Planning a Kruger Safari

Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa and a major tourist attraction in South Africa. Spanning an area of just under 20 000 square kilometres (7 500 sq/miles), the Kruger Park is 350 kilometres long and 60 kilometres wide. The Park is wedged between the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga in the north-eastern region of South Africa, with Mozambique on its eastern border and Zimbabwe on its northern border. It was first proclaimed a protected “no hunting” reserve in 1898 by the then President of the Transvaal Republic, Paul Kruger. Today it is one of South Africa’s most popular tourist destinations and world-famous for its conservation and educational initiatives. So where do you start if you’re planning a Kruger safari? We’ve put together a comprehensive guide that covers everything from places to stay in the Kruger to best game viewing spots. If you are overwhelmed by choice, Moafrika Tours has the knowledge and expertise to guarantee your Kruger safari will be a trip to remember forever.


If you are travelling from White River or Hazyview in Mpumalanga, the best entrance into the Kruger National Park for a 1-day Kruger safari is Numbi Gate. Once you have paid your entrance fee, you have two choices; take the direct route via Voortrekker Road (H2-2) to Pretoriouskop Rest Camp or the longer route via Napi Road (H1-1) to the Skukuza Malelane road. Stop off for lunch at the Afsaal picnic site before making your way home via Malelane Gate. The south-west corner of Kruger National Park is characterised by Pretoriouskop sourveld with large, bare granite domes and leafy woodlands and grasslands favoured more by browsers than grazers; Malelane mountain bushveld with tall granite koppies (small hills) with mixed knobthorn sweetveld; and mixed woodland and thorn thickets found in the catchment areas along the Crocodile and Sabie Rivers. This is an excellent game viewing region because of its close proximity to water.

Voortrekker Road (H2-2) to Pretoriouskop Rest Camp

Voortrekker Road is rich in history as it was the main route for João Albasini’s caravans that transported thousands of kilograms of goods from the coast of Mozambique to the Lowveld trading posts, and returned to the shipping port laden with huge piles of valuable ivory. This journey reportedly took 24 days to travel between Lourenzo Marques (now Maputo) and Pretoriouskop. The caravan expedition usually included 150 Shangaans, 70 porters and 15 or more hunters who shot game for the posse. The road was named in honour of Carolus Trichardt, son of the Voortrekker Louis Trichardt, who was commissioned by the then Transvaal government to open up a regular route between the northern interior and Delagoa Bay. Voortrekker Road was improved over time and was used extensively to transport supplies to Lydenburg and Mac Mac during the gold rush era.

The massive granite boulder that is a distinctive landmark close to Pretoriouskop Rest Camp was known as Ship Mountain to the transport riders. It is rumoured that a stash of 19th-century gold coins is buried at the foot of the granite outcrop, belonging to Chief Matafini, a former Swazi military commander who took refuge there after he fell out with King Mbandeni in the 1880s. He allegedly buried his life’s fortune to avoid paying taxes to the Transvaal government but he was murdered by bandits and his treasure has never been found. Ship Mountain, or Shabeni Hill as it is known today, is covered in lichen and is a remnant of a geological upheaval that occurred some 3 500 million years ago during a time when the gabbro and basalts of eastern Kruger spilt out over the Lowveld floor when an ancient volcano erupted. A little terrier named Jock was born close to Ship Mountain. He was the beloved dog of Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, a former transport rider, who immortalised the story of his pet in his famous book, Jock of the Bushveld. The south-west corner of Kruger Park is a good area to spot rhino. They are attracted to the vegetation around the base of Ship Mountain known as sweetveld (sweet field).

The first white rhino reintroduced to Park in the 1960s were taken to a boma close to what was known as Ship Mountain. Their numbers had declined dramatically from unchecked hunting in the late 1800s. Voortrekker Road crosses the Mitomeni Spruit – the place of the jackal-berry trees. This was a popular outspan area for transport riders and you can still see the bullet holes in the leadwood trees that the riders used for target practice. The small, fleshy berries found on the trees in the area were used to make beer, and traditional healers used the bark of the jackal-berry tree to make smoke that cured a cough.

Voortrekker Road to Afsaal picnic site

Halfway between Ship Mountain and the Afsaal picnic site is Josekhulu Drift, named after Albasini’s induna (headman) – a large Zulu man known as “Big Josef”. Close to Josekhulu Drift is the site of a trading store set up by Thomas Hart during the 1870s to sell supplies to the transporters. To stave off loneliness in such a remote part of the country, Hart kept an array of unusual pets including a cheetah, honey badgers, jackals, parrots, monkeys and snakes. He was murdered by bandits in 1876 and buried next to the road by sympathetic Swazi warriors.

Napi Road to the Skukuza Malelane road (H1-1)

Napi Road drops down from the granite outcrops of the Pretoriouskop region into rolling plains of mixed bushwillow woodlands south of Skukuza. The bush in this area is quite thick which is not ideal for game viewing but it is an area where you are more likely to see rarer antelope such as sable and eland. This route takes you along the crest of the watershed that divides the two major catchment areas of southern Kruger, the Sabie and Crocodile Rivers. Your first stop is the Shitlhave water hole where you are guaranteed to see a resident pod of hippo and waterbuck grazing in the tall grass. You may also see southern reedbuck. Your drive continues past Mlaleni Hill to a popular outlook point at Transport Dam. This area marks the start of the sweetveld (sweet field) region which attracts grazers like zebra, buffalo and elephant. The small granite koppies (hills) around Transport Dam are home to small groups of klipspringer (rock hoppers), small antelope that have the uncanny ability to skip up and down the steep rock face. From Transport Dam, you have the choice of the more direct tar road to Skukuza or the N’waswitshaka dirt road (S65). The dirt road takes you off the busy main road and it’s a good place to look for cheetah.

