Kruger Park Trip Report – Our Safari Travel Diary

Our Kruger Park trip report brings you the story of our travels on a 4 day safari to the national park in mid-December 2010. We spent most of our time in the southern region of the game reserve and one night in the central region. Plus we saw the big 5 on our safari!

December is the rainy season, so the vegetation is very lush and green. Luckily it didn’t rain much while we were there. The days were hot and humid though.

Our Kruger Park trip report is broken down into 5 sections:

  • Kruger Park Trip Report Part 1: Cape Town to Johannesburg
  • Kruger Park Trip Report Part 2: Johannesburg to Skukuza
  • Kruger Park Trip Report Part 3: Skukuza to Olifants
  • Kruger Park Trip Report Part 4: Olifants to Pretoriuskop
  • Kruger Park Trip Report Part 5: Pretoriuskop to Cape Town

Kruger Park Trip Report Part 1

Cape Town to Johannesburg, 15th December

ZebrasWe caught a South African Airways afternoon flight from Cape Town International Airport to Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport.

It only took 45 minutes to drive from central Cape Town to the airport, park the car and check in. The flight took 2 hours.

We’d booked overnight accommodation at the City Lodge hotel at Johannesburg Airport. It’s a really convenient place to stay. You can walk straight through to the hotel from inside the airport. No catching taxis. No waiting for hotel shuttle buses.

Johannesburg often gets heavy sub-tropical thunderstorms and it was teaming with rain when we arrived. Walking to our hotel undercover saved us and our luggage from getting drenched!

Kruger Park Trip Report Part 2

Johannesburg to Skukuza, 16th December

This is the start of our Kruger Park trip report proper. On this day we started our safari!

We got up at 5:30am and made an early start to get to Kruger National Park sooner rather than later. We’d booked a Budget hire car and picked it up from Johannesburg Airport. Rental car outlets at the airport are open 24 hours a day.

We left the airport at 6:30am. It was still pouring with rain outside then!

We used our GPS to navigate to the N12 freeway. Our standard GPS cable which would normally slot into the cigarette lighter for power, wouldn’t stay in place there. We had to hold it in by hand for the 20 minutes or so it took to get onto the N12. The Opel Corsa that we had also had a junky indicator lever, but other than that we got to Kruger National Park and back fine!

The N12 freeway merges with the N4 and we carried along this way. There are three toll gates en route to Kruger Park. At 8:00am we stopped at a roadhouse and had breakfast at the Steers there.

Our next stop was at a Spar supermarket in Nelspruit to buy non-perishable groceries to take with us into Kruger National Park. It’s cheaper and there’s a bigger range of things to choose from at the supermarkets outside the park. We also filled the car up with petrol for the same reason.

We left Nelspruit at 11:20am and carried on towards the closest park entrance gate. The vegetation is very lush and tropical looking in this region and there are lots of sugar cane farms. We drove through the town of Malelane and arrived at Malelane Gate at midday.

Malelane Gate signA sign at the gate told people the park was full. The sign meant that no more day visitors could go into Kruger National Park unless they had a booking. We crossed the Crocodile River at the gate, then repacked so all the things we needed were handy and reachable while sitting in the car:

Once you’re inside the park, you’re not allowed out of your car unless it’s at a rest camp, picnic spot or a place which says you’re allowed out. There are dangerous wild animals roaming the place and it’s for your own safety!

We started driving on the tarred road which leads to Skukuza Rest Camp. The first animals we saw were impala. This isn’t surprising because there are more impala than any other type of animal in Kruger National Park. They are such beautiful and innocent looking creatures. We never tire of looking at them.

We saw a lot of birds too. It’s amazing how quickly the time goes photographing and identifying birds.

Within an hour and a half we’d seen our first of the big 5! It was a lion lying around ;-). It was behind a tree and about 10 cars were stopped there for a glimpse of it.

The distance from Malelane Gate to Skukuza is only 64km (40 miles), but the speed limit on the tarred roads is only 50km (31 miles) per hour. When you’re stopping to look at animals, it can take 3 hours to travel 50km (31 miles)!

ElephantAs we were getting close to Skukuza, we stopped to admire an elephant on the side of the road. Other cars had stopped to look at it too. The elephant walked onto the road and came in our direction. It was one of the tallest elephants we’d ever seen! It’s trunk dragged along the ground.

It kept walking in the middle of the road towards us. The only thing to do in this situation is reverse. And we did. For 20 minutes! The elephant kept walking down the road for that long. It must’ve been enjoying itself watching all the cars having to reverse for it.

Always appreciate an elephant’s strength. They can weigh up to 6 tonnes and flip your car over the same way that you might push over a chair. We’ve never actually heard of this happening, but it’s possible. Be elephant aware!

Eventually we made it to Skukuza and checked in.

That wasn’t the end of our touring for the day though. It was about 1 hour before the rest camp gates closed at 6:30pm. We used that time when dusk begins to drive down to the Lake Panic bird hide near Skukuza. We saw a couple of water birds there:

  • African jacanaAfrican jacana
  • African pygmy-kingfisher
  • Grey heron
  • Water thick-knee (dikkop)

We also saw a terrapin and heard a hippopotamus laughing. We didn’t see it though. We’d have to wait for another day for that.

We carried on to the Skukuza Golf Course. We weren’t up for a round of golf, but we just wanted to see the course. It’s an unfenced course and if you dare to play, be prepared for having not-so-average spectators. Any animal could stroll onto those manicured greens!

At last we returned to Skukuza Rest Camp and put our bags into our rondavel, a round thatched hut. It had its own bathroom, air conditioner and outdoor fly screen enclosed kitchen with utensils, crockery and fridge. There was also a big sausage tree next to our rondavel. Sausage trees have large seed pods hanging from them which do look a lot like sausages!

