visit the reserve which helped these influential members of government to understand the value and importance of the proclaimed Park.
Stevenson-Hamilton was called Skukuza by his staff, a Shangaan name meaning either “he who sweeps clean” or “he who turns everything upside down. Skukuza, roughly interpreted, is taken from the Zulu word for “broom”. However, it wasn’t a positive term as the Tsonga tribe was bitter at being deprived of their historical land. The main rest camp at Sabie Bridge was called Skukuza in Stevenson-Hamilton’s honour.
Stevenson-Hamilton remained with the Park until he retired in 1945, on the eve of his 80th birthday.
In 1957 the first wilderness trails were pioneered by a Natal Parks Board game ranger named Ian Player (brother of legendary South African golfer Gary Player) and his friend and mentor Magquba Ntombela. Dr Player is well-known for his work in environmental fields and international involvement in wildlife conservation.
The wilderness trails established by Dr Player, as well as the walking safaris, were pioneered in South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s by visionary South African conservationists and forward-thinking individuals which has partly resulted in the Kruger National Park we know and love today.
Dr Player is probably one of South Africa’s most highly regarded environmentalists and a conservationist who led efforts to rescue the southern white rhino from extinction.
He was instrumental in developing the first wilderness trails in 1957 in the Kruger National Park.
Player was a game ranger on the Umfolozi Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, the oldest nature reserve in Africa. When it was established in 1897, there were only about 50 southern white rhinos left in the world and all of them were on the reserve. The rhino faced extinction as vast numbers of Zulus that were displaced by the government’s land policy had settled on the borders of the reserve and poaching was out of control. There was also the threat of an anthrax breakout from stray infected cattle that wondered into the reserve.
By the 1960s the Umfolozi’s population of white rhino had grown to 600; however, Player realised the danger of keeping an entire subspecies restricted to one small Park and started a campaign that eventually allow him permission to move a small herd of rhino to the Kruger National Park. This would ensure the survival of the rhino by establishing a gene pool in other regions of the country.
By this stage, veterinarian Toni Haarthoorn had pioneered a “dope darting” technique that was used in Operation Rhino, one of the most successful wildlife translocation programmes that included moving rhino to other parts and to overseas reserves.
Ample evidence shows that prehistoric man (Homo Erectus) roamed the Kruger National Park Area between 500 000 and 100 000 years ago. The Kruger National Park boasts 254 cultural heritage sites in the Kruger National Park, including nearly 130 recorded rock art sites. Over 300 archaeological sites of Stone Age man have been discovered dating back 100 000 to 30 000 years ago. There is evidence of Bushman tribes (San people) and Iron Age inhabitants dating back 1500 years ago and Nguni people as well as European explorers throughout the Kruger National Park area.
Significant archeological finds have been at Thulamela and Masorini where there are numerous examples of San art. San art can be found throughout The Kruger National Park Reserve.
THE FIRST TOURISTS
In 1927, when the Kruger National Park Was proclaimed a national park in south africa under the national parks act of 1926, the value of tourism from game reserves as a major source of revenue was already well established and The Kruger National Park had been identified as a main destination by that time.
Stevenson-Hamilton, Warden of the Kruger National Park at the time had been arranging excursions and overnight stays in the Kruger National Park. There were, however, no facilities for the tourists who usually slept on the train that had brought them to the Kruger National Park from Witwatersrand.
Roads and small routes through the Kruger National Park were built with the hopes of attracting more tourists, the idea being that paying tourists would be accompanied by a guide. The media of the time were invited to visit and write about the Kruger National Park and share their wildlife adventures in Kruger – over time the Kruger National Park became rather renowned and gained international repute. There was still a problem with the lack of accommodation and facilities so, the South African Railways (SAR) approached the board of the Kruger National Park in 1927 with a request to erect quarters that the Park could rent to visitors. This partnership between the Kruger National Park and South African Railways led to the development of the necessary infrastructure and roads. Facilities for guides and game rangers were erected throughout Kruger National Park and facilities and infrastructure abound. In exchange for use of these facilities for their paying tourists, South African Railways undertook to provide all transport, by rail and road, and launched an advertising campaign, set up catering services and paid the board a percentage of the income received.