Afsaal picnic site to Malelane Gate on the tar road (H3)

The tar road from Afsaal picnic site to the Malelane Gate crosses the Matjulu River and passes a historic landmark, Tlhalabye Hill. This road is popular for tourists looking for raptors and rhinos. Another option is to take the dust road via Biyamiti Wier and Renosterkoppies. Both routes have interesting loop roads and the rolling woodland region is popular among birders. White rhino are often spotted in the woodlands along the road. Where to have lunch on a 1-day Kruger safari

Pretoriouskop Rest Camp

This peaceful rest camp is one of the oldest establishments in the Kruger Park. It was opened in 1928 at a time when early tourists were first allowed into the park for day visits. The British royal family stayed at Pretoriouskop in 1947 during their tour of South Africa. This popular rest camp is set in mixed terminalia and kiaat woodlands that attract browsers such as kudu and sable antelope. It was a popular outpost for transport riders on their way to Delagoa Bay because it was situated high above the malaria- and tsetse fly-ridden Lowveld. The transport riders used it as a base to prepare for the brutal journey across the plains to Komatipoort and on to the coastal port in Mozambique. Accommodation at Pretoriouskop Rest Camp offers everything from budget-friendly campsites for tents and caravans and self-catering bungalows to family cottages and luxury guest houses. A recent addition is a luxury tented campsite that is situated on the fence overlooking the surrounding leafy woodlands. There is a fully-stocked convenience store at Pretoriouskop Rest Camp and the Wimpy restaurant offers tourists simple, affordable meals. There is also a fuel station on the property. Pretoriouskop Rest Camp boasts a spectacular swimming pool that was built up against a flat granite boulder. The large pool is hugely popular with families with young children and gets busy during the holiday breaks. The mini forest that surrounds the pool area is excellent for bird watching. On a walk around the rest camp, look out for the bright bougainvillaea shrubs and red Flamboyant trees that were originally planted by the first ranger in the Park, Harry Wolhuter. He used the camp as his base in the late 1920s and would hold staff meetings under an old Natal mahogany tree that still stands proudly today in the rest camp. These are the only non-indigenous plants that have been left to grow freely in the park as they are a nostalgic tribute to a man that did so much for Kruger National Park. View the Serengeti National Park

Skukuza Rest Camp

This well-known rest camp is known as the “administration capital” of Kruger National Park and an excellent place for first-time visitors to visit who are interested in the history of the Park. Skukuza is the biggest and busiest of the main rest camps with a good restaurant overlooking the river, a fast-food outlet and a massive shop where you can buy everything from impala biltong to curios and bush gear. The Stevenson-Hamilton Memorial Library is located in Skukuza and houses a wealth of memorabilia used by the early rangers, as well as stone tools from the San people. There is even a small memorial site for the much-loved pets of the old park rangers. The rest camp was established at what was known as Sabi Crossing where there was a pontoon in operation to cross the dangerous river.

The first Kruger Park ranger, Paul Bester, was stationed there in 1898 and built the first rondavel (round hut) as his home base. These rondavels have become a distinctive feature of the main rest camps in Kruger National Park. During the Anglo-Boer War, Sabi Crossing was occupied by Steinacker’s Horse, a regiment of the British Forces. The rest camp was later named Skukuza when James Stevenson-Hamilton moved there and set up his headquarters. Stevenson-Hamilton was the first official Kruger Park Ranger and his historical notes of what transpired in those early pioneering days of conservation are housed in the museum named in his honour.

The Shangaan gave Stevenson-Hamilton the nickname Skukuza, meaning “he who turns everything upside down”. However, the name is a bitter reference to the fact that he was responsible for “driving out” inhabitants who had lived in the newly-proclaimed reserve for many years. Stevenson-Hamilton went on to transform Kruger National Park from an over-hunted, disease-ridden outpost into one of Africa’s best game reserves and conservation landmarks. Skukuza Rest Camp is situated close to the confluence of the Sabie, N’waswitshaka and Sand Rivers. It is an area rich in game but the main attraction is sightings of leopard. The thorn thickets and mixed woodlands around the rest camp aswell as a permanent source of water attract an abundance of game which in turn attracts predators to the area. A popular drive in the Skukuza area is the loop around the Sabie and Sand Rivers (H1-2, H12 and H4-1). There is a fairly good chance you’ll spot lion, hyena and wild dog on this drive.

Other excellent game viewing vantage points include Mathekenyane Koppie on the H1-1 and Shirimantanga Hill on the S112 where Stevenson-Hamilton and his wife Hilda asked for their ashes to be scattered. Shirimantanga Hill is part of a scenic collection of hills collectively known as “Rhino Koppies”. Skukuza Rest Camp boasts excellent facilities for tourists including a resident doctor and pharmacy, car hire and wash, a vehicle repair workshop, photograph development facilities and banking facilities. You can take an amble down the river-front walkway to the Campbell 1929 Hut Museum, which is the oldest hut in the Park. A well-maintained swimming pool is available for day visitors to use and there is a second pool at the camping site. The main staff village is located across the river from Skukuza Rest Camp and boasts the only golfing facility in Kruger Park. It is a 72-par, 9-hole, 18-tee course set amongst beautiful bushveld trees with views over Lake Panic. The course is not fenced in and many golfers have had a game interrupted by curious buck and giraffe wondering onto the fairway. Be on the lookout for dangerous animals.

Afsaal picnic site

This is a great spot to stop off for lunch on a 1-day Kruger safari. The well-maintained picnic site is hugely popular with day visitors with a well-stocked shop, a fast-food outlet or braai facilities to choose from when the family gets hungry. The picnic site is surrounded by thick clusters of red ivory and enormous jackal-berry trees. An ancient termite mound near Afsaal is home to a tame colony of dwarf mongooses. The site was originally used by the old transport riders as half-way camp enroute to Delagoa Bay and was popular as a hunting ground to replenish dwindling food provisions. The sweet grazing in the area attracted a variety of antelope all year round. The surrounding area around Afsaal sits on a great horn of gabbro which provides nutritious grazing for animals such as zebra, wildebeest and impala. The abundance of grazers in the sweetveld plains attracts predators such as hyena and wild dog to the area. Also be on the lookout for unusual sightings of the Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, the southern reedbuck and caracal. Afsaal is also well-known for sightings of lions that can be seen standing on the flatter boulders of the Makhoutwanini Koppies just north of the picnic site or resting in the shady, long grass beneath the trees in the leafy woodland areas.

The Biyamiti Basin lies beyond Afsaal. This wooden riverine is situated in the flood plains near Jock’s Camp and comes to life during the rainy season in summer. Gaggling parties of hornbills are a common sight in the mixed bushwillow woodlands. The Biyamiti valley is also well-known for its rock art sites that are found in ancient hunting camps that were occupied for many years by the San, the last Stone-age people. These small nomadic groups followed the migrating animal herds and their traditional ways remained virtually unchanged for over 10 000 years until the arrival of the Bantu tribes from the north.

