Where the Wild Things Are: Our First Safari in Kruger Park

We just returned from a phenomenal long weekend in Kruger Park, South Africa and I don’t want to waste any time in sharing our photos from this unforgettable experience. Even before we arrived in Mozambique, we had heard so many amazing things about this park. So, a couple of weeks ago, we decided to take advantage of the long Veteran’s Day weekend and planned a short getaway to experience our first safari!

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Read on and scroll down for pictures!

What We Saw: Four of the “Big Five” and More!

We managed to see four of the so-called “Big Five”, which include lion, elephant, rhinoceros, African buffalo, and leopard. The leopard was the only one we weren’t able to spot (yes, horrible pun intended!).

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The elephants were quite abundant on our drives, and we saw several calves, too. We learned to give the elephants, especially the mothers, ample room to roam; otherwise they start to flap their ears as a warning that you are to close for comfort. We had several sightings of the buffalo, which are comically ugly.

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Unfortunately, there has been a rise in rhino poaching in Kruger, so the Park has launched a conservation campaign to protect the rhinos. We were lucky enough to spot a few in the distance; then, on our last day, there were two grazing right by the road, which allowed for us to stare in amazement and snap a few photographs. They are known to be particularly shy, but these two seemed quite friendly.

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Finally, just as we were driving out of the Park on our last day, we came across a pride of lions (my husband counted 11 total, including cubs). We learned that they had killed a buffalo the night before and were nearly finished feasting on their prey by the time we drove by in the early afternoon. With full bellies, the adult lions lounged in the shade of a large tree, while the cubs gnawed on the carcass. All clichés aside, it truly was the perfect way to end the safari.

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While seeing these big game animals in the wild was truly breath-taking, we were also amazed to discover giraffes, hippopotamuses (and adorable, tiny calves!), kudus, zebras, waterbucks, wildebeests, bucks, impalas, warthogs, baboons, vervet monkeys, tortoises, guineafowl, and more birds than I could ever count or identify.

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Our Route

Given our limited time, we decided to stick to the southern region of the Park. We drove the entire trip ourselves (children under 12 are not allowed in safari vehicles), but it worked out well because we could go at our own pace.

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On our first day, we entered at Crocodile Bridge and drove along the H4-2, H5 and S114 up to the largest main camp in the park, Skukuza, where we spent the night in huts. The next day, we traveled west along the S1 and then dropped down on the S3 to Pretoriuskop main camp, where we stayed the second night. On our third and final day, we drove east along the H2, the H3 and took the S118 to the S25 which led us all the way back to Crocodile Bridge.

What To Bring

If you are reading this and are considering your first trip to Kruger Park, too, here are a few tips on what to bring along.

  • A good camera, zoom lens and back-up memory cards, batteries, etc. You will DEFINITELY want to take lots and lots of pictures.
  • A reliable set of binoculars for spotting animals far off in the distance or getting a close-up view of something.
  • Layers of clothing for hot, cold and wet weather. Depending on the season, the weather and temperatures can vary a lot, even during a weekend. During the days it can be quite hot and dry, but cool off significantly at night. Right now is spring time and we are entering the rainy season, so I definitely made use of my rain jacket and fleece. If you plan on doing tours in the safari vehicles, you are exposed to all the elements, so be prepared for all extremes (sunglasses, ponchos, hats, long pants, fleece, tank tops, etc.). One pair of sandals (I brought my trusty Chaco’s) and one pair of tennis shoes or hiking shoes is all you need in terms of footwear. It is recommended that you avoid bright colors and prints, which might startle the animals, and black or dark blue, which attracts the biting Tsetse flies.
  • Snacks and water. The camps are quite far apart, so it is good to bring along stuff to munch on in the car. Instant coffee and thermos mugs are a must for the early morning tours, too.
  • Bug spray, sunscreen, and a First Aid kit. Kruger is in a malaria zone, so be sure to wear bug spray at all times and take your anti-malarial drugs.
  • A Park Map and Guide, which you can purchase in shops at any main gate. These booklets have a ton of tips for spotting game, suggestions for drives, and detailed maps. Particularly useful if you are self-driving.

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Where To Stay

As I mentioned above, we ended up staying inside the Park at the main camps. You can either camp or stay in small, basic huts that come in different sizes, depending on your needs. Some are equipped with bathrooms and small kitchens; with others, you use communal facilities. Prices vary according to amenities, but it is all very affordable. Staying in the Park definitely has its perks; many safari tours run from the main camps and you feel like you are still “in the thick of it all” since the wildlife still surrounds you–large electric fences keep the animals from getting *too* close though! Skukuza has a really nice restaurant on-site that overlooks a river; otherwise I would plan on packing food to grill at your hut since the other food options leave a lot to be desired. The main camps also have a store with food and supplies (such as wood for the grills). On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more upscale experience, there are lodges both inside and outside the Park gates. We might check one of these out for future visits.

Speaking of visits, who wants to come visit and go on the next safari with us? 🙂

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