Four two-track roads were built initially; from Crocodile Bridge to Lower Sabie, from Acornhoek to the Mozambique border, from Gravelote to Makubas Kraal (near Letaba) and from White River to Pretoriuskop.
The Pretoriuskop area was opened to tourists in 1927 but only on the issue of a permit from the secretary of the board in Pretoria and the game warden on duty at Pretoriuskop. This arrangement was restrictive and confusing and eventually the board appointed an agency in 1931 to issue permits at Numbi Gate.
There were still no overnight facilities built at that time and the general public had to leave the Park before the gates closed in the evening. Hunting by this stage had been strictly prohibited but visitors could carry a revolver on them for their personal protection.
SAR received permission from the board to open the railway bridges over the Crocodile, Sabie and Olifants Rivers for motor vehicles, and to run a train service on the Selati Railway for tourists. The number of visitors to the Kruger National Park steadily grew as it became more accessible and convenient.
MODERN TOURISM IN THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
The board of Kruger National Park committed in 1928, to extensive plans to boost tourism to the reserve. A total of three new rest huts were built at Satara, Pretoriuskop and Skukuza. A year later, two rondavels (round houses) were built at Skukuza, and two were built at Satara. there were plans submitted to build more rondavels at other camps were the and older ranger quarters were restored and made available for tourists. The Kruger National Park was set to start attracting overnight stays.
Originally the design of the original rondavels was in the “Selby” style, named after an American mine engineer, Paul Selby, that was on the board at the time. There was a gap between the wall and the roof for ventilation, and there was a hole in the door that was used as a peephole to see if there were dangerous animals outside the hut. The rest camps were not fenced and animals roamed freely in and out of the designated visitors’ area.
The original rondavels weren’t well-liked as they were stiflingly hot in summer and mosquitoes came in through the open gaps. From 1931, new rondavels were designed that were closed to the thatch roof and had windows in them. The board extended any developments including tented rest camps and ancient huts created type wattle and native cement.
The first ablution blocks went up at Skukuza in 1932, with four baths and four showers. The rest camps were also finally fenced at the same time. more modern and improved designs were introduced and the Kruger National Park took on a more uniform look overall, as it was previously quite haphazard. Facilities focused on the comfort and needs of tourists, as well as their safety.
Hot water for bathing was a luxury in those early days. Eventually the board relented and provided hot running water to the camps on the condition tourists paid one shilling per bath.
Demand for accommodation had increased so much by the mid 1930’s that the Kruger National Park board asked the government for additional funding of £50,000 and additional beds and rest camps were made available for some 200 visitors.
Kruger National Park received even more fiscal support from the government. Money was spent on luxuries such as mosquito nets, septic tanks and hot showers, the park also invested heavily in game management programmes.
The board of Kruger National Park started charging a fee to visit the Park for the first time in 1928 to raise much-needed revenue. Five shillings for day visitors and a nominal charge per car was implemented. Visitors could hire a game ranger to escort them through the Park for an added fee, they were also charged to cross the rivers in their cars on pontoons that were set up.
The board also outsourced the management of the rest camps and refreshment stops for Skukuza and Satara to independent contractors and providers when tourist traffic increased to a point that the Park staff could no longer manage the demand.
These contractors were responsible for the issuing of permits, supervision at the camps and catering services. The rest camps were only equipped with wood and ‘riempie’ beds and visitors could hire mattresses and linen from the camp supervisors.
The board eventually employed their own management staff to run the rest camps because of the number of complaints from the tourists. The board took over all trade activities and employed the first tourism manager in the mid-1940s. In the 1960s, the first liquor license was issued.
The rules and regulations for the Kruger National Park when it first opened to visitors were pretty relaxed, except that firearms were strictly prohibited. Tourists had pretty much free range and did not even have to return to the rest camps at night. However, the first list of regulations was published in the 1930s when poor behaviour started causing problems.
