The iconic, world famous Kruger National Park (KNP), an absolute must for anyone travelling to the Lowveld in South Africa. The sheer scale of the Park is mind-boggling, 7523 square miles of vast wilderness. That’s just slightly smaller than the entire country of Wales (8016 square miles). KNP is inhabited by species such as; elephant, white rhino, black rhino, lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dogs and spotted hyena.
A rich history
The area is steeped in history. In the 1800’s, hundreds of Europeans and farmers travelled to the Lowveld region of South Africa in search of gold and other rumoured commodities such as ivory and animal skins. Hunting and the trade in animal skins and horns caused game numbers in the Lowveld to decrease dramatically. President Paul Kruger recognised this destruction of wildlife and established a protected area in 1898. The initial protected area was named ‘Sabie River Game Reserve’ and consisted of what is now the Southern section of KNP. The first visitors entered the Park in 1927 at a fee of one pound. Visitors were expected to fend for themselves and make their own thorn bush camps to stay in.
Nowadays, things aren’t quite the same! There are rest camps, restaurants and as many as 950,000 people visit KNP annually. Does that make KNP any less ‘wild’? No, certainly not. You will still be treated to some incredibly special and intimate sightings. But remember, Kruger is not a zoo nor a safari park, sightings are totally unpredictable and sometimes it just comes down to good old Lady Luck.
Always a unique experience
So what exactly can you expect from a day in the Kruger National Park? Well, you can probably expect the unexpected! And no two days are ever the same. I have experienced some very ‘quiet’ days in the Park, seeing only a few elephants and some general game. Then you think to yourself, hold on a minute, ‘quiet’? Seeing elephants in the wild is not something to be sniffed at and every encounter with these gracious giants is enchanting, mesmerising and unique. Yet a full day in Kruger and only seeing a few elephants is deemed to be a dull one. How spoiled are we? Living in the Lowveld, we have this incredible National Park on our doorstep and it becomes our back garden, our playground. We are spoiled indeed.
Last week I drove the 12 kilometre stretch between Skukuza and Paul Kruger Gate after a wonderful stay in Lion Sands. In that small stretch, I managed to break my five year African wild dog ‘curse’. Up until last week, the last time I saw wild dogs in Kruger was back in 2011. Back then, I thought seeing them was the ‘norm’ as I had encountered them on almost every visit to Kruger. Then I hit a five year dry spell on the painted dog front.
Thankfully, the spell is now broken and I was treated to the sight of about 15 dogs sleeping peacefully under a large tree, escaping the midday sun. They barely moved in the 20 minutes that I spent with them, just the odd ear twitch to ward off irritating flies and the stretch of a leg here and there. It doesn’t matter. It was the endangered African wild dogs, in their natural habitat.
The “big five”. The “magnificent seven”.
A fruitful day in the Park might include all of the magnificent seven; lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo, elephant, wild dog and cheetah. I am yet to pull this one off but I know people that have. On my last few trips to Kruger, I have managed to view the ‘big five’ in one day. However, my stroke of good luck may change tomorrow. It won’t matter though. Every day in Kruger is a good one and you will see something new on every single visit. For the Kruger novices, it may be a new mammal. For the Kruger old timers, it might be a new bird species or a new interspecies interaction. Kruger National Park always has a trump card up its sleeve for you; you just have to look for it.