In 1898, through the initiatives of Jakob-Louis van Wyk, R.K. Loveday and President Paul Kruger
to establish a ‘government wildlife park’, the area between the Sabie and Crocodile rivers was
proclaimed the Sabie Game Reserve. This area now comprises the southern third of the modern
park. The first official warden, Scottish-born Major James Stevenson-Hamilton, was appointed by
Sir Godfrey Lagden in 1902.
Harry Wolhuter and Thomas Duke were installed as the Sabie Game Reserve’s first rangers,
posted at present-day Pretoriuskop and Lower Sabie, while Stevenson-Hamilton operated
headquarters at the Sabie Bridge (present-day Skukuza). In 1903, the Shingwedzi Game Reserve
(which now forms part of northern Kruger) was proclaimed and added to Stevenson-Hamilton’s list
of responsibilities. He appointed Major AA Fraser as the reserve’s first head ranger in 1904.
In 1926, the National Parks Act was passed. The reserves were fused and expanded to forge the
Kruger National Park. The first three tourist cars accessed the park in 1927 with numbers swelling
to 180 in 1928 and 850 in 1929. In the 1940s, the Greek royal family and King George II were
added to the booming accession of local and foreign tourists.
Vestiges of yesteryear survive throughout the park, from the Albasini ruins (the original home of the
area’s first European settler) near the Phabeni gate and prospectors’ graves in the south to the site
of Wolhuter’s lion attack and the Masorini archaeological site in the north. From the near-extinction
of several species to the on-going battle against poaching, Kruger Park and its champions have
braved many challenges in its evolution toward the distinguished reserve that exists as today.
Kruger National Park is a wondrous arena of close encounters of the four-legged kind. It is a haven where critically endangered and vulnerable species, such as the African wild dog, black rhinoceros and cheetah, can still be viewed in their natural habitat. The big cats prosper with around 2000 lions and 2000 leopards residing in the park, ensuring that the average game viewer can quickly tick them off their checklist.
Elephants occur in abundance, with herds expanding so much in recent years (almost 12 000 elephants currently call Kruger home) that many groups have had to be relocated to protect the ecosystem. White rhinos are present in lesser numbers but are regularly spotted throughout the park. Solid herds of African buffalo frequently blacken the gold sweep of the savanna, emerging from the bush in their thousands.
Large herbivores such as Burchell's zebra, blue wildebeest, giraffe, kudu, waterbuck and impala prevail on every terrain, while eland, nyala and smaller antelope are rarer finds. Lesser mammals include spotted hyenas, black-backed jackals, honey badgers, genets, meerkats, mongoose, warthogs, bush pigs, porcupines, baboons and Vervet monkeys. Most of the fuller dams and river regions teem with hippo and crocodile populations.
With over 500 feathered species, Kruger is a birder’s paradise. From the delightful lilac-breasted roller to the majestic Bateleur eagle, even wildlife enthusiasts after the larger game will be charmed by the kaleidoscope of birdlife. A few of the park’s birds have been assigned to a group called ‘The Big Six’ and include the tremendous Lappet-faced vulture, the snow-bellied Martial eagle, the eccentrically dressed saddle-billed stork, the low-stalking Kori bustard, the comically odd ground hornbill and the rarely spotted Pel's fishing owl.
Stretching 380km north to south and averaging 60km east to west, the wild expanse of the Kruger
National Park may almost be considered a province in its own right. Two rivers serve as natural
borders to the park; the Limpopo River in the north and the Crocodile River in the south. Kruger’s
western boundary runs across the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces while Mozambique’s
Limpopo National Park lies to the east.
A few major rivers run west to east through the park, starting with the Sabie River in the south, the
Olifants and Letaba rivers in the heart of the park and the Luvuvhu in the far north. These rivers
serve to replenish the numerous smaller streams and dams throughout the park. Depending on the
region, rainfall varies from a maximum of 720mm to a minimum of 400mm per annum.
Vegetation digresses throughout Kruger, creating a stirring medley of settings for game sightings. Rock figs and bushwillows star the southwest, with kiaat and silver-cluster leaf lacing the Pretoriuskop area. The general south is full of sickle bush and thorn trees, ranging from knob thorn to scented and sticky thorn. Shady tamboti trees and the juicy-fruited marula trees cloak the area as well. From the heart of the park to the far north, a mopane mantle covers the earth. Rare tree species occur in the Pafuri and Punda Maria regions of the north, an area also weighted in ancient baobab trees.
Around seven geological substructures pad the bushy carpet of the park. The west is generally
bedded in granite, with rolling plains sprouting from the sandy earth. Coarse, dark gabbroic
intrusions pepper this region as well, occurring sporadically in the planed savanna. Karoo
sedimentary rock stretches north to south in an axial girdle, yielding fine sand and salty clay soils.