Exit at Malelane Gate

Your 1-day Kruger safari ends as you exit the Park at Malelane Gate. However, your journey is not over yet and you have the lush, fertile valley of Malelane and the magnificent Komati Gorge to look forward to on your drive back to Nelspruit. Malelane is a charming valley situated on the N4 national highway about halfway between the capital city of Mpumalanga, Nelspruit, and the capital city of Mozambique, Maputo. It is also the gateway to Swaziland. The region is home to established farms that produce the country’s supply of sugarcane, subtropical fruit and nuts and winter vegetables. The town of Malelane has also grown in popularity over the years as a destination for gourmet enthusiasts with establishments like Hamiltons Lodge & Restaurant offering visitors a delicious country meals paired with fine wines.


The first day of your 2-day Kruger safari covered the south-west corner of the Kruger National Park. If you stopped at Skukuza for lunch and spent time learning about the history of the Park, we recommend you spend your first night at Lower Sabie Rest Camp in the south-east (travel from Skukuza on the H4-1 tar road). This is a very popular rest camp so you will need to book your accommodation at Lower Sabie well in advance. Lower Sabie Rest Camp is perfectly positioned overlooking the Sabie River, with views of the Lebombo Mountains in the distance. The modern restaurant has a stunning deck that is ideal for game viewing or just taking in the scenic beauty of the area. The endless procession of animals coming to drink at the Sabie River is a delight for both young and older visitors.

This popular rest camp has recently been refurbished and now offers luxury facilities and accommodation of a world-class standard. Luxury safari tents are a new addition, offering overseas tourists a real African bush experience. Accommodation ranges from self-catering Kruger huts and bungalows to campsites for tents and caravans. Day visitors have access to a designated picnic area with a swimming pool and braai (barbeque) facilities. There are also picnic spots at Nkuhlu, Mlondozi Dam and Tshokwane. A well-stocked shop, an internet café and filling station are a few of the facilities available at Lower Sabie Rest Camp. The camp also offers guided bush walks and game viewing on an open vehicle for visitors booked into the rest camp but you need to book in advance.

Explore the south-east routes

Up at crack of dawn, you’ll want to get an early start to explore the south-east corner of Kruger National Park. Today you can look forward to sightings of cheetah, wild dog, elephant and rhino. Your first stop for early morning coffee and rusks is Sunset Dam off the H4-1. This is an excellent waterhole for photography enthusiasts because you can get close to the water’s edge and catch the first rays of a glorious morning. For better game viewing, you can make your way to Duke’s waterhole (S137) where visitors often see territorial cheetah and wild dog. Duke’s Water Hole was named after the legendary Tom Duke, the head ranger at Lower Sabie for 20 years. Stevenson-Hamilton said in his memoirs that he often felt Duke was “the only friend he had” when he faced an uphill battle to develop the Park. The water hole is full all year round and attracts prides of lion who hang around its edges waiting for animals to come drink. There is a popular bird hide at Nhlambanyathi (S28) which gives the youngsters in the car a chance to get out and stretch their legs, or you can drive further south to Nhlanganzwane Dam. Both these spots are ideal for early morning visits when the animals and birds are most active. Be on the lookout for white and black rhino, tsessebe and bushbuck and the resident pods of hippo in the dams. Leaving Lower Sabie, you have a choice of a few scenic routes. Although the distance of the different routes are relatively short, allow yourself a good three hours for a leisurely game drive at the strict speed limit to make it to the gate in time to leave the Park.

Lower Sabie to Skukuza route (H4-1)

You may prefer to head back in the direction of Skukuza (H4-1) along a very scenic route that passes through two distinctive eco-zones. The variety of vegetation attracts an interesting mix of grazers and browsers with spectacular sightings of the magnificent Tamboti and Fig trees hugging the river bank. This is leopard country, as the concentration of these magnificent cats is higher in this part of the Park than anywhere else in the southern region. The vegetation blanking the Sabie River has changed since the destructive floods in 2000 uprooted trees and swept away reed beds. The river now follows a slightly different course since the raging river burst its banks. For a leg stretch, snacks and refreshments, there is a picnic spot at Nkuhlu (Swazi name for the Natal Mahogany tree) about halfway between Lower Sabie and Skukuza rest camp.

Lower Sabie to Tshokwane route (H10)

This road leads you north of Lower Sabie over the Sabie River and along a very pretty route that gently winds through Knob Thorn, Marula savannah and wide grasslands to Tshokwane (H10). The sweetveld vegetation in this area attracts large herds of antelope, zebra, buffalo and wildebeest which in turn attract the predators. The eastern grasslands north of the Sabie River are home to the highest concentration of giraffe. A popular spot to break the drive is Mlondozi Dam which offers visitors panoramic views over the plains and the Lebombo Mountains. Muntche Hill is an interesting stop-off as you can see a distinctive change in landscape where the flat basalt plains meet the rocky rhyolite hills. There is a 12km circular road (S122) around Muntche Hill where many visitors have reported sightings of cheetah. Another excellent viewing point is Nkumbe, at a point where the road ascends into the Lebombo Mountain range before descending toward Tshokwane. You can look out over the Mlondozi River and try to spot game on the endless savannah plains. Last stop on the H10 route is Orpen Dam where you will find a pleasant thatched shelter positioned close to the edge of the Munywini River, at the base of the Lebombo Mountain. This is an excellent spot for bird watching and of course, sightings of crocodile and pods of hippo.

Berg en Dal Loop (S110)

This is a great drive if you are planning to leave the Park via the Crocodile Bridge or Malelane Gate. It takes you into a region of southern Kruger characterised by majestic granite koppies (small hills) which are some of the oldest rocks in the world. The most impressive is Khandizwe Mountain (839m) which is the highest point in Kruger National Park. This region is known for experiencing the highest rainfall in the Park which in turn means that it boasts incredible biodiversity. The Zulu milkberry, red ivory, white pear and the Cape chestnut trees in the area are spectacular features and attract an array of birds to the region. The quirky Klipspringer and Mountain reedbuck is prolific in these parts and only found in the southern region of Kruger National Park. Leopard sightings are common as they tend to favour the granite hills for their lairs. A waterhole situated under Matjulu Hill is popular for sightings of white rhino, kudu and giraffe. Wild dog and cheetah also favour the densely wooded environment and Berg-en-Dal is the only area where you will find the southern grey Rhebok. For breath-taking views of the western mountain range and the expansive flat savannah plains, stop at a site on the Steilberg Road (S120). The region was inhabited by the San people and is rich in artefacts from the Late Stone Age and Iron Age. Potsherds and bones dating back hundreds of years where found when Berg-en-Dal Rest Camp was built in the early 1980s. There are approximately 100 rock art sites in the south-western corner of the Park which can only be visited with a guide. The 3-day Bushman Trail is your best option to view these magnificent archaeological sites but the trail is so popular, you have to book a year in advance.

