We hadn’t been to the famed Kruger National Park, which was an intolerable state of affairs. Speaking to visitors from overseas, neighbours and friends, I always felt a bit like a fraud. To be writing about travels in Africa, and never having been to probably the most famous game reserve in the country, if not the world, meant that something had to be done. So plans were made, pet sitters arranged and accommodation booked. Not all accommodation though, we did want some “mystery”, but in the park itself it’s essential to book ahead of time.
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It’s a 1600 km overland road trip from our home in the Garden Route, so a 5am start was in order. The route took us from George, over the mountains and through a very green Karoo to the N1 national route at Colesberg. From there, past Bloemfontein to our overnight stop at the Pont De Vaal Hotel on the Vaal River, around 80km South of Johannesburg, a 10 hour drive.
It’s a very pleasant hotel on the banks of the river, with lush gardens and super comfortable rooms. The restaurant was OK, nothing special, I’d say adequate, no more. The reception and breakfast service only opens at 9am, so we missed that, Wimpy here we come!
Next morning bright and early we set off on the second, 7 hour odd leg to the the Malelane Gate, which is in the far South of the park. The route took us past the smoke stacks and power stations of the East rand, and through some truly beautiful countryside in Mpumalanga. I genuinely didn’t expect such a lush green paradise, I loved it. And the roads were mostly pretty good, only a few bumpy patches.
Actually good time was made to Malelane and after completing the necessary formalities with the efficient staff in the admin building, we were in the park. First 2 nights were at Skukuza, which is a 2 hour drive from the gate, at the general speed limit of 50km/hour within the park (according to Google). But I’d allow more time for game viewing stops. We saw our first game within a couple of kilometres of the gate in fact.
In January, after a good rainy season, the Kruger Park is really green and lush, with fast flowing rivers. There’s plenty of places for prey and predators alike to hide, so game viewing isn’t at it’s best. We did see all the Big 5, apart from the ever elusive Leopard, and plenty of Elephants and Zebra. Also vast numbers of Impala, Buffalo, Hyena and even Rhinos. Not to forget the river dwellers, Hippos and Crocodiles.
First 2 nights were at Skukuza and then the second 2 nights were spent at Lower Sabie Rest Camp. Both are really good, I’d say that Skukuza is maybe a little more modern in terms of accommodation which is in rondavels. They are basic, not luxurious, but have everything you need, and there’s a full on shop and a Cattle Baron restaurant.
Lower Sabie is also totally well kitted, although the accommodation is perhaps a little more dated, but once again it has everything you might need. There’s also a shop and a Mugg & Bean restaurant and coffee shop on site. All the familiar restaurants from home in the city are right there but with views over the Sabie River where you can watch the Crocodiles and Hippos doing their thing.
We headed North on our last day in the park to our exit at the Orpen gate, where we exited towards our next stop at the Blyde River Canyon. Which is for another post. There is such awesome scenery to be seen all the way, with an ever changing terrain. This day was Elephant day, we saw loads and loads of them, in large herds sometimes.
One big boy decided that this was his road and he would make us wait until HE decided to let us past. So we sat, and sat, and sat for around 20 minutes until he decided to let us go on our way. But that’s all part of the experience, never be in a hurry in the Kruger Park.
We had breakfast at Tshokwane picnic site, which is actually much more than that, with the obligatory shop and also a very decent breakfast.
No fences though, so it’s advised not to walk around, stay around the complex. This space belongs to the animals of the Kruger, some of whom will gladly make a meal of you.
Until next time, safe travels.