Balule is a private game reserve based around the Olifants River in the Greater Kruger National Park.
The Balule Private Game Reserve forms part of the Greater Kruger Park and offers a unique African safari experience. From lodges providing every creature comfort to affordable tented camps deep in the unspoiled bush, a variety of accommodation options are available.
Visitors to Balule are sure to encounter the Big Five throughout their wilderness sojourn. With no internal fences between Balule and the other reserves in the area, animals migrate freely, and Balule provides them with a safe haven where they can be admired by avid nature enthusiasts.
If you want to have a close encounter with animals in Big Five territory, Balule is for you. In addition to the dam and various waterholes in the area, Balule is set along the banks of the Olifants River which attracts a multitude of animals. Open vehicle safaris, thrilling bush walks, and unobtrusive accommodation facilities make for unequaled encounters.
Balule is completely unfenced from the Kruger National Park, and the animals are free to roam wherever they please, but visitors to the park are not. The 40 000 hectares that belong to the Balule Game Reserve only make allowance for private guests. The limited number of guests allows for a more private and luxuriously exclusive experience of the Kruger National Park and its surroundings.
There is something special about Balule, something that can be seen everywhere you look; the reserve's abundance of wildlife, as a result of its outstanding conservation efforts in the form of the the Transfrontier Balule Conservation Program, its work with Elephants Alive and the founding of the famous all-female anti-poaching unit - the Black Mamba APU.
Reaching the Balule Nature Reserve is by far the easiest when you travel to Eastgate Airport, better known as Hoedspruit Airport, situated in the eastern reaches of the Limpopo Province. Connecting flights from either Cape Town International Airport or OR Tambo International (Johannesburg) to the Hoedspruit Airport are available daily.
From the airport you will be transferred to the reserve in your own private, air-conditioned vehicle. Although the reserve is only a short distance from the airport, it can take up to two hours to get to the different accommodation facilities within the reserve, as speed limits are enforced, especially on the gravel roads, to ensure your safety and the comfort of the animals.
It is possible to visit Balule all year round, but summers in the northern part of South Africa can be extremely warm. It is also during the rainy summer season that there is an influx of mosquitoes and the risk of malaria is at its highest. The sparser vegetation and prominence of animals at waterholes during the dry winter season make for easier game viewing.
If you are planning to visit the reserve to view game, it is best to visit in the winter between May and September. Winter morning and evening game drives can be quite frosty, but day temperatures are very comfortable. Birding is excellent during the summer, between October and April, and the lush greenery makes for fantastic photography.
Various landowners of the area known today as the Balule Private Nature Reserve assembled in the early 1990's and decided to drop all internal fences. The sudden extension to their range prompted wildlife to follow new migratory paths, which prevented overgrazing and expanded the gene pool. Animals that had never been seen in specific parts of the area were now free to come and go and, because of this amalgamation, the landowners profited in terms of diversity.
Hunting became obsolete and, as the animals grew used to tourist-packed vehicles shooting them with nothing but cameras, the reserve quickly developed a reputation as a place where visitors were bound to see a wide variety of spectacular bird and animal life.
Once the border fences had been electrified, the national park authorities decided that Balule was ready to be incorporated into the greater Kruger National Park. The internal fences between Balule, Kruger, Klaserie and Olifants were removed and so Balule added an incredible 40 000 hectares to the Kruger National Park overnight. Although Balule is a very young reserve when compared to Kruger, its beauty and biodiversity provide it with an ageless allure that visitors will remember for a long time.
Balule is known for its abundance and variety of wildlife. An array of plains game such as zebras, wildebeest, buffalo, impala and giraffes are prominent at the various watering holes, and larger game including hippos, elephants and crocodiles can be found in the Olifants River catchment throughout the day. The availability of prey also attracts lions and other predators, as always, closely followed by hyenas. Moreover, the reserve is a leader in anti-poaching initiatives and combats poaching daily to conserve rhinos, wild dogs and cheetahs in the area. Their Black Mamba anti-poaching unit won the 2015 Champions of the Earth Award, which is the United Nations' highest environmental honor.
It is also a favorite among birders, and with over 260 species found in the area a range of encounters are offered. Waterbirds like storks and herons can be found along the germination of the Olifants River, and the area also serves as one of the main breeding grounds for the rare saddle-billed and black storks. Predatory birds such as eagles and hawks, including the revered African fish eagle, are also regularly spotted in the area. The reserve is also well-known for its nighttime wildlife encounters, and guests can be on the lookout for civets, owls, bushbabies, aardvark, hares and the elusive leopard, to name a few.
Balule’s vegetation is predominantly bushveld, as it is located in the subtropical Lowveld region. The latter is synonymous with the African continent, and although the occurrence of each species fluctuates depending on the area, the long grass combined with striking woodland trees such as the fever, mopane and thorn trees, are easily recognizable wherever you go. The broad, slow-moving Olifants River and its riverine vegetation add significantly to the range and frequency of fauna and flora to be found, with a staggering 336 tree species and more than 2 000 plant species that have been documented in the Lowveld expanse.
During the dry winter months, the Olifants River's scattered pools and riparian woodland attract wildlife from all over. Baobab trees, knobthorns, marula, leadwood, apple leaf and sjambok trees are principal species in this wooded savanna, and during spring they are joined by breathtaking seasonal flowers, pods and fruits as well as an influx of migratory birds. The conservation efforts in the area are also not limited to the wildlife, and with some species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, policies include the clearing of alien vegetation, controlling erosion and the planting of indigenous flora to ensure its prevalence.
Whether you are in search of the illustrious Big Five, or interested in locating the rare birds of the area, you can be sure that there will be an experienced ranger to assist you in your endeavor. Open vehicle game drives, during the day and night, permit close-up encounters with wildlife. Bush walks are also available so that you can truly immerse yourself in the surroundings, and get to personally identify the paths the animals make and follow. The walks are accompanied by experienced armed rangers and they will share their knowledge on the footprints, scats and other animal signs that can’t easily be seen from game vehicles.
Horse riding, hot air ballooning, white river rafting and other adventurous activities can be found in different sections of the reserve. Visits to the Khamai Reptile Park and other centers are recommended if you’d like to gain even more knowledge of the area. Stargazing on cloudless nights are spectacular, and the area is also well-known for its amazing sunsets and panoramic views. Combined with a large variety of animals and birds, the reserve is a mecca for avid photographers and cinematographers.
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