Biyamiti (S114), Bume (S26) and Randspruit (H5) Roads

This region is defined by low hills with rough and sandy soil and sweet grass that attracts the browsers. The Bume Road (S26) is more scenic alternative to the Crocodile River Road as the drive meanders along streams and riverbeds which is excellent for game viewing. The abundance of Knob thorn acacias, bushwillow and Marula trees in the area provides excellent nutrition for browsers and you’re guaranteed to see large numbers of giraffe, kudu and duiker. Herds of elephant make their way down to the rivers that are flanked with leadwood, jackal-berry, sycamore figs and sausage trees. Small groupings of black rhino are concentrated in the Nwatimhiri and Gomondwane thickets north of Crocodile Bridge and south of the Sabie River.

This is also an area that you will find Sable antelope, the largest and most spectacular of all antelope in the Kruger National Park. Pick up the Biyamiti Loop (S23) off Bume Road and make your way to Biyamiti Weir. Flocks of European bee-eaters make this region their home in our summer months and birding in general is excellent. Otherwise you can head eastwards along the Randspruit Road (H5) which takes you past the site of Sardelli the Greek’s trading store on the banks of the Vurhami River. The best drive in the southern part of Kruger National Park is the road (S139) that follows the Biyamiti River past Biyamiti Bush Camp. Only visitors who are booked into this small and intimate camp are allowed access to this part of the Park so it’s well worth booking into the camp for a night to experience the privacy and isolation of the area. Exit via Crocodile Bridge Once you have thoroughly explored the Biyamiti Basin, it is time to head home and your nearest exit point is Crocodile Bridge Gate. If you need to fill up your car or your tummies, you can stop off at Crocodile Bridge Camp which is a short drive from the gate. Be on the lookout for white rhino as they favour the mixed woodland vegetation.

The shy black rhino usually stay deep in the thorn thickets. Sightings of lion, spotted hyena, leopard, cheetah and wild dog are also common in this southern-most corner of the Park. The area is dominated by open savannah grassland on basalt which provides sweet, nutritious grazing for common game such as impala. If you find yourself on the Gomondwane Road (H4-2), stop off either the Gezamtombi or Gomondwane waterholes for excellent game viewing. This historical road was the first road built in the Kruger National Park and was laid out by CR de Laporte in the early 1920s in what was then Sabi Game Reserve. It follows the route that Chief Magashula used to travel from his kraal (home) in Phabeni to Delagoa Bay and tracks made by the first traders that made up João Albasini’s entourage. Remnants of the San people who once lived and hunted in the area are found on overhanging sandstone rock near the Hippo Pool (S27). This scenic route out of the Park is known as the ‘Southern Circle’ and boasts high concentrations of hyena, prides of lion and rest of the Big 5. It is rated as one of the best game viewing drives in the Park and can get quite congested. Make sure you allow yourself enough time to explore the area and still make it to the Crocodile Bridge Gate in time.

There are always animals to see as you cross over the Crocodile Bridge on your way out of the Park. If you have a few moments to spare, you can make a quick turn to Gezantfombi Dam which is a short drive away from the bridge. If you time it right, you’re guaranteed to see elephants cooling off in the water. Once out of Kruger National Park, you have a scenic drive to look forward to through the lush, fertile Malelane valley and the magnificent Komati Gorge. Then it is homewards on a dual-carriageway through the capital of Mpumalanga Province, Nelspruit, to Johannesburg.


After a thoroughly enjoyable day exploring the south-west routes, we recommend staying at one of the private satellite camps that are ideally positioned for the next part of your Kruger safari; exploring the central belt of the Park. You have a choice of Talamati Bush Camp, Tamboti Tent Camp or Maroela Private Camp. These private camps book up a year in advance; if you can’t get a booking, the most accessible option is Satara Rest Camp. The camp environment is child-friendly, with ample space within the camp to roam around safely. It has a rustic feel with most of the self-catering bungalows set out in a series of circles. Accommodation in Satara comes standard with an evening choral show which includes chirping fruit bats, screaming cicadas, the gentle calls of owls and nightjars, the whoop of hyena, the screech of jackal and the distant roar of lions. Satara Rest Camp is situated on an open plain surrounded by groves of stunted knobthorn and marula trees aswell as a light mix of wooded thickets.

If you get to the rest camp with some time to spare, you can stop off at Girivana Water Hole which is a short drive from the camp and excellent for game viewing. This area boasts the highest concentration of lion and sightings of hyena are also common. The predators are attracted to the open grasslands that are home to large herds of grazers, such as the common impala (affectionately known as the fast-food of the bush). Keep an eye on the sky for circling vultures as that means there has been a lion kill close to the camp.

Exploring the central region of Kruger National Park

The central belt of Kruger National Park is dominated by sweetveld (grass) that grows on fertile soils layered on shale and volcanic basalt. The delicious vegetation is a gastronomic delight for grazers and browsers and the area is well known for its abundance of impala, kudu, wildebeest, zebra, waterbuck and sable antelope. There are also large concentrations of buffalo and giraffe which in turn bring predators to the area. A belt of granite in the central-west region produces clay soils that are rich in nutrients. Magnificent tree species such as the marula and knobthorn dominate the savanna grasslands. These trees produce delicious fruit and flowering leaves that attract an array of birds, butterflies and browsers such as elephant, kudu and giraffe. Higher concentrations of black rhino are found in the central belt for the same reason.

