A night at Lower Sabie
An overnight stay is woefully too short to begin to scratch the surface of all Kruger has to offer, but if it's all you can manage, you'll still see plenty of wildlife. We'd recommend a night at Lower Sabie rest camp. It's in the easily accessible southern part of the park, has great facilities including a good restaurant and bar with stunning views over the Sabie river, and, most importantly is in prime game viewing country.
The nearest gate is Crocodile Bridge, but if you've time, come in through Malelane gate and take the Crocodile river road east. Although you'll get glimpses of farmland and buildings outside the park, this is a great route for big game attracted by the river. In hot weather elephant herds head down to the water, while lion, leopard and white rhino are regularly seen. If you can get into the park early, you've also a decent chance of meeting wild dog on the road.
As you approach the Crocodile Bridge area the vegetation opens out into grassland, with good numbers of zebra and wildebeest. Turn north onto the tarred H4 and follow this to Lower Sabie. White rhino and elephant are almost guaranteed along this road, even in the middle of the day. Before checking in at Lower Sabie, check out Sunset Dam, a few metres further up the road. Allow at least two to three hours from Malelane gate to Lower Sabie, more if possible. If you're not arriving at Kruger until late afternoon, you can enter the park at Crocodile Bridge, from where you can reach Lower Sabie in under an hour.
For a short evening game drive you can do a lot worse than parking up at Sunset dam, and watching the performance unfold. Anything and everything pitches up here at some point, including the local male leopard, thirsty elephant bulls, ever-present waterbuck and impala herds, and occasional guest appearances from lions, hyaena and wild dogs. Hippo swim very close to the parked vehicles, and huge crocodiles haul out on the sandbanks. A multitude of bird species that you might see include marabou, black, yellow-billed, open-billed and saddle billed storks, African spoonbill, herons, including the aptly named goliath heron, jacanas and assorted waders. Pied and giant kingfishers hover over the surface, occasionally diving for fish, and the beautiful malachite kingfisher hunts from overhanging reed. African fish eagles also fish the dam, and often perch on the large dead tree which is host to a massive weaver nest. As dusk approaches, the local baboon troop invariably spends time hanging out around the viewing area, grooming, fighting, mating, and jumping on vehicles.
If you want to venture further, then carry on a few kilometres up the H4 northwards, parallel to the Sabie river. The dense riverine forest areas are very good for leopard, often seen crossing the road late in the afternoon, or stretched out on a giant fig tree branch. Take a loop around the N'watitimhiri causeway road before heading back towards camp.
In the morning you can drive slowly down the H4 to the Crocodile Bridge exit if you need to leave Kruger early, or take the H4 then the Crocodile river road back to Malelane gate if you have more time. Either way you're sure to see some exciting sightings, with a high probability of lion on the road in the early morning, wild dog a strong possibility, and elephant and rhino almost bankers.
If you've got more time available, you could first head north along the H4 to Nkhulu picnic site, before retracing your steps. This section of tarred road is one of the busiest in Kruger, but with good reason, as it produces prolific and high quality sightings of big game. Early in the morning you may well see hippos grazing on the slope between the road and the river, often only metres from your vehicle. Watch out for their distinctive four-toed footprints crossing the road. Nkhulu is at the centre of a leopard hotspot, while cheetah are seen surprisingly often in what doesn't appear to be an obvious habitat for them. You will also pass large baboon troops and smaller groups of vervet monkeys, both totally habituated to passing traffic. As you head back towards Lower Sabie later in the morning watch out for maternal herds of elephant crossing the road, en route to the river.
An alternative to the tarred road from Lower Sabie down to Crocodile Bridge is to take the gravel S28, further east. This runs through extensive grassland plains and is good for rhino, elephant bulls, and sometimes cheetah, though if the grass is long you'll need to meet them in the road to see them.
With more time, there are plenty of intriguing back roads to explore in the Lower Sabie area, just follow your nose and you're bound to find something interesting.