The east of the park is stained with ruddy basalt, climbing into the rhyolite base coat of the
Lebombo Mountains’ stony bulges toward Mozambique.
Balule Private Game Reserve hugs the western boundary of the Kruger Park and stretches over 40 000 hectares of privately owned land. The prolific Olifants River continues its course through Balule for 20km, sustaining a proliferation of wildlife.
Though Klaserie shares the shortest border with the park, it is the largest private game reserve that forms part of the Greater Kruger National Park. Lodges such as Gomo Gomo Game Lodge provide more affordable yet still reverently stylish accommodation options.
Manyeleti lies in the supreme game area between Sabi Sand and Timbavati, with wildlife trekking in unabated flows between the private reserves and the main Kruger Park. The reserve is quieter than its neighbors, providing a truly ‘private’ viewing experience.
Sabi Sand >>
Sabi Sand stretches along 50km of fenceless park fringe. The reserve’s name is derived from the two rivers that run through the park; the Sabie and the Sand. The oldest (and most eminent) of Kruger’s private reserves, Sabi Sand has established itself as a world-class safari destination with a medley of comfortable lodges cradled in its cusps.
Next to Sabi Sand, Timbavati is the other major reserve bordering the park. It boasts thirteen lodges and self-catering camps, including the celebrated Kings Camp with its impeccable attention to detail and the rustic Umlani Bush Camp for a more organic (yet nonetheless comfortable) experience.
Berg en Dal
Berg-en-Dal is located in southwest Kruger in an area known for the prevalence of rhinos. The camp is the most easily accessible by road from Johannesburg and should be considered by those planning a short overland trip to Kruger.
Lower Sabie's location on the Sabie River makes it one of the most sought-after rest camps in the Kruger Park. Game drives to the more open central grassland of the park as well as to the southern region with its high density of rhino are very convenient from Lower Sabie.
Skukuza is the main rest camp in the Kruger National Park and enjoys a perch overlooking the Sabie River. It has a larger shop than any of the other camps and also boasts two restaurants for your convenience.
Satara is situated in the heart of Kruger and is surrounded by sweeping open plains which draw large herds of grazers. Of course these are followed closely by lion prides and other predators. If the quality of game viewing is your primary concern, Satara is a good choice.
Set on a hill overlooking the valley of the Olifants River, this camp offers one of the park's most spectacular views. The central area has been modernized recently and offers a good restaurant and a small shop where essentials can be purchased.
Letaba is one of the most beautiful rest camps in Kruger and enjoys spectacular views of the winding Letaba River. It also has the distinction of being home to the Elephant Museum, where some of the largest tuskers that ever lived can be seen.
Morning Game Drives
Around half an hour before the camp’s gates officially open, your open-air 4x4 vehicle will slip out into the pre-dawn darkness. This almost preternatural period is characterized by nipping temperatures and a dun gloom that stirs with the peripherally rising sun. The coolness coaxes out the early risers, typically cunning predators keen on taking advantage of both the fine temperatures and prey still locked in the blind comfort of slumber. The drive is around three hours in duration and comprises a satisfying blend of tranquility and exhilaration. A resident park ranger will acquaint you with the sights, smells and sounds of Kruger at sunrise.
Sunset Game Drives
The sunset game drives depart camp just before dusk, in that late afternoon stretch when the sky seems to shift its colors by the second. The waning light allows a few sun-touched sightings before the inescapable veil of nighttime. Predators like lions and leopards shrug off the languor of the day and quicken into the hunt, ready to overwhelm any quarry settling down in the dark. Spotlights will assist in your nighttime viewing, and a resident park ranger will provide their own valuable illumination in terms of the animals’ unique habits.
Night drives in open-air 4x4 vehicles offer the unique opportunity to encounter Kruger’s more seldomly spotted nocturnal wildlife. The drives generally depart camp between 19:30 and 20:00, depending on the time of the year, and are characterized by encounters with spotted genets, porcupines, civets, bushbabies and larger nighttime ramblers like hyenas, hippos, leopards and lions. This is also the ideal time to learn more about the star-spangled Milky Way, effervescent in its glory so far removed from the interference of city lights.
Open 4X4 Game Drives (At Private Lodges)
When staying at a lodge in a private concession or private game reserve, you will enjoy two scheduled open-air 4x4 game drives on a daily basis – one in the early morning and one in the late afternoon. These are periods of increased animal activity, largely due to the more moderate temperatures. The vehicles in question are often modified Land Rovers or Land Cruisers, which are hardy enough to traverse a wide variety of terrains. On that note, rangers will occasionally venture off road for more significant sightings like lion, leopard, cheetah of wild dog.