Most of the land in the central region of the Park originally belonged to the state and had been designated as farming land. These privately- or company-owned farms were expropriated or exchanged for land elsewhere and the negotiated settlement cost the government at the time a fortune. As a result, the uneven western boundary was the result of the government limiting the number of farms it had to purchase. Five seasonal rivers meander across the central region of the Park and game is abundant in seasons with high rainfall. However, the region is also afflicted by extremely dry spells that have, at different times, depleted animal numbers. In the late 1960s, the Park’s board granted permission for a number of man-made dams to be built in the central region which has resulted in game herds concentrating in areas that were only traditionally visited in summer. This is problematic from a conservation point of view but fantastic for visitors on a Kruger safari. The abundance of game in the central region means Satara Rest Camp is an extremely popular tourist destination. It is estimated that there are no fewer than 60 lion prides within a 20 kilometre radius of the camp and on average one lion kill every three days.

Many smaller camps and tented camps have sprung up to capitalise on the popularity of the central basin and these camps provide visitors with a more private and isolated bush experience. Cheetah sightings in the central region are rare as the habitat of southern Kruger is more ideal for them.

The high density of lion in the central region is problematic for cheetahs and has also had a negative impact on the number of endangered wild dog in the area. Lion account for at least one third of wild dog pup deaths and therefore these quirky painted dogs avoid areas with a higher concentration of lions. The spotted hyena holds its own against lion and the breed thrives in the central region of the Park. It is estimated that at least 1 200 spotted hyena reside in the central bowl. As both lion and hyena favour impala as a quick and easy meal, there numbers put a strain on the breeding herds of these common grazers.

Satara Rest Camp to Olifants Rest Camp (H1-4)

This is the route to take if you are heading north in the direction of Olifants Rest Camp or Letaba Rest Camp. The road takes visitors along a flat and monotonous landscape dominated by knobthorn and marula trees. It is not the most scenic route to Olifants Rest Camp but the abundance of animals in the region makes it ideal for game viewing. There are a number of water pans along the road which is great for birders. Follow the N’wanetsi River along the S100 and stop off at the Shibotwana and Nsasane waterholes before coming out on the Gudzani Road (S41). The exclusive N’wanetsi Singita Lebombo Lodge is located in this area, a privately-owned lodge that attracts the rich and famous.

N’wanetsi and Sweni outlook points are a good place to stop if you need to stretch your legs or you could pull into the Sonop and Shishangani waterholes which are excellent for game viewing and early evening sundowners. The Olifants region consists of three ecosystems with savannah grasslands to the south, Mopaneveld to the north and the riverine forest of the Olifants River.

Mountainous thornveld with black rocks and mixed woodland form a barrier between the northern mopaneveld and the southern mixed bushwillow woodlands. The S90 road takes tourists on a Kruger safari that winds through grasslands dominated by knobthorn trees. Large herds of game are found in this area and the road is a lot less congested than the main roads in the southern part of the Park.

Satara Rest Camp to the Timbavati picnic spot (S39)

The road travelling along the Timbavati River is regarded as one of the best routes in the Kruger National Park. It is also the home of the famous White Lion of Kruger. The S39 follows the Timbavati River for almost 50 kilometres, crosses many geographical zones and is rich in biodiversity. Thornveld and mixed woodland melts into Mopaneveld with granite outcrops, gabbro, ecca shale and basalt dominating the region. At Waypoint 482, take the S127 to the Timbavati picnic spot which is located at a point where four roads merge together.

The Piet Grobler Dam is located at Waypoint 487; it’s a large concrete dam built across the Timbavati River. It was named in honour of Piet Grobler, the grand-nephew of Paul Kruger, who played a significant role in establishing the Kruger National Park. If you want to push on, make your way to Ratelpan Bird Hide (S39) and the Goedgegun and Roodewal water holes. The S39 route runs along the Timbavati River and is an incredibly scenic drive with great game viewing.

Birders should be on the lookout for the kori bustard, which is the heaviest flying bird in the world and known for impressive aerial displays performed in the mating season. This is a Riverine and Thornveld area, although large stands of the exotic Lala Palm are found at Ratelpan. The bird hide at Ratelpan is one of eleven in the Park and overlooks the river. A delightful sight is watching a herd of elephant wonder down the bank on the other side for a refreshing drink and swim. Birders will be on the lookout for the Comb duck, Pied and Giant kingfishers and the thick-billed Cuckoo. Photographers flock to Leeubron Water Hole on the S39 as it is regarded as one of the top 10 sites for wildlife photography. Animal numbers in this central region have steadily increased since the fence dividing the western Kruger from the private reserves in the Timbavati was removed.

Satara Rest Camp to Orpen Rest Camp

If you are not heading north for a longer stay, your third day of a Kruger safari will see you explore the middle-western belt of the central region before you head towards Orpen Gate, passing the many private and tented camps in the region. You will leave behind sweetveld that makes up the ecology of the eastern plains for the sourveld of the western part of the central region. The most direct route from Satara Rest Camp to the Orpen Gate is the tarred H7 main road. A short drive from the camp is the gravesite of William Lloyd who was a ranger at Satara in 1920. It’s worth a quick stop, if only to appreciate the hardships rangers and their families endured in those times. In those early days, the Satara ranger’s camp was so remote that it could only be reached on foot or horse back.

Lloyd and his young wife and small children lived in complete isolation. Lloyd succumbed to pneumonia and died, forcing his wife to send a message to Stevenson-Hamilton who immediately travelled to the camp to offer his assistance. By the time he got there, Lloyds’ wife had buried her husband in a shallow grave under a tree close to the house. There are three small camps in the Orpen area but when it’s time to stop for lunch and to fill up your tank, head to Orpen Rest Camp. Maroela Camp and Tamboti Tented Camp offer basic facilities mainly geared for campers. The Orpen area is popular among birders as it is well-known as raptor and vulture territory. The most common sightings are the Cape vultures and Bateleurs. You are also guaranteed of seeing large herds of buffalo on the H7 route through the Orpen area. These massive bovines may look like domestic cattle but they are one of the most dangerous animals in the African bush and part of the Big 5. Large concentrations of wildlife are also found at Nsemani Pan and surrounds which is located a short drive from Satara Rest Camp.

The pan is located on a narrow strip of ecca shale that divides the granite woodlands of the west from the basalt plains in the east. The thornveld is broken by rocky granite outcrops, with the most impressive being Mathikithi Koppie. It’s also probably the best place to see white rhino aswell as an impressive concentration of elephant, giraffe and kudu.

