Diverse landscape, amazing sunsets and exhilarating safari experiences await. Visiting South Africa’s Kruger National Park is a wonder to behold.
Home to many different species of animals, including The Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard), the Kruger National Park is one of the world’s greatest wildlife watching destinations. The ultimate bucket-list destination, Musement uncovers everything you should know about visiting the Kruger National Park.
Geography of the Kruger National Park
Covering an area of 19,485 km2, The Kruger National Park is the largest national park in South Africa and one of the biggest on the African continent. Located in the north east of South Africa, the park runs along the border of Mozambique in the east and Zimbabwe in the north. The terrain is largely flat with low undulating hills, navigated by both paved and gravel roads. Six major rivers cross through the park, but as droughts often occur during dry season, artificial watering holes are also necessary.
History of the Kruger National Park
The park was first established under the name ‘Sabie Game Reserve’ in 1898 by the President of the Transvaal, Paul Kruger. Located in the southern one-third of what makes up today’s park, the reserve was initially created to control hunting and to protect the diminishing number of animals in the park. It merged with the Shingwedzi Game Reserve and was declared South Africa’s first national park in 1926. It was eventually renamed Kruger National Park and officially opened to tourism in 1927.
When to visit the Kruger National Park
Considered an all-year-round destination, the Kruger National Park has two distinct seasons. Depending on what you want to see and do whilst you are there will determine what time of year you should visit.
As the majority of visitors come to the park to see the wildlife, there’s no question that the dry season (May to September) is considered the best time of year to go on safari. The ‘bush’ and vegetation are scarce during this time and the animals are easily spotted at the watering holes and rivers.
The wet season (October to April) is hot, humid and rainy. The rain rehydrates the landscape turning everything green, meaning the animals can easily hide and become difficult to spot. Many of the wildlife give birth to their young during November and December, a very special sight to see for any visitor! This is also a good time for bird watchers to visit as many of the summer migrant birds arrive.
How to get there
Given the park’s size, there are a variety of ways to get to Kruger National Park. For those on a budget, the cheapest way is to fly into Johannesburg Airport, rent a car and drive from there. Although this is the most time-consuming way, approximately a 5–6-hour drive, you can explore the surrounding area leading up to the park.
The most convenient option is to fly into Cape Town or Johannesburg and take a connecting flight to one of the three airports that service the park. Phalaborwa Airport services northern Kruger Park, while Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport is best for the central areas and Kruger Mpumalanga International (KMI) Airport for the south. From these airports, Kruger National Park is about a one-hour drive.
The last alternative is to schedule a private charter and fly directly into the park grounds. Flying into the Skukuza Airport or one of the lodges’ airstrips will cost a pretty penny, but you will be at your final destination without any transfers.
What to see and do
A visit to the Kruger National Park means that you are more than likely going on a safari. This is the best way to see all the wildlife the park has to offer. Depending on how much time you have you can choose a safari that best fits your schedule. To make the most of your visit, a knowledgeable guided tour is recommended. From half day tours to full day private tours, there are plenty of ways to discover Africa’s leading nature reserve. The open safari vehicles allow you to truly appreciate your surroundings and have the best view of the wildlife that wander the park.
For those who enjoy walking and hiking, there are plenty of wilderness trails that allow you to discover nature and the park’s wildlife. You can roam the park grounds on your own or join a walking safari led by a park ranger. If you enjoy adventures, you can take part in mountain biking activities or go off-roading on the 4×4 trails.
If you want to escape the park grounds for a little, God’s Window (Blyde River Canyon), the world’s third largest canyon waterfall, is less than an hour drive from Kruger and offers breath-taking views of the Drakensberg Mountain Range.
Wildlife in the park
The Big Five. Lions, leopard, buffalo, elephants, and rhinos all call the Kruger National Park home. In fact, the park has more large mammal species than any other game reserve in Africa. However, seeing all of them during a safari is quite unlikely. Leopards are nocturnal and usually make their rounds at night, while rhinos are endangered and can be difficult to spot. The most common of the Big Five that you will see are elephants as they can be found in all parts of the park.
Over 500 varied species of birds can be found at the park. Whether they are migrants just making a stop during the cold months or fixed residents, you are sure to come across a wide variety. In fact, there are six species, known as the “Big Six Birds,” that can only be found at Kruger and other conservation areas. These are the ground hornbill, the lappet-faced vulture, the saddle-billed stork, the martial eagle, the kori bustard, and the Pel’s fishing owl.
Be on the lookout for hippos, zebra, wildebeests and hyenas as they are some of the wildlife that are commonly seen roaming the park grounds. The endangered African painted dog, giraffes, and impalas, just to name a few, are other animals that one could be fortunate enough to spot on a visit.