Bushtracks guest blogger David Bristow describes the history, climate and landscape of South Africa's beloved Kruger National Park, and explains why it remains a must-see African safari destination for South Africans and everyone seeking an authentic African wildlife experience.
The first thing to note about the Kruger National Park, or Kruger Park, or Kruger, or Greater Kruger Park, or Kruger Transfrontier Park … is that it is a park of many personalities. The original game reserve dates back to 1902, its guise as southern Africa’s first national park to 1936. Then each private reserve along its western boundary dropped its fences in the late 1990s, and then it became a cross-border park with Mozambique and Zimbabwe – on paper if not so much on the ground.
The reserve covers most of the region known as The Lowveld, a tract of mostly hot, dry savanna covered by dense bush with large trees, some very large like the baobabs that define the northern area. In summer (November to February) it is very hot when thunderstorms turn sandy river beds into torrents. In mid-winter, specifically July, night-time temperatures plummet towards zero and early game drives demand you bundle up.
The private lodge Kruger experience...as good as any in Africa
With democracy in the late 1990s came also a new spirit of entrepreneurship. Some keen-eyed administrator saw the rest camp visitors had access to just 5% of this 2-million hectare reserve. Why not sell private concessions in the areas that were still virgin bush? And so came about a new persona of the private lodge Kruger experience. It’s as good as any you will have at any safari camp in Africa.
To the rest of the camp brigade the Kruger is divided into three sectors: the south, or the circus due to the large numbers of game and high visitor numbers; the middle, or zoo; and the north, or wilderness. The climate and vegetation also change from south to north, becoming drier and hotter as you move towards the Limpopo River which defined the northern boundary of the park and the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe (the “great, grey-green, greasy Limpopo all set about with fever trees” you might recall).
This is a malarial area, but the dastardly mosquitoes are only out and about in summer, after the first rains. You need not bother with malaria between the months of April and October, but between November and March you will need to take whatever precautions you deem appropriate. Many locals go for long shirt sleeves and trousers in morning and evening, and lots of Deet. Others take prophylactic drugs. Your call.
A true icon of wild Africa because the game is so plentiful
And yet, in spite of the Kruger being the epicenter of large mammal research in Africa, and the park with the highest visitor numbers in Africa, it remains in every sense “raw in tooth and claw” as Lord Tennyson put it. It’s a great park and a true icon of wild Africa because the game is so plentiful and the game viewing never disappointing.
The best way to see it is undoubtedly from one of the dozen or so private luxury safari lodges, where you can drive off road, up dry river beds, go on night drives, or walk wherever and whenever you like. Africa seldom gets better than this.