Exit via Orpen Gate

Just before you leave Kruger National Park through Orpen Gate, you have the opportunity to stop and stretch your legs at an outpost situated close to the gate. Rabelais Hut is the site of the original entrance gate to the central region and is located on the old Orpen road to the east of N’wamatsata Drift, approximately 9 kilometres from Orpen Rest Camp. The original hut that served as the reception and guard house has been well preserved. The rest camp and gate was named in honour of the Orpen family, the original owners of the farm. Orpen Gate was relocated to its current position in 1954 when the boundary fence was moved further westward as a result of the expropriation of the farm lands. Rabelais Hut is now used as an information centre and a small living museum. The hut and the nearby waterhole derive their name from the French writer and satirist Francois Rabelais.


With two days left of a 5-day Kruger safari, we recommend you spend your fourth night at Letaba Rest Camp in the north-eastern region of the Park. This rest camp is ideally located to explore an area of the Park that promises spectacular views, prolific birdlife and excellent game viewing. The name Letaba means ‘river of sand’ in Sotho. Letaba Rest Camp is situated on a sweeping bend of the Letaba River, midway between the southern and northern boundaries of the Kruger National Park. Against the drier, sandy landscape the camp stands out like a green oasis.

It is situated in Mopane shrubveld surrounded by mixed grass plains and apple leaf trees. Taller trees like leadwoods, tamboti and nyala are found along the drainage lines and riverine forest. To get to Letaba Rest Camp from the Olifants area, either take the main Olifants-Letaba tar road (H1-5) or the slightly longer Letaba River dust road (S46/S44). The main tar road takes you through relatively flat Mopane shrubveld while the Letaba River Road ambles along the south bank of Engelhard Dam and the winding route alongside the river.

The Olifants River is known as one of the most spectacular stretches of the Park, where rugged veld meets the lush riverine forest. There are often leopard sightings along this road, although the area is appreciated more for its scenic beauty and birdlife than its abundance of animals. Birders will be on the lookout for the rare saddle-billed and black storks that chose the Olifants River as one of their main breeding grounds. When you’ve finally settled into your accommodation at Letaba Rest Camp, keep an eye out for a new species of spider that was first discovered in 2003. The baboon spider has, to date, not been recorded anywhere else in the world except in a patch of Mopane trees near the camp.

Explore the Letaba area

The Letaba basin is known as an archaeologists dream destination as it is believed to be the area the first Bantu-speaking tribe moved to when they travelled from the northern regions of Africa to settle on the Letaba River in about 400 AD. Remnants of early human inhabitants make it an extremely interesting part of the Park to explore if you’re not there just for the wildlife. The northern region of Kruger National Park is dominated by Mopaneveld and alluvial flood plains and has a much lower carrying capacity than the southern region. It is known rather as a rewarding birding destination, with the Shingwedzi flood plains being one of the country’s top summer birding spots. Shingwedzi itself is renowned for its big tuskers as most of the legendary Magnificent Seven made the flood plains their territorial home. Game drives in the Letaba-Shingwedzi-Punda Maria area (H1-7) There are not many roads in the northern region of the Park and the only link from the Letaba area to Punda Maria Rest Camp is the H1-7. This is a spectacular route with a number of loops that take you from the drier mopaneveld through a stunning riverine forest.

Mpholongolo Loop (S56)

This 20-kilometre detour takes about 2 hours and offers visitors on a 5-day Kruger safari spectacular bird and game viewing in an isolated part of the Park. Lion, buffalo, elephant and leopard are common sightings on this route. The area is semi-arid but an ample water supply from the Shingwedzi and Luvuvhu Rivers attracts a decent stock of wildlife. Mopane trees thrive in this sun-baked region, which have the ability to withstand longer periods of dry weather. In areas with poor, shallow soil the trees grow as a multi-stemmed shrub and play an important role in an elephant’s diet. Caterpillars of the emperor moth, known as mopane worms, feed on the leaves and are a delicacy for the local African people.

Letaba River

This river is one of seven major tributaries in the Park and forms part of a corridor of biodiversity that includes the Olifants, Shingwedzi, Tsendze and Mphongolo Rivers. Imposing trees grow along its bank, including the tall apple-leaf, sycamore fig, nyala, tamboti and jackal-berry trees. Large pools that break up the flow of the river are home to crocodile and pods of hippo. During a severe drought in the mid-1940s, the Letaba River stopped flowing. This dry spell had a devastating impact on the hippo population and the dry years that followed further decimated their numbers. In 1970 an American industrialist, Charles Engelhard, financed the construction of a large dam on the river downstream from the Letaba Rest Camp.

Three other dams and a number of reservoirs (artificial dams) were constructed at later dates, including the Kanniedood (cannot die) Dam. The construction of artificial water sources created some controversy among conservationists but the decision was finally made to build the dams to safeguard the animals that are highly dependent on a good water source. Wildlife numbers have steadily climbed in recent years through conservation initiatives and the most rewarding result is that the concentration of elephants in the Letaba area has grown significantly. As mentioned, the northern region of the Park is paradise for avid birders. The Mopane woodlands attract an array of unusual birds that are not found elsewhere in Kruger National Park. Birders should be on the lookout for the mourning dove, the endangered Arnot’s chat, grey-rumped swallow and brown-throated Martin.

Lamont Loop (S55)

This loop is located north of Shingwedzi and takes you on a winding route alongside the wide, sandy river bed. It is an excellent road for sightings of elephant grazing among the mopane shrubs. Nkulumboni South and Nwarihlangari are two water holes that you can visit but don’t expect to see anything too exciting as the concentration of game is very limited in this area.

  • Babalala to Dzundzwini (H1-7)

This area is a mix of mopane shrubveld and mixed mopane woodlands. The lush wetlands around the Babalala picnic site attract an array of birds, in particular the migratory water birds. The wetlands are part of the Shisha River system that form a series of protected vleis (wetlands) that have been identified by BirdLife SA as an important habitat for some of South Africa’s rarest birds. The Babalala picnic site offers braai facilities with a good supply of wood, ice and cold drinks on sale. Be on the lookout for cheetah in the area. Birders will be keen to spot the corn crake, African crake and the more common black crake.

