*This post is not my usual format, because, let’s face it, we are all here for pictures of animals. I have little tips sprinkled throughout the post, but if you don’t see something, reach out and ask!
There are basically two ways that you can get to Kruger National Park from within South Africa. You can fly, however, but the country is gorgeous if you drive up from Johannesburg. Once you are out of the city, the multiplicity of the South African landscape really opens up. For me, the real highlight was getting to see the Motlatse Canyon (or, Blyde River Canyon) and the Limpopo*!
If you decided to drive, head towards the eastern escarpment of the Drakensberg Mountains. You will pass through Pilgrim’s Rest, a rebuilt gold town, with a history that is worth a stop for lunch if you aren’t on a set schedule. From there you will need to drive off the highway about 20 minutes to reach the Motlatse/Blyde. The canyon is one of the largest in the world and is over 1,300 feet deep. Here you can see several important landmarks that were part of one of my favorite childhood movies, The Gods Must Be Crazy. One is the massive flat rock, nicknamed God’s Widow, the other is The Three Rondavels (which are a traditional African dwelling). My favorite story about the Three Rondavels is that they have generated the nickname of the King and His Three Most Troublesome Wives.
*Elefant’s Child, Anyone? (Also, can we find something else to teach to children about the Limpopo? Maybe less like colonialist?)
About Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park really is a gem, and home to the Big Five (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinoceros, and buffalo). The park itself is fairly massive, clocking in at roughly the size of Isreal. Beyond the birds, bugs, mammals, and lizards, it also features amazing biodiversity, particularly in scrub brush. Finally, it holds a special place in premodern history. There are hundreds of archeological sites dedicated to learning more about the early peoples who traversed the land, some of which comprise the earliest known humans.
The park was formally established by Jakob Louis van Wyk in the mid-1890s, and named after Paul Kruger, an important Afrikaner military figure at the time. However, before that, the Tsonga people had been living in the park region for about 800 years. Primarily a pastoral group, the Tsonga have an interesting history, marked by many different migrations that have lead to different pockets of the group being spread out across Zimbabwe and Mozambique in addition to South Africa.
Where To Stay
Do your research because there are plenty of scammy websites out there. Either go through a travel agent or select a well-reviewed lodge/company for yourself on your travel booking site of choice. We stayed at Greenfire Lodge and loved it, so there is at least one reputable place you have a recommendation for. That said, there are plenty of great budget safaris available too, so if you are looking for something a little on the scaled-back end, there are lots of those as well.
Please don’t off road. It sounds super romantic. I know, I love off-roading! I grew up with a jeep wrangler for a reason! But, what it actually means on Safari is that there is a chance the driver could run over animal dens and nests, killing the very wildlife you are there to see. You will catch plenty of animal sightings from the road, I promise. The scrub brush is dense, and when guides are moving quickly to try and catch an animal it is easy to hit other animals in pursuit. So please, select a camp that doesn’t off road, and save yourself and the wildlife the trauma. End rant.
Pro Tips for Packing:
- Sunscreen and bug spray. You will want to check and see if your jeep is covered, or not. If it isn’t, make sure you bring a hat, long sleeves, the whole 9-yards.
- Ear plugs for sleeping if you are noise sensitive. The animals communicate too, and depending on the campground you choose, you will hear them.
- Animal book. I forgot mine, and the lodge had one, but it still made me sad.
- Attire for dinner. Safari is oddly “civilized.” For example, many companies stop for a cocktail at sunset (it’s great!). Check your lodge to see if dressing for dinner is the done thing, or if you can roll in sweaty and dusty (which was fine where we stayed).