Tourists were limited to driving through the Park between sunrise and sunset, and were made to return to their rest camp for the evening. A strict speed limit was implemented and littering was prohibited. The board appointed the Automobile Association (AA) to run a service where patrol cars would monitor traffic on the Park roads.
The only mode of transport when the Park was first proclaimed was the Selati railway line, ox wagons, buggy carts, pack donkeys and horses. There were no roads and no vehicles in the Park in those days.
Bush clearing started in earnest in 1927 and the first roads were put in to create more convenient routes between the ranger’s posts within the Kruger National Park. The construction of roads within the Kruger National Park for tourists followed a few years later. Three pontoons were built on the main rivers and a new causeway was built over the Sand River and the Letaba River.
The impressive road network that had developed by 1946 was a massive achievement, considering how remote the Kruger National Park was, and the fact that the Kruger National Park was in serious financial trouble, had a shortage of equipment and lacked manpower.
Requests to tar the roads were vehemently opposed, with the thinking that it would turn the reserve into a “glorified Park” and it would lose its natural appeal. Stevenson-Hamilton was strongly opposed to tarring the roads, saying it would result in speeding incidents and the death of animals.
Permission to tar the roads was only granted in 1965 and only for the main strip between Pretoriuskop and Skukuza. Today there are more than 850 kilometres of tarred roads in the Park.
THE TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOGRAPHY OF THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
The Kruger Park is in the north-east of South Africa on the confluence of the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces. The Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers converge at Crookes Corner in the Pafuri triangle at the most northerly point of the Park and if you stand in the river bed, you have Mozambique on your right, Zimbabwe straight ahead and South Africa on your left.
The Lebombo Mountains towards the eastern region of the Park separates Kruger Park from Mozambique. The Limpopo and the Crocodile Rivers act as its natural boundaries on the north and south of the park.
The Kruger National Park’s topography varies and altitude ranges between 200 metres (660 feet) in the east and 840 metres ( 2 760 feet) in the south-west near Berg-en-Dal. The highest point in the Kruger Park is a hill called Khandzalive.
Several rivers run through the park including the Sabie River, Olifants River, Crocodile River, Letaba River, Luvuvhu River and Limpopo River.
A NEW FRONTIER: THE GREAT LIMPOPO TRANSFRONTIER PARK
In the year 2000 a vision to create Peace Park came to fruition when a multi-national agreement led to the fences being brought down between the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique, the Kruger National Park, and Makuleke region in South Africa, and Gonarezhou National Park, Manjinji Pan Sanctuary and Malipati Safari Area in Zimbabwe.
The fences were removed based on a Memorandum of Understanding that did away with political boundaries that restricted the free movement of animals along old migratory routes. In 2001 the first 40 elephants were relocated from Kruger Park to Limpopo National Park (including 3 breeding herds of a planned 1 000 elephants).
The aim of these transfrontier parks is to preserve traditional animal migration patterns, and ensure there are sufficient food and water sources as the population of animals increase. Peace Parks also encourage tourism and economic development that is mutually beneficial for all parties. It is entirely reliant on the goodwill and integrity of the frontier countries.
SEASONS AND CLIMATES FOR KRUGER PARK SAFARI
The Kruger National Park is in the Lowveld region and is part of a subtropical zone where summer days are hot and humid (temperatures often reaching the 40°C (100°F) mark.)
Rainfall mainly occurs in the summer months, with showers expected from September until May. Early September to October are considered the best game viewing months as the grass is thin short due to the preceding drier months making for excellent game viewing. The winter months from are popular because the mosquitos are less active in the cooler months and there is less chance of contracting malaria if you are not taking prophylactics. The game also conveniently stay close to the watering holes in the drier winter months and this attracts the predators which makes it an ideal time of the year for game viewing.
KRUGER NATIONAL PARK FLORA
The Kruger National Park is has four main bushveld regions that each boast their own distinctive appeal:
- Thorn trees and red bush-willow veld
Between the western boundary and roughly the centre of the Park south of the Olifants River. Combretums, like the red bush-willow (Combretum apiculatum) and Acacia species dominate while there vast numbers of marula trees (Sclerocarya caffra). There are many Acacias along the rivers and streams.
