I had not been to the Kruger National Park since I was a child, and my memories from that childhood visit were very sketchy. Willie had been there more recently, but it had also been many years ago. So our visit there in August 2016, felt like we were going there for the first time.
For many people (both South Africans and tourists), Kruger is the ultimate wildlife reserve experience. It is one of the largest game reserves in Africa and is where you can see the so-called Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo) in one area. We can now understand the attraction – it is a stunning place!
So what are the things we loved about Kruger?
The size and scale
Looking at a map of South Africa showing the area covered by the Kruger National Park, and considering the statistics quoted in Wikipedia*, does not convey the vastness of this wilderness area. As we drove from south to north we passed through various vegetation zones including areas of bushveld, thorn thickets, woodlands and savannah. To accommodate this much diversity requires space. [If you are interested in the vegetation types you can see more information and a map here.]
* Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa. It covers an area of 19,485 square kilometres (7,523 sq mi) in the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga in northeastern South Africa, and extends 360 kilometres (220 mi) from north to south and 65 kilometres (40 mi) from east to west. – Wikipedia.
If one drives up one of the koppies on the main north-south road, one sees a 360 degree view of wilderness all the way to the horizon. We saw big herds of elephants be dwarfed by huge trees and be swallowed up by the bush as they moved away from the road.
The Huge Rivers
Everything in Kruger is big and the rivers are no exception. I was blown away at the width of these rivers. In the Southern Cape where we live, rivers are narrower often running through deep gorges. Because of the flatter landscape in Kruger one can see down the rivers for kilometres.
The rivers and river beds are also teeming with animals and birds – either coming down to the water to drink, or in the case of hippo and crocodile living in and along the rivers.
My personal favourite was the Olifants (Elephant) River which you can view from various lookout points along its course. I read somewhere that the Olifants River has one of the highest concentrations of crocodile in Africa. We certainly saw a lot of crocs there!
Of course with these huge rivers, flooding is a series threat. Two major floods have hit this region in the last 16 years – in February 2000 and again in January 2013. In both cases the major rivers in Kruger flooded their banks and swept through several camps. Although damage to buildings has been repaired, one can still see the reminders of these floods today in photographs and flood-level plaques at those camps.
The Impressive Trees
We usually spend our holidays (vacations) in the drier desert regions of Southern Africa, where even the biggest thorn trees do not rival the size of the Kruger trees. Before we visited Kruger, I had heard of how the big elephant population of Kruger did a lot of damage to the vegetation. That is true in some of the bushveld and thicket areas. But the elephants have left a lot of trees standing and they have grown to a majestic size. It is difficult to show this in a photo because there was not always a handy animal close by to provide some scale.
The feeling of being in the “real” Africa
The feeling of being in the “real” Africa is something difficult to describe. It also means different things to different people. For me it is not just the bushveld or the presence of African wild animals, but is also the big blue skies, endless horizons, the heat and the sounds of the bush (a unique combination of bird calls, animal cries and insects buzzing).
The Big Herds & Big Cats
Although it is exciting to see the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) in one area, what I loved about Kruger was the big herds. The herds of elephant, buffalo, giraffe and zebras, amongst other species, are often large. Even hippos and crocodiles congregate in bigger groups than I have seen elsewhere.
And then there is the chance to see the big cats – lion, leopard and cheetah. Although we did have good sighting of these, sometimes they were just too far from the road to get good photographs. The leopards in Kruger are also very elusive – you can read about our quest to find and photograph the Kruger leopards here.
So if you are wondering whether you should visit Kruger, don’t hesitate. You won’t be disappointed.
This post is part of a series of Kruger National Park posts I will be publishing. It is also part of my daily posts for October 2016 – otherwise known as The October Dash