Letaba to Mopani Rest Camp (H1-6)

This is a popular route for sightings of elephant who favour the mopaneveld and wetter floodplains close to the Letaba River. Free-tailed bats come out in large numbers in the evening, setting off from the high-level bridge to gorge on mosquitoes and other pesky critters. A good place to stop for lunch is the Mopani Rest Camp which is located on the banks of Pioneer Dam. It lies nestled in a Mopani wooded area broken only by a scattering of koppies (small hills). A signature feature of the camp is a huge gnarled baobab tree that stands in the heart of the camp. Built in 1992, Mopani Rest Camp is the youngest of the main camps in Kruger National Park. It offers visitors spectacular views of Pioneer Dam which is rich in birdlife and a higher concentration of animals than the rest of the stark landscape. For a unique bush experience, visitors can book to spend the night in the Shipandane bird hide. Guided trails to the Shilowa heritage sites can be booked in advance.

The walk takes you to a site that lies to the right of the Tropic of Capricorn and marks the so-called First Site believed to be where the first humans settled in the area in the period 1 200 AD and 1 600 AD. A second site dates back to the late 1700s when the Pedi inhabited the area. They were driven out of the region in the 1800s by the Tsonga chief Gugunyane. After lunch, take the H1-6 which is a series of loop roads that follow the Tsendzi River south of the camp. Confluence Lookout is a good spot for better game viewing. Thereafter, take the Tropic of Capricorn Loop (S143) where you will cross over the imaginary line at Shilowa Mountain on the edge of Lebombo. Shilbavatsengele is an excellent lookout point. For a spectacular view of the surrounding landscape dotted with majestic baobab trees, make your way up Bowker’s Kop which is to the north of Mopani Rest Camp. Birders should be on the lookout for the rare knob-billed duck which often makes an appearance at the waterhole opposite the hill.

Engelhard Dam

The routes around the Engelhard Dam take tourists on a panoramic drive through a magnificent landscape rich in biodiversity. The Matambeni bird hide and the Engelhard view site are two good lookout points which can be reached either via the S62 on the northern side of the Letaba River or from the S46 on the southern side. The large weir lies to the east of Letaba Rest Camp and is known as a birding paradise with regular sightings of herons, plovers, bee-eaters, storks, crakes and jacanas.

Von Wielligh’s Camp

A magnificent baobab tree stands sentry at the confluence of the Olifants and Letaba Rivers and marks the site where GR Von Wielligh set up camp. He was one of the original surveyors in the area and his name is still etched on the tree which he carved in 1891.

Exit via Phalaborwa Gate

Take the H14 from Mopani Camp to reach Phalaborwa Gate at the end of your 4-day Kruger safari. Your journey out of the Park will take you through woodlands of Mopane trees, bushwillows and acacias. You might not have seen much game on your last day but you should have enjoyed magnificent bird sightings. If you have time, you can make a detour to the Sable water hole or the Masorini Cultural Village which is located at the base of the Vudogwa Mountain. Sable water hole is so named as it is known for its larger concentrations of Sable antelope. They are quite difficult to spot as these shy animals tend to blend into the dense thickets. The Masorini Settlement provides visitors with a glimpse of how the early iron makers and traders lived in the 16th century.

The site is located about 11 kilometres from Phalaborwa Gate. The ancient village has been restored and you can see where the smelters lived on the lower terrace of Masorini and where the forgers lived on the higher terraces; the forgers enjoyed a higher status. The stonewalls, grinding stones, potsherds and the remains of foundries – which includes a well-preserved smelting furnace – date back to the 19th century. There are also implements on exhibit that date back to the Stone Age and Iron Age. There is a spectacular outlook point on the Masorini hilltop overlooking Shikumbu Hill where the Chieftain lived.  


You can’t really do justice to the northern region of the Kruger National Park with only one day to spare but you’ll have enough time to whet your appetite for a return visit. We recommend you spend your last night of a 5-day Kruger safari at the Punda Maria Rest Camp which is located a short 8-kilometre drive from the Punda Maria Gate. This section of the Park is completely different from the central and southern regions and often described as the ‘botanical garden’ of the Kruger National Park. It boasts a unique biodiversity, has higher concentrations of game than the drier Letaba area and is well-known as a bird paradise. It is also an important archaeology region, being the area that the first inhabitants settled in the Stone and Iron Age.

Visitors staying at Punda Maria Rest Camp can stay in luxury safari tents nestled in lush vegetation or pretty white-washed bungalows that have much-needed air-conditioning. For a budget-friendly option, visitors have the choice of 50 camp or caravan sites. The rest camp was given the name Punda Maria by the first ranger posted to the area, Captain JJ Coetser. He thought Punda Maria was the Swahili name for zebra which is the first large animal he saw on his arrival. The correct spelling is actually ‘punda milia’ meaning ‘striped donkey’ but the name stuck, despite an attempt in 1981 to change it. The name Maria is not a form of ‘milia’ but the name of the captain’s wife who stoically bore him 12 children. Captain Coetser played a vital role in curbing rampant ivory poaching in the region which had become a haunt of smugglers, poachers and hunters. These roughnecks based themselves at the confluence of the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers at a point where the borders of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique) and South Africa meet. This settlement of derelict shacks became known as Crooks’ Corner. These lawless men made their living illegally trading in ivory, using labour recruited from the Witwatersrand Basin during the gold rush era. Their base at Crooks’ Corner meant they could skip across one of the borders to hide out when authorities came searching for them.

Exploring the Far North of Kruger National Park

The northern region of the Park stands out in stark contrast to the southern regions based on its unique ecology. It is situated in the tropics and has a geological base of sandstone rather than granite and basalt that is common throughout the rest of the Park. The landscape is referred to as sandveld and, although stark in parts, has stunning stands of trees where you are guaranteed to see elephants. If you are this far north, it is worthwhile pushing on to explore the area around Pafuri. The landscape is a spectacular mix of South African Lowveld and African woodlands with various trees including the bushwillow species, silver cluster leaves and white syringe. It is known as the ‘northern biome’ and is one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the Park. Animals in this area are scarcer than the southern region of the Park, although small groupings are found on the banks of the Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers. You want to visit Pafuri purely for its diverse array of rare plants and birdlife.

Unusual sightings of the Sharpe’s grysbok and the Suni antelope are a rare and exciting, hiding out in the thickets along the river. You may also be lucky enough to spot one of the territorial leopards in the area. Rare birds to lookout for include the Bohms spinetails, the African finfoot and the white crowned plover. Other unusual sightings to tick off your list include the Pel’s fishing owl, thick-billed cuckoo, racket-tailed roller, Arnot’s bush chat, bush shrike, narine trogon and trumpeter hornbill. An unusual feature of the far northern region of the Kruger National Park is the hot springs in the Parfuri area. The region lies on a fault-line known as the Limpopo Mobile Belt, which is the joint between the Kaapvaal Craton (the crust of the earth supporting South Africa) and the Central African Craton to the north. Water heated deep below the earth’s surface makes its way through cracks in the underground sediment.

