African Wildlife Safari: Enjoy the Finest at Kruger National Park

by Andrew Muigai

South Africa’s oldest and most popular national park, Kruger National park, provides arguably the best African wildlife safari experience. As an attestation to this fact, about one million visitors tour this park every year. The national park started as Sabi Game Reserve way back in 1898, to check the destruction of wildlife due to over-hunting. The park was later named after Paul Kruger who was the president of the Transvaal Republic at that time.

Kruger stretches from the Crocodile River in the south, to the Limpopo River in the north and runs for 350 km along the Mozambique-South Africa border. The park is fed by six rivers and has a wide variety of ecosystems; it carries 16 vegetation zones. Kruger is generally flat with an average height of 269 metres above sea level.

The lush and wooded Mpumalanga region in the south of of this 20,000 sq km reserve is the most popular with visitors. Five gates give you access to this area: Crocodile Bridge, Phabeni, Paul Kruger, Numbi, and Malelane. For the more adventurous travelers, the arid northern and central sections in the Limpopo region are ideal destinations. An air of mystery is associated with this region, and as a result has fewer visitors. The Orpen and Phalaborwa gates are its main access points.

The great wildlife diversity is what makes Kruger the most celebrated national park in South Africa. The hundreds of species found here include 114 reptiles, 147 mammals, 49 fish, 507 birds, and 336 tree species. Kruger is without doubt the best place to view the African big five ” Lion, Leopard, Rhino, Elephant, and Buffalo.

Other animals to see include cheetah, zebra, giraffe, baboon, hippo, impala, and warthog. The prolific mix of animals, including the presence of complete food chains, attracts scientists researching animal interaction.

Kruger has an extensive road network connecting the nine access gates in the national park. Pafuri gate in the north for example is a 414 km drive away from Malelane gate in the south. Within the national park, one activity you must engage in is a game drive. You can take a ranger guide to enhance your game watching experience, or you can also navigate yourself. Night game drives in Kruger give you the opportunity to observe nocturnal wildlife like Leopards, owls, bushbabies, nightjars, and hyenas.

Many people touring Kruger prefer going for self-drive wildlife safaris on defined regular trails, but you may opt for ranger guided walking safaris if you are more adventurous. There are seven trails in the Kruger wilderness available for walking safaris, giving you the chance to watch wildlife up close as you also enjoy nature’s aroma. You can enjoy a three nights stay in a wilderness camp while on the walking expeditions, though, due to its popularity, early booking is advisable.

You can get to Kruger by the several daily flights from Johannesburg, Durban or Cape town. Phalaborwa Airport, Kruger/Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA), and Hoedspruit Airport are the main airports where scheduled flights to Kruger national park land. Another alternative would be to take a rental car or charter plane from Kruger Mpumalanga Airport, East Gate Airport, or Kruger park gateway airport. Within the national park, accommodation facilities range from luxury lodges to self catering and camping sites, meeting the needs of travelers’ different budgets and tastes.