- Knob-thorn and marula veld
South of the Olifants River in the eastern half of the Park, this area provides the most important land for grazing. Species such as red grass (Themeda triandra) and buffalo grass (Panicum maximum) predominate while the knob-thorn (Acacia nigrescens), leadwood (Combretum imberbe) and marula (Sclerocarya caffra) trees are the main tree species.
- Red bushwillow and mopane veld
This area lies in the western half of the Park, north of the Olifants River. The two most prominent species here are the red bushwillow (Combretum apiculatum) and the mopane tree (Colophospermum mopane).
- Shrub mopane veld
Shrub mopane covers almost the entire north-eastern part of the Park. There are a number of smaller areas in the Park which carry distinctive vegetation such as Pretoriuskop where the sickle bush and the silver cluster-leaf (Terminalia sericea) are prominent. The sandveld communities near Punda Maria are equally definitive, with a wide variety of unique species.
KRUGER NATIONAL PARK BIRDING
The Kruger National Park is a birder’s paradise boasting 517 species of birds; 253 are residents, 117 non-breeding migrants and 147 nomads.
Locally called the Big 6, there are six large species that are mostly restricted to the Park’s conservation areas. They are the lappet-faced vulture, martial eagle, saddle-billed stork, kori bustard, ground hornbill and the reclusive Pel’s fishing owl, which is localized and seldom seen.
There are between 25 and 30 breeding pairs of saddle-billed storks in the Kruger National Park, besides a handful of non-breeding individuals. In 2012 178 family groups of ground hornbills roamed the Park and 78 nests were known, of which 50% were active.
Pafuri and Punda Maria in the far north of the Park are regarded as one of the birding hotspots of the world. There are a number of species in the Kruger National Park that are not found anywhere else in the world.
The rest camps in the Park are where birds often see some of the best birds, particularly those bushveld camps that are situated on one of the main rivers. The comical hornbills and glossy starlings have made the rest camps their home, with easy pickings from picnic scraps and family barbeques.
The many dams scattered around the Kruger National Park are excellent birding spots, with the African Fish Eagle being a prize sighting. Its signature call is an absolute delight.
Let us take a look at the few bird routes in the Kruger National Park that attract avid birders to the region.
- Lowveld Mpumalanga Birding Route
This is a popular birding route in the southern part of the Park which is a sub-tropical area with a lot of open bushland. Typical species of trees in the area include the acacia, leadwood, marula and tamboti trees. Common species found in the area include the African scops-owl, bateleur, crested francolin, lilac-breasted roller, southern ground hornbill and white-crested helmet shrike. Some of the sought-after and rare birds found in this route include the martial eagle, narina trogon and southern bald ibis.
- Soutpansberg-Limpopo birding route
This route falls within the northern region of the Kruger National Park and is part of the Greater Limpopo birding route which extends beyond the borders of the Park through Mapungubwe National Park, the Soutpansberg mountain range and Venda. Punda Maria is known for sightings of the crowned hornbill, eastern (yellow-spotted) nicator and mosque swallow. The mopani bush and woodland areas attract the Arnott’s chat, black coucal, little bittern, racket-tailed roller and white-breasted cuckooshrike. Along the banks of the Levuvhu River, look out for the Böhm’s spinetail, Dickinson’s kestrel, lemon-breasted canary, mottled spinetail, river warbler and sooty falcon.
- Kruger to Canyons Biosphere birding route
This route incorporates parts of northern Kruger National Park and big sections of the central region. It begins outside the park in Graskop, moves along the Blyde River Canyon, down to Hoedspruit and on to the Kruger National Park via Phalaborwa. Popular sightings include the African barred owlet, collared (red-winged) pratincole, Pel’s fishing-owl, white-crowned lapwing (plover) and yellow-billed oxpecker.