We ate at the Selati Station Grillhouse for dinner. This restaurant’s tables are on the train platform of the station that the very first tourists came to visit the park by. The Selati train itself is at the station. You can see the engine and one of the carriages has been converted into a bar. The restaurant offers a range of food and there should be something to suit all tastes. We had fish and chips and spare ribs.

Kruger Park Trip Report Part 3

Skukuza to Olifants, 17th December

We were up before dawn this morning. We ate breakfast then left Skukuza just before 5:00am in the dawn light. We were heading to Olifants Rest Camp today.

Along the way we came across a huge herd of impala. The herd was stretched along the road for quite some distance. There were lots of young impala which are adorable!

Baby baboonOnce we’d finished admiring them, we drove on for a short while and came across a very large troop of baboons. They were heading in the same direction as us on the road. It was a very long time before we had passed them all. There were babies playing with each other, mothers preening, young baboons jumping out of trees while others lay on the road.

By 8:30am it was already 30°C (86°F) and humid! As we drove on, the bush opened up into wider plains and we started seeing more large herd animals like zebras, kudus and wildebeest.

We stopped for refreshments at the Tshokwane picnic spot. The area is unfenced and there are vervet monkeys lurking on the edges of the picnic area. We got ourselves some cool drinks and ice cream and a couple of snacks for the road.

We sat down in the picnic area to enjoy our snacks in the shade of the boma, an open-sided thatched structure. In the couple of seconds it took for one of us to take our rubbish to the bin, a vervet monkey took the chance to run up to our table and snatch a packet of snacks from under our noses and run away with it into a tree!

Never let your guard down, not even for 2 seconds when there are vervet monkeys on the loose. We truly learnt the meaning of the saying “cheeky little monkey”!

By lunch time it was 37°C (99°F)! We stopped at Satara Rest Camp for a sandwich and carried on to Olifants Rest Camp.

When we checked in, we booked onto a sunset drive as well. We didn’t have much time, so we quickly bought some things to make sandwiches from the rest camp general store. Soon after we hopped on the sunset drive tour vehicle.

Sunset drives leave before dusk and return at night. Game drives are the only way to go out and see animals, including nocturnal animals in the park after dark.

A Kruger Park ranger drove us out of Olifants Rest Camp. We saw giraffes and a family of elephants with babies. As the light faded we saw hyenas going for their night scavenges.

Once dark, we spotted about 8 hippos walking though the bush. They leave the rivers and the lakes at night to do this. We also saw nocturnal scrub hares and springhares hopping along the road. Game drives are well worth the experience!

Our accommodation for this night was in a rondavel again, but it didn’t have it’s own kitchen. We were prepared for this and we’d brought some self-catering equipment with us.

Kruger Park Trip Report Part 4

Olifants to Pretoriuskop, 18th December

Hyena cubWe had another early start this morning and left Olifants just before 5:00am. We were heading for Pretoriuskop Rest Camp. The most notable wildlife sighting we saw was a couple of hyena cubs with their mother.

We passed back through Satara and Tshokwane and arrived at Skukuza in time for lunch. Skukuza is the biggest rest camp in Kruger National Park and has a library and museum.

The museum has some really interesting artefacts from historical and archaeological sites in the park. There’s a fascinating story about Harry Wolhuter, who was one of the first rangers in the park. He was attacked by a lion and lived to tell the tale!

After we’d soaked up some Kruger Park history at the museum, we drove on to Pretoriuskop. Around this area, there were a lot of rhinos. Most of them were lone rhinos though.

At Pretoriuskop, we bought some meat for a BBQ. The little hut we were staying in had it’s own BBQ grid out the front of it. We got the fire going and sat down and relaxed and enjoyed our evening meal.

Huts are a lot cheaper to stay in than rondavels. They have a hand basin only and no air conditioning nor kitchen. You have to use the shared camp bathrooms and kitchens instead.

Kruger Park Trip Report Part 5

Pretoriuskop to Cape Town, 19th December

Pretoriuskop Rest CampThis is the last entry of our Kruger Park trip report. We left Pretoriuskop again at the usual time of just before 5:00am. We’d worked out that we had to leave Malelane Gate by 11:00am in order to get back to Johannesburg Airport to catch our flight back to Cape Town.

The distance from Pretoriuskop to Malelane Gate is only 85km (53 miles), so we choose a route that took as there in loops on the gravel roads. Along one road a hyena came running towards us. As we watched it get closer, we noticed part of its ear, scalp and tail had been bitten off! It was a good reminder that Kruger National Park is filled with wild animals and that the pecking order is set in place!

Down another dirt road we stopped to watch a wildebeest who had its attention firmly fixed on not one, but two leopards! Seeing two leopards together is a remarkable thing and something we’re very happy to write about in our Kruger Park trip report. It was our last day in the park and these were the first leopards we saw, so we were very pleased to come across them!

Eventually it was time for us to say goodbye to Kruger National Park and we left via Malelane Gate. We drove back along the N4 and ran into a huge thundery downpour and had to halve our speed to manage the water on the road!

A couple of hours later, we took the N12 towards Johannesburg. We filled up with petrol on the way and again just around the corner of Johannesburg Airport. We returned our hire car and checked in for our return flight to Cape Town.

We had a fabulous trip and to sum up our travel report, we saw all these animals:

On top of this, we positively identified 72 bird species.

This concludes our Kruger Park trip report.

We’ve been to the park again since December and have another Kruger Park trip report, from our April trip for readers who want more safari stories!