In Search of Wildlife in Kruger National Park

The Kruger National Park in northeastern South Africa is one of the largest game reserves on earth. Over a million visitors tour the almost 20,000 square kilometers each year, in search of the Big Five. We spent two days exploring the southernmost part of the park by car, while also joining a night game drive to get the most out of our first wildlife exploration trip.

From the countries’ capital, Johannesburg, getting to the Kruger National Park takes a tiring 5-hour drive. If you have a little more to spent, you can fly in to Nelspruit instead, cutting the drive to only 90 minutes. Accommodation is available inside the Kruger National Park itself, but expect to pay a premium. We stayed in nearby Marloth Park instead, part of the Lionspruit Game Reserve, and every morning we would drive 15 minutes to the Crocodile Bridge Gate into Kruger.

After paying the 304 Rand (24$) daily entrance fee, you are free to drive around the park in search of wildlife. Apart from rest camps, you are not allowed to leave the car, which can make for long and tiring drives, however, it is all worth it. After only a few minutes in the park, we ran into a giraffe roadblock.

• Giraffes on the road.

We found the area between the rest camps of Crocodile Bridge and Lower Sabie (about an hour north) to have a lot of wildlife. On our first day, we saw countless giraffes, and numerous elephants just a stone’s throw away from the road. We were lucky to see one elephant shake a tree in order to get to the leaves.

• Elephant shaking a tree.

The road network inside the park consist of a handful paved roads, complemented by numerous dirt roads. The best wildlife, we found, can be seen when traversing the dirt roads, as they’re typically less busy, allowing the animals to come out. If you drive slow enough, you can also spot small little creatures, like lizards.

• Lizard looking out from the tree.

There is an abundance of small game in the park, like bucks, impalas, or zebras. On the quiet dirt roads, it is very likely you will find these on or just on the side of the road. Most of these animals live in groups, so it is very likely that once you spot one, there are more animals nearby.

• Zebra.

Our first day ended without seeing any cats; cheetahs, leopards, and lions are typically only active at night and early morning. Therefore, we decided to go on a night game drive, in the hope of seeing one of these mighty animals. For 393 Rand (30$), we joined a 12-seater jeep, and off we went. It was around sunset, and we stopped on a bridge to witness a group of hippos hidden in the water.

• Hippos.

We drove to the southeastern part, near the S-28 dirt road, as this area is known to house lions. We were allowed off the vehicle for a few minutes, to enjoy the sunset in Kruger National Park. We noticed a group of large birds nested in the tree tops, before continuing on into the darkness, as sun had now set.

• Birds nested in the tree top.

After our guide and driver explained how to use the spotlight to find animals in the dark, we set out for a three-hour drive in the dark. It turned out to be quite hard to spot any animals, but we managed to get close to a group of elephants, and had a giraffe follow our jeep for a good 15 minutes. Then, suddenly, we spotted a hyena sitting next to the road.

• Hyena.

Unfortunately, during the night game drive we didn’t spot any cats. The next morning, we set out early to catch a glimpse of a cheetah, leopard, or lion returning to their hideouts. We decided to travel east from the Crocodile Gate, towards the rest camp of Skukuza. On the way, we were greeted by a group of warthogs.

• Warthogs.

As the morning progressed, we were able to spot more elephants, giraffes, and buffalos. We found a large group grazing around the roads near Skukuza. Normally, buffalos are quite shy, and far away from the road, but we were lucky to see a few crossing the road right in front of us.

• Buffalos.

In the afternoon, we arrived back in Lower Sabie rest camp. At the rest camp, apart from accommodation, there is a simple shop, restaurant, and gas station. It is also a good place to do some bird spotting, as many small birds are nearby due to the abundance of food. One of the most common birds is the Cape Glossy Starling, a bright blue bird only found in Southern Africa.

• Cape Starling.

As with the day before, the area between Crocodile Bridge and Lower Sabie was full of wildlife. We spotted many rhinos, some from far, some from as close as 30 feet (10 meters). As with buffalos, rhinos are quite shy, and seeing them from this close is pretty rare.

• Rhinos.

Slightly disappointed for not seeing any cats, we slowly headed towards the Crocodile Gate one last time. On the way, we were greeted once more by a group of elephants appearing out of the tree line, crossing the road, and disappearing in the trees again.

• Group of elephants.

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We, Mark & Herta, are currently backpacking through Europe, and eventually planning to settle in London. Beyond that? The possibilities are endless.

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