THE GREAT BIG 5
The Big 5 was a collective term used for the most difficult animals to hunt, namely Leopard, Rhino, Elephant, Transvaal Lion & Cape Buffalo. This term takes on a much more gentle form today, and refers to spotting the “Big Five” out in the wild and NOT shooting them! All five species are endangered to some extent and under threat of extinction from poaching that continues despite earnest anti-poaching programmes.
- Buffalo’s primary predator is the lion. Buffalo will try to rescue another member who has been caught. They have been observed killing a lion after it has killed a member of the group.
- Leopards are excellent at climbing trees. They’ll often safeguard their kill in a tree to prevent lions and hyenas from stealing it. They are also strong swimmers and occasionally eat fish and crabs.
- African elephants communicate across large distances at a low frequency that cannot be heard by humans.
- Rhinos have poor vision and will sometimes attack trees and rocks by accident. However, their hearing and sense of smell are excellent, thus often making up for their poor eyesight.
- The African or Cape buffalo is not believed to be closely related to the water buffalo even though they superficially resemble each other. And unlike the water buffalo, the dangerous African buffalo has never been domesticated.
- The rhino is the most endangered species of the Big Five. Rhino poaching worldwide hit a 15-year high in 2009. The illegal trade is being driven by an Asian demand for horns, made worse by increasingly sophisticated poachers who are now using veterinary drugs, poison, cross bows and high caliber weapons to kill rhinos. Very few rhinos now survive outside national parks and reserves.
- Typically, the darker a lion’s mane, the older he is.
- The leopard is nocturnal, solitary and secretive, staying hidden during the day. They are the least seen of the Big Five.
- Many plant species have evolved seeds that are dependent on passing through an elephant’s digestive tract before they can germinate. At least one third of tree species in West African forests rely on elephants in this way for dissemination.
- White rhinos aren’t white, but slate gray to yellowish brown in color. The species name actually takes its root from Dutch, “weit” (wide), in reference to the animal’s wide muzzle.
What to look out for at the Kruger National Park
There is so much more to the Kruger National Park than the Big 5. Birders and animal enthusiasts can enjoy an abundance of game both big and small in the Kruger National Park.
The Little Five: Buffalo Weaver, Elephant Shrew, Leopard Tortoise, Ant Lion and Rhino Beetle
Birding Big 6: Ground Hornbill, Kori Bustard, Lappet-faced Vulture, Martial Eagle, Pel’s Fishing Owl and Saddle-billed Stork
Five Trees: Baobab, Fever Tree, Knob Thorn, Marula and Mopane Tree
KRUGER NATIONAL PARK REST CAMPS
Main Rest Camps:
- Berg-en-Dal (with satellite Malelane)
- Crocodile Bridge
- Lower Sabie
- Mopani (with satellite Tsendze)
- Olifants (with satellite Balule)
- Orpen (with satellites Maroela and Tamboti)
- Punda Maria
In addition to the 12 main rest camps that are popular destinations for overnight visitors, the Kruger National Park has an array of bush camps and private lodges for those wanting a more exclusive experience.Bushveld camps:
- Private lodges:
- Camp Shawu
- Camp Shonga
- Hamiltons Tented Camp
- Hoyo Hoyo Tsonga Lodge
- Imbali Safari Lodge
- Jocks Safari Lodge & Spa
- Lukimbi Safari Lodge
- Pafuri Camp
- Plains Camp
- Rhino Post Camp
- Shishangeni Lodge
- Singita Lebombo Lodge
- Singita Sweni Lodge
- The Outpost Lodge
- Tinga Game Lodges
The Kruger National Park has 9 gates:
- Crocodile Bridge Gate, near Komatipoort
- Malelane Gate, near Malelane
- Numbi Gate, near Hazyview
- Phabeni Gate, near Hazyview
- Paul Kruger Gate, near Hazyview
- Orpen Gate, near Klaserie
- Phalaborwa Gate, near Phalaborwa
- Punda Maria Gate, near Thohoyandou
- Pafuri Gate, near Musina
Day visitors to the Kruger National Park are welcomed and encouraged. All the main rest camps have areas allocated for day visitors and there are a few picnic spots dotted around the Park where visitors can enjoy a mid-day break.
