If one jewel shines brighter than all the others in South Africa’s tourism crown, it is the Kruger National Park, which is now well over a century old. And the park keeps on expanding. On the eastern and northern sides, the plan is to fully integrate the Kruger with the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique, and a few smaller areas. This new multinational conservation collaboration will be called the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, and the ambition is for it to ultimately expand to almost 10 million hectares.
On the South African side, many of the smaller privately owned game reserves have ‘dropped their fences’ with the Kruger National Park. It is on these properties that many of the luxury lodges are situated.
The Sabie and the Crocodile are the two main rivers of the southern section of the Kruger National Park. They support a fascinating ecology and a good percentage of the park’s animal life. In the south-east in particular, you have your best chance of sighting the big five. The grasslands surrounding Lower Sabie are good for viewing herds of zebra and buffalo, while giraffe and lion can be seen in the Crocodile Bridge area and white rhino graze on the Nhlowa Road.
The south-west is antelope territory, and also the only place in the Kruger National Park for rare sightings of the grey rhebok. The area around Berg-en-Dal with its mixed grazing attracts herds of buffalo and zebra, and the lions that prey on them.
The highest numbers of lion are found in the central section, especially around Satara. The largest concentrations of raptors are found here too.
For many aficionados of the Kruger National Park, it is the northern, more peaceful section of the two-million-hectare reserve that ranks highest. A little further from Gauteng’s big cities, the distances are greater but the rewards worth the effort. The Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers, sandstone mountains and baobab trees define the terrain of the far north.
Fauna and flora differ from the south, with some species not seen there found in these upper reaches. The area north of Letaba to Shingwedzi is largely mopaneveld, where elephant are dominant browsers and large herds of buffalo are found. Rare antelope found here are the tsessebe and the roan.
Animals aside, there are two late Iron Age sites in the north of the park. Masorini, 12 kilometres from the Phalaborwa Gate on the way to Letaba, dates back to the 1800s and shows evidence of a Sotho-speaking group who developed a sophisticated mining industry by trading iron products. The second site, Thulamela, is believed to be part of what has become known as the ‘Zimbabwe culture’. Beginning with Mapungubwe and continuing into Great Zimbabwe, it was later abandoned for smaller chiefdoms, such as Thulamela.