A South African safari is something that dreams are made of. Head for Kruger National Park, the country’s largest game reserve, and you can see a staggering array of animals
When it comes to safaris, there are myriad destinations to choose from, but my favourite is Kruger National Park in South Africa. In this sprawling game reserve (the country’s biggest) you have the chance to view all of the ‘big five’ (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard), as well as an astounding variety of other fauna and flora.
Through no fault of its own Kruger has fallen out of fashion in recent years, with some travel pundits dismissing the park as too developed, criticizing its sealed roads and the presence of tour buses. The park does have these things, but in many ways it is this accessibility (opposed to the exclusivity of some reserves) that makes a visit here so appealing. This vast natural oasis is also egalitarian when it comes to accommodation, offering everything from simple camps, where you can pitch your own tent or park a caravan, to luxury lodges that cost more than £1,000 a night.
Then, of course, there is Kruger’s colossal size. Covering a whopping 16,624 square kilometres (6,418 square miles) the national park easily accommodates just shy of a million visitors every year. Kruger also boasts one of the most diverse wildlife habitats in the world: 147 mammal species, 500 different types of birds and more than 100 types of reptile call it home. Numerous amphibians, fish and around 2,000 varieties of plant also thrive there.
Although you can drive yourself around Kruger (it has 2,600km of all-weather road), the best way to see the park is to stay at a safari lodge and go on organised game drives, which are usually available in the morning and the afternoon/early evening.
Two of the most thrilling places to stay in Kruger National Park are Camp Shonga and Camp Shawu, located in a private concessions area of the reserve. Both blend seamlessly into the landscape and the former has five luxurious tents overlooking the bushveld. At Camp Shawu the highlight is the pool full of hippopotami, which you can see from its five chalets. These camps also offer game drives and walking safaris (exploring the bush on foot, without the chugging of a diesel motor, is a really special experience), but don’t welcome children under the age of 12.
Ranger-led game drives, like those offered by Shonga and Shawu, are particularly good for first time visitors to the reserve. If you are desperate to tick off the big five, you have a good chance, as Kruger is home to the biggest white rhino population in the world and has a proliferation of elephants (herds tend to stick reasonably close to water). In addition, the central area of the park, with its open savannas, is home to half of the reserve’s buffalo population, and lion prides can be spotted where prey is plentiful. Leopards, which favour dense riverine bush, however, can prove particularly elusive.
Other wildlife highlights in Kruger include gangly giraffes (on average, adults are 5m tall), the prolific impala (incredibly, Kruger National Park is thought to have 10,000 herds of impala, with the average herd comprising 11 beasts), as well as cheetahs, kudus, waterbucks, antelopes and zebras.
If you have always wanted to go on safari, but weren’t sure where to go, head to Kruger National Park. Not only is this extraordinary game reseve bigger than many small countries, it also sustains one of the most diverse mammal populations on the continent. Throw in accommodation to suit all budgets and there really is no competition.