A trip to Kruger National Park

 

elephants drinking by the riverI decided to write about my trip to Kruger for two reasons. One: this was my first real African safari trip and I absolutely loved it. Two: I had a snowball effect of some bad decisions in the park which could have ended pretty bad, so I want to share a few important thoughts about safaris for the total cityboys and girls out there venturing out in the wild.

Useful tips for planning your trip

So first, what do you need to know about this national park? Kruger was established in 1926 as the first national park of Africa. It’s located in the northeastern part of South Africa, hence not so easily accessible. There are direct flights from Johannesburg to different cities nearby Kruger. Nelspruit is not so close to the southern entrance but you can find flights usually a bit cheaper. Phalaborwa and Hoedspruit are a lot closer to the park but prices are usually higer to flight directly from Johannesburg.  The more adventurous can also rent a car and drive there. I did that myself, though not from Jo’burg, but from Mbabane, Swaziland. A truly enjoyable drive as you get to see the „real Africa” while driving on good roads. If you cross the Swazi border, make sure to check until what time the crossing is open. The one I crossed closes at 8pm. If you don’t get there in time, you will have to wait till the morning. You can find good tips about how to travel around in South Africa here.

giraffe crossing the road in Kruger National Park
When nature hits you in the face…

The winter months are best for visiting. It is dry, which is the secret to actually seeing wildlife. The animals are drawn to the lakes and rivers and the vegetation is more sparse. You will surely have the chance of seeing all you want without too much effort.

Kruger is immense. It looks a lot smaller on the map than how it actually feels like once you enter. It is almost 400 km long from south to north. So, unless you plan to stay for several days, don’t even plan on visiting all of it. Anyways, you will get to enjoy wildlife just as much discovering only a smaller portion of the park. If you have a day or two to spend there, go anyways. It should be enough for the safari feel. If you spend the night at Kruger you can choose between camps and lodges. Camps are cheaper and definitely more fun if adventure is what you are looking for. Lodges are the best choice if you want more comfort. Safety is not an issue in any of these places as long as you respect park rules.

Safety, safety, safety

elephant family in Kruger National Park
This elephant daddy charged at me for coming too close to his baby.

Sooo, this brings me to my quite embarrasing but hopefully illuminating experience I wanted to share with you about my trip to Kruger. Being an independent individual you are used to doing what you like and when you like it. You feel you are in control. This is definitely not the case in the African wilderness. You need to accept you are not the one setting your rules out there.

Rule number one: when you enter the park you are handed over a brochure with basic instructions. Do not throw it on the back seat of your car, it is not your receipt of the entry fee you just paid. Well, I did that, and missed the basic safety guidelines (see rules 2, 3, 4 below). That’s when things started going downhill…

Rule number two: don’t get out of your car during your visit, it is not a zoo. I also did that. I was lucky to be spotted by a ranger. He yelled at me and I was almost fined also. I was clearly not thinking that I might be looking at a buffalo while a leopard might be looking at me from behind.

bird sitting on table no feeding
A cheeky bird who doesn’t care about park rules.

Rule number three: don’t piss off wild animals – I was lucky enough to come across an overprotective male elephant. You better not try to scare them away. Just stay on the silent observer side.

Rule number four: the park has opening hours – pay attention to your watch as distances are large, roads are not always good and it gets dark pretty fast. When you realize some animals started hunting, you are in the wrong spot. I also missed the info on the opening hours so another ranger had to escort me out of the park half an hour after the park officially closed.

Rule number five: always have water on you – I am proud to announce I didn’t miss that one.

What is it I loved so much about it?

rhinos in Kruger national park
Rhinos hiding from intruders’ cameras.

A trip to Kruger gives you the chance to see wild animals with „assistance”. You are in an uncontrolled area but with clear indications about shorter or longer routes to take, lodges, restaurants and what is best: visitors leave each-other signs of where they spotted animals. This gives you a good indication where you want to be headed. Your top goal will probably be seeing the „big 5” first: a rhino, a lion, a buffalo, an elephant and a leopard. Afterwards you just want to see as many games as possible. In a day or two, with a bit of luck, it is a realistic goal to spot the „big 5” and also many other species.

Even if you have a day or two to enjoy Kruger National Park I recommend you to just book your trip. If you respect the rules of the park and nature, you will have a fantastic experience. Make sure to charge your camera batteries, though. You will surely need it!

For planning your visit and for basic info check out the park’s homepage here. If you have more time in South Africa than a few days and you need advice on where to go, here is a South Africa blog I loved.

For more of my pictures visit my instagram page here.

If you need my help with planning your trip to South Africa click on the button below.

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African sunset during safari