Luvuvhu River Drive to the Parfuri picnic site

Make your way along the Luvuvhu River Drive to the Parfuri picnic site (S63) which is the only viewpoint in this part of the Park. This scenic spot is surrounded by luscious Anna trees and thick woodlands. Thereafter, you can make your way to the Thulamela Iron Age site. A loop road takes you to the foot of Dzundzwini Hill where you will find a giant sausage tree. This is the site of the first camp built for Captain JJ Coetser. In the 1830s the area was under the control of chief Matibee and when Louis Trichardt, a well-known Voortrekker, passed through the area, he named the hill ‘Matibeetuijn’ (meaning Matibee’s garden). Vegetation in the camps in the region is fairly stark but one plant stands out on arrival, the impala lily. This plant produces white flowers with a pretty pink stripe and looks pretty harmless. In fact, the impala lily is deadly poisonous. San Bushmen used the sap from the impala lily as poison on the tips of their arrows that they used to kill small game and fish.

Dzundzwini to Shingwedzi (H1-7)

There are several water holes along this route but game viewing is fairly bleak as the area is dominated by sourveld. You can stop to stretch your legs at the Babalala viewpoint which is a thatched shelter built around an enormous sycamore fig. Be on the lookout for cheetah that are often sighted lazing on anthills jutting out the open grasslands below. The area is known for its accipiters (birds of prey) with common sightings of the black sparrowhawk and African goshawk.

The Ivory Trail

This interesting trail takes you back in time to when hunting expeditions came to the elephant-hunting grounds during the 19th and early 20th century. The ancient trail left the Great North Road near the present-day town of Polokwane and passed Soekmekaar, descending into the Lowveld near Klein Letaba. The well-worn path headed east in the direction of Shingwedzi River where there was a solitary store, the last place to stock up on provisions before heading deep into the bush. The hunters set up thornbush-covered camps at nightfall that offered them some protection from the lions in the area. The area was occupied at the time by a Shangaan-speaking chief called Sikololo who was known for his hospitality and generosity; offering them produce from his protected gardens in exchange for game meat. To ward off wild animals desperate to get into his precious fruit and vegetable gardens, the tribal women had to stay up all night beating drums. The ancient trail wound through the mopane forests to a camping spot known as Senkhuwa (after the wild fig trees in the area). The site of this more pleasant camp is now known as Klopperfontein, named after an ivory hunter called Hans Klopper. Baobab Hill marks a point on the Ivory Trail where the road winds down into the Luvuvhu River Valley to Makuleke Drift. This took the hunters deep into elephant territory and the trail from here splinters into numerous bush paths.

Makuleke Wilderness Area

The Makuleke Conservancy is known as the ‘jewel of northern Kruger’. It is a 24 000-hectare private concession located between the Luvuvhu River to the south and the Limpopo River to the north. The region is dominated by sandveld, easily distinguished by its central African vegetation, large alluvial flood plains and rare plant species. Extensive anti-poaching measures have seen game numbers flourish, including prides of lion that have returned to the region after almost been wiped out by poachers. Small herds of elephants cross the Limpopo area in winter from Zimbabwe in the south to graze in the thick bush, and large populations of hippo and crocodiles can be seen at the confluence of the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers at Crooks’ Corner. Be on the lookout for eland and the rare Sharpe’s grysbok. This region is well-known as a birder’s paradise, with the main attractions being the Pel’s fishing owl, black-throated wattle-eye, orange-winged pytilia, African crowned eagle and racket-tailed roller.

Makulele Heritage Site

The Makuleke area is rich in archaeological finds. One of the earliest Stone Age sites can be found on the northern banks of Luvuvhu River near Crooks’ Corner. Large stone hand axes found at the site have been dated back to approximately 1.5 million years. Tools found at the site were most likely used by Homo ergaster, one of the earliest members of the genus Homo. At this time, the last of what are known as the ‘ape men’ were still in existence but under pressure from the new, bigger-brained genus Homo; the first of our ancestors to master the art of stone tool-making. On an exploration dig at Hutwini Hills, one of the world’s oldest board games was found – the maraba. This ancient game was played out on a flat rock which served as a board, with regularly-spaced carved-out holes. The game is similar to what we call Chinese checkers.

Nyala Drive along the Luvuvhu River

This route takes you on a scenic drive alongside the Luvuvhu River that winds its way through the sandveld into the alluvial flood plains before joining the Limpopo at Crooks’ Corner. The route is flanked by forests made up of nyalas, large-leaved fever berries, forest fever and sycamore fig trees. These magnificent trees attract an array of birdlife and the usual sightings of nyala, kudu and impala.

Luvuvhu River Drive to Crooks’ Corner (S63)

This drive is the most spectacular of all the drives in the northern region of the Park. The road follows the Luvuvhu River through tropical woodland to shady viewpoints that overlook the wide river. The vegetation ranges from dry thornveld and baobabs to lush riverine forest dominated by nyala, jackal-berry and fig trees. Probably one of the most popular attractions is the forest of ghostly green fever trees. Game viewing is somewhat limited except along the banks of the river but, on the alluvial plains, you should see sightings of nyala, kudu and impala. There are leopard in the area but they are hard to spot as they tend to hang out in the thick undergrowth of the Luvuvhu River.

Exit via Pafuri Gate

Your 5-day Kruger safari has come to an end and it is time to return home. Pafuri Gate will be the closest exit point if you have been exploring the Parfuri area. The drive back to Johannesburg from here will take about 6-7 hours so you may need to spend the night someplace outside the Park before making the long journey home. Mutale Falls offers visitors self-catering accommodation in safari tents set on a high ridge overlooking the Mutale River. There is no electricity in the camp but the paraffin and solar lights add to the overall rustic appeal of a bush experience. Mutale Falls is located in the Makuya Reserve that offers visitors the opportunity to visit viewing points overlooking the Luvuvhu Gorge. So if you’re not quite ready to end your Kruger safari, this reserve promises sightings of the Big 5 and magnificent viewing.