Lying in the heart of the Lowveld is a wildlife sanctuary like no other, its atmosphere so unique that it allows those who enter its vastness to immerse themselves in the unpredictability and endless wilderness that is the true quality of Africa.
The largest game reserve in South Africa, the Kruger National Park is larger than Israel. Nearly 2 million hectares of land that stretch for 352 kilometres (20 000 square kilometres) from north to south along the Mozambique border, is given over to an almost indescribable wildlife experience. Certainly, it ranks with the best in Africa and is the flagship of the country’s national parks – rated as the ultimate safari experience.
The Kruger National Park lies across the provinces of Mpumalanga and Limpopo in the north of South Africa, just south of Zimbabwe and west of Mozambique. It now forms part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park – a peace park that links Kruger National Park with game parks in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and fences are already coming down to allow game to freely roam in much the way it would have in the time before man’s intervention. When complete, the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park will extend across 35 000 square kilometres, 58% of it South African, 24% Mozambican and 18% Zimbabwean territory.
This is the land of baobabs, fever trees, knob thorns, marula and mopane trees underneath which lurk the Big Five, the Little Five (buffalo weaver, elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, ant lion and rhino beetle), the birding Big Six (ground hornbill, kori bustard, lappet-faced vulture, martial eagle, Pel’s fishing owl and saddle-bill stork) and more species of mammals than any other African Game Reserve.
The Kruger Park is a self-drive destination, although there are guided tour operators, with an excellent infrastructure that includes picnic sites, rest camps, waterholes and hides. The Kruger Park is a remarkable reserve offering an incredible experience of Africa at its most wild. (See Kruger Park Tours for overnight and package tours lasting from 1 night and 2 days to weeks long safaris or see Kruger Park Day Tours for single day guided trips into Kruger National Park.
Kruger Park’s different Zones and Regions
Very broadly speaking, the Kruger National Park is flat with a few gentle hills, and people tend to classify the bushveld of the Kruger as unvaried and dry, which is rather like saying South Africa is sunny – it conceals an amazingly rich diversity. The Kruger National Park is divided into no fewer than six ecosystems – baobab sandveld, Lebombo knobthorn-marula bushveld, mixed acacia thicket, combretum-silver cluster-leaf, woodland on granite, and riverine forest.
Four regions make it easier for you to select the type of experience you want from your time in the Kruger National Park:-
Encompassing only 30% of the Kruger park’s surface area, the central region supports nearly half the park’s lion population as well as numbers of leopard, hyena and cheetah. Possibly the main reason for this is the quantity of sweet grasses and abundant browsing trees found in this area that support a large group of antelope, giraffe, buffalo, zebra and wildebeest. But this does mean that it’s a popular region amongst tourists, and subsequently, there are a number of camps in this region. It’s understandable though, as the chance of sighting even one of the 60 prides of lion that make the central region their home is a huge drawcard.
This is a rather fascinating part of the Kruger National Park, not least because the ecozones here are noticeably different from other habitats in the Kruger. Sightings of rare birdlife and major areas of sand formed by river flood plains, combined with sandstone formations of the Mozambique coastal plain, make it attractive to visitors. There are also a number of tropical aspects as part of the region lies in a rain shadow and along the banks of the Luvuvhu River is a series of riverine forest. A picnic site on the river bank provides hours of splendid bird viewing.
What you can witness in this part of the Kruger National Park is extraordinary – the knocking sand frog, a collection of bats, the nocturnal bush pig and the rare Sharpe’s grysbok. There are samango monkeys, packs of endangered wild dog, and the major water pans across the Wambiya sandveld are a good place to sight tropical warm-water fish, such as the rainbow killifish, not found anywhere else in South Africa. The sandstone hills, just west of Punda Maria, is the only place where you can see the Natal red hare and dassie or yellow-spotted hyrax. What makes a visit to this remote part of the Kruger park so meaningful is the solitude.
North of the Orange River is a semi-arid region covering 7 000 square kilometres that sees very little rain. The vegetation here changes very little from the unvarying shrub mopane, which thrives in hot, low-lying valleys. However, across this great expanse of hot dryness, five rivers forge their way, providing narrow corridors along whose banks grow trees distinctly different from the mopane – the nyala, the sycamore fig, the tamboti and the tall apple leaf. The Letaba and Olifants rivers contain as much as 60% of the Kruger park’s hippo population, and bird life here abounds. There are plenty of bush pig in the undergrowth of the Luvuvhu River and on most of the river banks, you can hope to see sizeable herds of elephant (the Kruger National park’s latest estimate is as many as 9000 of these beautiful beasts), buffalo, bushbuck, impala and kudu concentrated near a water supply.
Bounded by the Crocodile River in the south and the Sabie River in the north, the southern region is also host to the jagged ridge of the Lebombo Mountains along the border with Mozambique, and the highest point in the park, Khandzalive, in the southwestern corner – almost in counterpoint to Pretoriuskop that lies in the west of the southern region of the Kruger National Park.
The valleys are home to trees rarely found in other parts of the Kruger park, such as the Cape chestnut, coral tree and lavender fever-berry; and granite lies beneath most of the region, producing distinctive smoothed koppies at irregular intervals, which are typically surrounded by rock figs and form ideal locations for rock dassies or hyrax, baboon and klipspringer, not to mention the odd leopard.
This is the region where you’re almost sure of seeing a white rhino as most of them occur here, particularly around Pretoriuskop, Mbyamiti River and south of Lower Sabie. On the whole, there is more game purported to exist in the southern part of the park, so if you don’t make it to the northern reaches of the Kruger National Park, you won’t miss out. This part of the Kruger Park is to some extent shrouded in history. Around Pretoriuskop, known for its profusion of trees, is Ship Mountain, its hull-shape the site of an old wagon trail that crosses a stream marking the birthplace of Jock of the Bushveld. The combretum woodlands, also part of this region, attract reasonable herds of kudu, impala, giraffe, buffalo, zebra, white rhino and elephant, and the scarcity of lion in this part of the park, makes way for the cheetah and wild dog.