Situation and characteristics
The Kruger National Park is the largest and oldest National Park in South Africa, internationally renowned as one of the world's most important game reserves. It lies in the northeast of the country, extending for 350km/220mi from north to south, with a maximum breadth of 90km/ 55mi and a total area of 19,485sq.km/7523sq.mi.
It is bounded on the north by the Limpopo, on the south by the Crocodile River, on the east by the frontier with Mozambique and on the west by a barrier fence. The Kruger National Park has been completely enclosed only since 1975: an 800km/1,100mi long fence now serves to protect humans from animals and animals from humans.
The National Park is a 5-6 hours' drive from Johannesburg. Most visitors enter by the Numbi Gate or the Paul Kruger Gate to the north of it. The fastest route to these gates is on N 4 to Nelspruit and then R 40 and R 538.
It is also possible to reach the National Park by air. There are flights from Johannesburg, Durban and Nelspruit to airstrips at the Skukuza and Phalaborwa camps (where cars of different categories can be hired).
Various travel agencies in Johannesburg, Durban and Nelspruit run tours to the National Park in air-conditioned coaches.
The Kruger National Park lies in a malaria-risk area. Though the chances of catching malaria here are not particularly high (they are higher in summer than in winter) provided that certain precautions are taken (so far as possible staying indoors after dark, keeping well covered up, using insect repellents, etc.), there does remain a residual risk. Each visitor must decide for himself, after consulting his doctor or an institute of tropical medicine, whether to take a course of antimalarial drugs.
The National Park is named after Paul Kruger, President of the Boer Republic of the Transvaal. In 1884 Kruger conceived the idea of creating a game reserve in the Transvaal, the eastern part of which was a favorite hunting ground of both the native population and Europeans. A beginning was made in 1898, when a relatively small area between the Sabi and Crocodile Rivers was declared a reserve. It was subsequently further extended until in 1926 the National Park was opened in its present form.
The Kruger National Park occupies an almost level area lying for the most part between 200 and 300m (650 and 1000ft) above sea level, much of it covered by expanses of grassland and scrub, with gallery forests frequently extending along the banks of rivers. Most of the southern part of the park is hilly wooded savanna, with a great variety of species. This alternation between grassland, bush and trees is known in South Africa as bushveld. Altogether almost 2000 different species of plants have been recorded in the National Park, including some 500 different trees and shrubs. Many of the trees have thick cork-like barks which provide protection against savanna fires. What seems at first glance to be a featureless landscape reveals on closer observation an astonishing variety, with a range of different habitats.
The lifelines of the Kruger National Park are the five perennial rivers which flow through it from west to east: the Crocodile, the Sabie, the Olifants, the Luvuvhu and (to some extent) the Letaba. None of these rivers rises in the National Park. Before reaching the park they have been badly polluted by industrial and agricultural wastes. Moreover much of their water has been piped off for irrigation. Thus the Letaba has gradually become a seasonal river. The ecosystem of the Kruger National Park, however, is vitally dependent on these rivers, particularly since rainfall in recent years has been relatively low. Within the National Park there are almost 400 artificially created waterholes which never dry up even during severe drought. In earlier centuries the animals could move elsewhere when water was short, but this for the most part is no longer possible.
The Kruger National Park is remarkable for the exceptional quantity and variety of its game. Visitors who have sufficient time at their disposal can observe from their car great numbers of animals which otherwise they would only see behind bars in a zoo. The best times for seeing the animals are the early morning and late afternoon.
The big game living in the National Park includes 1500 lions, 900 leopards, 7500 elephants, 1500 rhinoceros (mostly white rhinos: there are only about 200 of the slightly darker black rhinos), 32,000 zebras, 4900 giraffes, 30,000 buffaloes and 125,000 impalas (one of the 17 species of antelopes represented in the park). In addition there are 114 different species of reptiles, over 500 species of birds (including 15 species of eagle alone), and numerous butterflies and moths and other insects. The National Park is one of the last refuges for many gravely endangered animal species, including the black rhino, the wild dog and the sable antelope.
Every year the National Park authorities carry out a thorough census of the animals in the park and check up on the plants. If it appears that some animals are increasing too rapidly some of them are culled in order to maintain the ecological balance in the park. Thus since 1967 some 13,000 elephants have been killed in order to maintain their numbers at the optimum level of 7,500 (on average an elephant consumes 300kg/660lb of plants a day and in the course of a year can destroy 1000 trees). The flesh of the animals killed is used to make biltong, a type of dried meat much prized in South Africa, and their skins and hides are processed for industrial uses.
When to visit
The climate of the National Park is subtropical. Most of the rain falls in summer, the annual figure being distinctly higher (at 700mm/28in.) in the south of the park than in the north (400mm/16in.). It can be extremely hot, with temperatures of around 40°C/104°F on occasion. The best time of year for observing the animals is in winter, when on most days it is sunny and pleasantly warm, but much cooler in the evening; frost, however, is rare. In winter many trees and shrubs have lost their leaves, making it more difficult for the animals to hide. On the other hand the scenery is finer in summer, and there are still plenty of animals to be seen: some animals, indeed, produce their young in summer.
The eight gates of the National Park are opened between 5.30 and 6.30 in the morning, varying according to season, and close between 5.30 and 6.30 in the evening. These opening and closing times apply also to the camps within the National Park.
Driving in the National Park
The National Park has a network of some 2300km/1430mi of roads. There are only 900km/560mi of asphalted roads, but the unsurfaced tracks are usually negotiable by cars without difficulty. (Open cars and motorcycles are not permitted.) All the roads are well signposted; detailed maps can be obtained when entering the park. The condition of all roads and tracks is regularly checked.
Driving within the park is permitted only during the day. There is a speed limit of 50km/31mi an hour on asphalted roads and 40km/25mi an hour on other roads. Visitors should allow plenty of time to get back to the camps before dark, remembering that delays are likely to occur (for example if there is a ''traffic jam'' caused by game blocking the road). Visitors exceeding the speed limit or feeding the animals face the prospect of a fine. It is strictly forbidden for visitors to leave their car except at specially designated places. Most accidents involving big game result from failure to observe these rules.
A particularly attractive trip is a drive through the whole length of the park, observing the striking variations in the scenery. Alternatively you can make one of the camps your base and explore the surrounding area in a series of shorter trips. At least two or three days should be allowed for your stay in the park.
Guided walks and drives
Visitors can join guided walking tours lasting several days, led by experienced game rangers, with overnight accommodation in simple huts. A place on these walks must usually be booked a year in advance At some camps there are shorter (one-day) walks led by rangers.
The various camps also organize guided tours in cars (night trips now also available).
Guides: Guided tour available as optional extra.
Facilities: On-site accomodations, Restaurant or food service