Mid-way through your game drive – depending on how much time you spend enjoying sightings, of course – you will typically stop somewhere scenic in the bush to enjoy a cup of coffee with a biscuit, or a sundowner gin and tonic. This provides guests not only with a chance to stretch their legs, but to take a moment to breathe and truly relish their awe-inspiring surroundings.
There are many benefits to enjoying an open 4x4 game drive in a private concession or private game reserve rather than those that serve as add-on activities in the Kruger Park, chief amongst them being the intimacy. Unlike the excessive seating of the national park vehicles, these vehicles are limited to a maximum of between 6 and 8 passengers (depending on the lodge), ensuring not only your uncrowded comfort but a far superior field of vision. Your game drives will also take place in areas of little or no traffic, removed as you will be from the main arteries of the park. There is something immensely satisfying about being the only vehicle at an extraordinary sighting, almost as if nature has chosen to share a secret with you alone.
The Bushman wilderness trail departs from Berg-en-Dal Rest Camp in the southwestern corner of the Kruger National Park. It is named for the numerous Bushman rock art sites in the surrounding area, which feature regularly on the trail routine. The terrain is largely broken, with deep, open valleys and rocky outcrops that allow for great sightings and closer encounters with big game. Elephants and rhino frequent the area, resulting in a convenient network of natural game paths. Antelope like kudu, klipspringer and mountain reedbuck enjoy the rock-ribbed environment, while the high altitude invites the presence of red-throated wryneck and jackal buzzard.
Mathikithi is a wilderness trail that departs from Satara Rest Camp in the south-central stretch of the Kruger National Park. It is named for a lonely 313m (more than a thousand feet) high sandstone hill some 6km southwest of the camp, alongside the N'wanetsi waterway. The area comprises many high-lying rocky outcrops, which provide ideal vantage points for observing game and enjoying refreshments at sunset or sunrise with your trail team. Elephants and large herds of buffalo ramble through the area, ensuring well-trodden game paths for comfortable hiking.
The Napi wilderness trail tears across the undulating granitic landscape between the Skukuza and Pretoriuskop rest camps in the southern Kruger, departing from the latter. The prevalence of the Mbyamithi and Napi rivers means picturesque meanderings and immense riverine trees. Seasonal pans lure both black and white rhino to the area, ensuring fantastic big game sightings, while thick-billed cuckoo and red-billed helmet shrikes roost in the woodland and tamboti thickets. Evenings in camp are often enhanced by the portentous calls of giant eagle owls and barred owls.
The most remote and out of the way Wilderness Trail’s Camp is situated between Punda Maria Rest Camp and Pafuri. The spectacular Lanner and Levhuvhu gorges along the Levhuvhu River are popular attractions. The camp is hidden in a secluded spot on the Madzaringwe River, with the towering cliffs of the Soutpansberg Mountains forming the backdrop. Punda Maria Rest Camp is the departure point for this trail. The area is one of the best in the country for bird watching, and various localized species such as Verreaux's eagle, Pel’s fishing owl, grey-headed parrot, mottled spinetail and more can be seen. The spine tails roost inside the giant baobab tree near camp, and may be observed at leisure.
The Olifants wilderness trail follows the courses of both the perennial Olifants and Letaba rivers in the heart of the Kruger National Park. The trail departs from Letaba Rest Camp and explores a diverse wilderness area replete with remote valleys, dramatic gorges, the rolling ebb of the Lebombo Mountains and even flat open plains ideal for unobstructed game viewing. As the rivers tend to form the focal point of the trail experience, sightings of crocodiles and hippos are frequent. The pealing laughter of the African fish eagle provides an occasional hypnotic interlude.
The Sweni River forms the main feature of the Sweni wilderness trail, which departs from Satara Rest Camp. The river trundles through thorny acacia savanna that draws large herds of plains game, in turn also drawing the predators that prey upon them. Most guests on the Sweni trail will relish the reverberation of lion roars herd around the tiny camp at night. The calls of Mozambique night jars and scops owls add to this captivating wilderness soundtrack. Should you thus awaken in the dark, the remote, flat surroundings are ideal for stargazing.
The first of all the wilderness trails is situated roughly between Berg-en-Dal, Ship mountain and the Afsaal picnic site. It was named after one of the first rangers that were appointed in the Sabie Game Reserve, Harry Wolhuter. Wolhuter single-handedly killed a lion with his hunting knife while out on patrol on horseback. It is a spectacularly scenic wilderness area characterized by high granite outcrops with deep valleys, as well as a flatter undulating landscape. White and black rhino are frequently encountered in the Wolhuter wilderness area, particularly the former. Elephant and buffalo are also regularly seen, as are rare antelope like sable, mountain- and common reedbuck.