The Park manages the volume of traffic on its roads by imposing a maximum number of vehicles allowed in each day and during high-peak season it’s important that visitors book beforehand to ensure they will be able to enter the Park.
The Kruger National Park recently introduced a “Park and Ride” facility which is available at the Numbi, Phabeni and Kruger gates.
Most visitors head off into the bush for morning and evening game drives. The time in-between can be spent at one of the natural or cultural features in the Park:
Letaba Elephant Museum
The museum covers elephant evolution, biology, behaviour, ecology and research. It also showcases the ivory of eight of Kruger’s greatest tuskers (including six of the Magnificent Seven). This site introduces you to these, and some of Kruger’s other big tuskers. It also has fun and games for kids and information for schools and educators.
The Albasini Ruins are located at the Phabeni Gate and are the remains of the 19th century trading post of the famous Portuguese trader, Joao Albasini.
Albasini arrived in the then Portuguese-occupied port of Lourenco Marques (now Maputo, Mozambique) in the early 1800s and set up a trading business. He set up an extensive network of trading routes that reached inland as far as the Lowveld. By 1845, Albasini had established a vital trading post at Magashula’s Kraal (now the site of the Albasini Ruins) which was positioned along two of the most active trading routes.
Legend has it that Magashula’s Kraal was the first European settlement, where traders sought refuge from the disease-ridden Lowveld. Albasini and fellow intrepid traders lived under difficult conditions of poor trade and the threat of deadly diseases such as malaria and tsetse fly. Magashula’s Kraal was renowned for its fine white bread, which was made from grain grown at the trading post.
Evidence of early man from the late Iron Age can be found at a site on a prominent hill just 12 kilometres from the Phalaborwa gate on the tar road to Letaba rest camp. The site was inhabited by the Sotho-speaking BaPhalaborwa during the 1800s, who developed advanced methods of mining, smelting iron ore and trading in these iron products.
Dome-shaped clay furnaces used to smelt the iron ore are found at the Masorini site, which has been reconstructed as closely as possible to the original iron works. This living museum can be explored with a field guide.
Thulamela archaeological sites
Thulamela is a stone-walled site located in the northern region of the Park, and dates back to between 450-500 years. It comprises evidence of the Zimbabwe culture and is linked to the world-famous Mapungubwe Ruins.
When Great Zimbabwe was abandoned, several groups moved south across the Limpopo River into the north-eastern regions of South Africa (including northern Kruger). They established smaller chiefdoms such as Thulamela and started farming subsistence crops such as sorghum and millet. The grain was ground and used to make porridge and beer.
There is evidence of clay spindle wheels which would suggest that the people also grew cotton. There are remains of pots of various shapes and sizes, some decorated, which were used for cooking, eating and drinking.
Stevenson-Hamilton Memorial Library
The knowledge resource centre is located at Skukuza, the largest rest camp in the Kruger National Park. It consists of a library and a museum and holds many fascinating artefacts, books and valuable documents depicting the life and times of James Stevenson-Hamilton who was the first Warden of the Sabie Game Reserve, now the Kruger National Park.
The rest camp was named Skukuza as it was the nickname given to Stevenson-Hamilton by the Shangaan people. It was his job to stop poaching and to create a safe haven for wild animals that were being ruthlessly hunted. His nickname means “he who sweeps clean” or “he who turns everything upside down”. It has a more negative connotation as Stevenson-Hamilton was responsible for the relocation programme that move the native people out of the area when it was proclaimed a national park.
One of the most popular attractions at the museum is the knife that belonged to Harry Wolhuter, a ranger who killed a lion that had him firmly in his jaws and was dragging him through the bush.
There is also a small “Heroes’ Acre” outside the museum where the loyal pets who served their masters and played a role in protecting the park are remembered. Some died of old age and some in the line of duty.
