Kruger is South Africa’s showpiece national park, and truly one of Africa’s great game reserves. Nearly two million hectares of savanna mixed bushveld stretching along more than 500 km of South Africa’s north-eastern border, Kruger incorporates sixteen distinct ecozones, with diverse habitats including knobthorn-marula savanna, mopane woodland, granite hills, and lush riverine vegetation. The park is transected by seven major rivers, ensuring year-round water supply for its vast array of wildlife, including 147 species of mammal, 507 species of bird, 49 fish, 34 amphibians and 114 reptiles, including 58 different lizards, 50 snakes, five tortoises and terrapins and the mighty Nile crocodile.
The statistics are impressive, but what sets Kruger apart from most other African game parks is its accessibility. Excellent infrastructure and affordable accommodation make this a park for the people. If you’ve got the money you can enjoy five star pampering in Kruger at some of the world’s most luxurious private game lodges, but if you’re travelling on a budget there is a wide range of options, including well-maintained campsites, self-catering chalets and safari tents, which won’t break the bank.
Kruger has an extensive network of tarred and gravel roads which the self-drive tourist can explore, and you don’t even need a 4x4. It’s easy to navigate with one of the excellent maps available in the park and fuel is available at all main camps.
Rest camps all have electricity and even the simplest accommodation units come supplied with bedding, towels, soap and a fridge, not to mention the ubiquitous braai, South Africa‘s version of the barbeque. Larger camps have well-stocked shops, restaurants, take-aways and swimming pools. You’ll even find internet facilities at some camps.
Self-drive game drives remain the principal attraction for the independent traveller, but these days there are a host of other activities to choose from, including guided day and night drives, guided bush walks, bush braais and breakfasts, wilderness trails, and mountain biking.
Over the past few years South African National Parks (SANParks) has been busy upgrading much of the infrastructure to meet the more sophisticated demands of the modern tourist. Rest camp accommodation is being upgraded to three and four star standard, shops and restaurants refitted, and there’s now a very efficient online booking service. The days when Kruger was funded by the state and some managers appeared to regard tourists as a necessary evil have long gone. Today Kruger depends on income from visitors to be self-sustaining, and management is much more customer-friendly.
There’s also been a long overdue shift towards involving the neighbouring communities in the running of the park, through initiatives such as the Makuleke concession in the far north of the park, run as a conservation-community partnership. Local people, once forcibly removed from the land to make way for conservation, are finally starting to see some economic benefits from Kruger.
The downside of Kruger’s accessibility and infrastructure is that the park can at times feel over-commercialised and busy. Visit the south of the park at the height of the South African school holidays and you certainly won’t get the wilderness experience. But outside school holidays you don’t have to explore far down the back roads to get away from the crowds and find wonderful wildlife encounters all of your own.