Visitors are expected to adhere to strict rules and regulations that govern gate and rest camp opening/closure times. Plan your arrival/departure times and game viewing around these times as fines are imposed on late arrivals or you may be turned away from the entrance gates if you arrive too late. You have to factor in the time it will take you to drive from the entrance gate to your overnight rest camp, driving at the enforced speed limit.
Speeding is a prosecutable infringement and strictly monitored. Drive slowly for the sake of the animals.
Visitors may only get out of their vehicles at designated picnic spots or look-out points, and you will face a hefty fine if caught with heads and bodies out of the car. There is an online app that encourages visitors to post photos of badly behaved visitors and if they catch your license plate on camera, the driver may be banned from visiting the Park.
A list of the Park’s rules and regulations are provided on entry into the Park and visitors are expected to adhere to them or face the consequences.
The use of drones inside (and just outside) all national Parks is strictly prohibited in line with anti-poaching measures.
Visitors can occupy their accommodation from 14h00 and must vacate the premises by 10h00.
Late arrivals are only permitted in cases of emergency (proof and a valid reason is required) until 21h00 for guests with pre-booked accommodation at certain camps within 10kms from the entry gates. A late arrival fee of up to R500 will be charged. No late arrivals are allowed at Pafuri, Phalaborwa and Phabeni gates or any other gates where the rest camps are more than 10kms away.
KRUGER NATIONAL PARK FOR LITTLE ONES
Long game drives with small kids are not recommended, as most parents know. It is important then that you choose to stay in one of the main rest camps that cater for children. These rest camps have swimming pools and open space that is fenced and safe for children to run around in.
Berg en Dal in southern Kruger is a spacious camp with a stunning viewing area overlooking the Matjulu Dam. There is a well-kept walking path around the perimeter of the camp that is suitable for kids.
Skukuza in southern Kruger has a beautiful dining and viewing area overlooking the Sabie River. Children can be taken through the Stevenson-Hamilton library and museum to learn about the history of the Park. Skukuza has a large, well-stocked shop with something for everyone.
Satara in central Kruger is located in what is known as “cat country”, where you are fairly guaranteed to see one or all of the big cats such as lion, cheetah and leopard.
There is a jungle gym and kids’ play area at the swimming pool.
Letaba in central Kruger is where you will find the Elephant Museum which is a must-see attraction for the whole family. Children can learn more about the past and current “Tuskers” and there are various wildlife displays, diagrams, models and pictures. The camp restaurant overlooks the Letaba River.
Punda in northern Kruger is remote and far from the maddening crowds. However, it is a long drive to the northern regions of the Park and not ideal for small children as it is a malaria area. Older children who have an interest in birding will enjoy Punda as it is renowned as the best birding area in the Park. The camp has its own hide that overlooks a small water hole. The area is floodlit which is perfect of late-night game viewing exertions.
The main rest camps are fenced and you are safe within its boundaries, except for the odd encounter with a greedy baboon at your braai. However, small rodents, bats, insects and snakes will find their way into the rest camps and you must always be aware of your surroundings.
Rodents and other hungry critters are lured to the rest camps for easy pickings in the litter bins or food left out. Take care to put leftover food away in cupboards or fridges and don’t throw meat bones in the nearby bushes.
To avoid stepping on a spider, scorpion or snake; firstly always wear closed shoes walking around the camp and don’t go anywhere without a torch after the sun goes down.
If you see snake in your path or near your accommodation, alert a camp supervisor. Don’t poke or prod it, and definitely don’t try to pick it up. Snakes are usually more scared of you than you are of them, and will slither away quickly.
Bats are your friends as they eat literally hundreds of mosquitoes a night but if one flies into your room, do not panic. Calmly place a towel over the bat and release it outside. Call a camp supervisor for assistance if you’re not up to the task.
You will see signs all over the camps warning visitors not to feed the monkeys, baboons and tame bushbuck. They might look cute but they can become very aggressive and then they have to be destroyed. Pack away any edible foodstuff and close doors and windows when you leave your cottage. Monkeys and baboons are so clever they have learnt to open fridges and cupboards.
- Thorn trees and red bush-willow veld