The Kruger National Park without a vehicle
The Kruger National Park is one of Africa’s oldest, largest, and best-known wildlife reserves. It originally consisted of just the land between the Crocodile River on the southern boundary and the Sabi River, and was proclaimed a government wildlife reserve by the president of the South African Republic, Paul Kruger, in 1898. It’s now more than 220 miles north to south, 40 miles wide, and covers three times the original area, now similar in size to Wales. This is very fertile land and some of the best wildlife habitat in southern Africa. Thanks to high quality guiding guests have an excellent chance of seeing a large number of animals and plenty of different species.
While Zambia is thought of as the home of the walking safari the Kruger region offers a variety of walking options from small tented camps in private areas. What’s more, they are relatively easy to get to, are great value, and can often be taken privately with just four people. Combine two of three of these options over a week or more and you enjoy great scenery, superb guiding and very good wildlife viewing. Starting in the south of the park……
Rhino walking safaris at Rhino Plains Camp
Rhino walking safaris take place on a 12,000 hectare private wilderness concession in southern Kruger NP. The camp is small, with just four large safari tents on decks shaded by knob-thorn trees. The tents have en-suite bathrooms and shaded verandahs, and the atmosphere is very much that of an authentic traditional safari. This is a comfortable camp too, with a pool, and a large mess tent with a lounge and bar as well as a dining room. Another fun aspect here are the four sleepout decks, which feature a mosquito net canopy over an open air bed. They can be booked for a night during a stay at Rhino Plains.
The walking safaris here leave camp early each morning, looking for lion, elephant, buffalo and of course rhino, both black and white. Guests return for a late breakfast or brunch, and head out again later in the afternoon for a shorter walk. Because this is such a prolific area for wildlife, there is often plenty to see while resting in camp after brunch.
Tanda Tula Field Camp
Tanda Tula Safari Camp has long been an Aardvark Safaris’ favourite. Partly because of its wonderfully peaceful and wild location in Timbavati Private Nature Reserve (which shares an unfenced border with Kruger NP), partly because the wildlife viewing is so good, but mostly because of the authenticity of the camp, its incredible people and the atmosphere they create.
Tanda Tula Safari Camp has a little brother, Tanda Tula Field Camp, which is located in a private concession within Timbavati, where it is the only safari operation permitted. This gorgeous camp has just four simple ‘explorer’ style tents with open air en-suite bathrooms, and the whole experience is one of pared back elegance and traditional safari style, with drinks around the campfire and meals cooked in the open and eaten outside as often as possible. The camp is booked exclusively, which makes it ideal for families or a group of friends.
Walking is the primary activity here as well, and the wildlife population in the vicinity is excellent, as is the birdlife. Walks usually leave and return to the camp, but there is also the option of walking out further and being collected in a safari vehicle to return to camp for brunch or lunch. Wildlife drives are offered as an option, and since this is a private camp all guests do the same activity.
Pafuri Walking Trails
The Makuleke Community Concession is 24,000 hectares of remote wilderness in the very far northern corner of the Kruger National Park. Bordering Zimbabwe and Mozambique, it’s one of the least visited corners of South Africa. Pafuri Walking Trails is a lovely simple seasonal mobile camp with four mini-Meru tents, open air en-suite bathrooms with a bucket shower. The camp has an open sided dining tent and a camp fire with chairs around it for enjoying drinks and stories at the end of the day.
The camp can be positioned anywhere in the concession which suits the wildlife populations, or the interests of guests, and there is so much space that there is never a worry of seeing visitors staying at Walking Trails’ sister property, Pafuri Camp. The concession has probably the most varied landscapes and habitats in the Kruger, ranging from rugged hills near Lanner Gorge in the west through acacia woodland and stands of baobabs to fever tree forests on the floodplains of the Luvuvhu River. Walks can be as long as guests wish, and the highlights of the area include seeing elephant, buffalo, lion and leopard on foot, dipping your feet in the Luvuvhu River, visiting Crook’s Corner where three countries meet, and some superb bird viewing too.
Horse riding safaris
Riding a well-schooled horse alongside wildlife is a massive thrill for any experienced rider, and the wildlife viewing in the Kruger region is second to none. Experienced riders can enjoy an exhilarating riding safari with Wait A Little, choosing from either a static safari based at their home camp or a mobile safari with tented camps or luxury safari lodges included in the safari itinerary.
Wait a Little is unusual for a riding safari in being able to regularly show guests lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo, hippo and rhino from a horse. The standard of the guiding is exceptional, and the experience of tracking and getting close to these magnificent animals is superb. The reserves that Wait A Little rides across have a lovely mix of vegetation and landscapes, with the dramatic escarpment of the eastern Drakensbergs as a frequent backdrop to the west, over which the sun sets. There is thick woodland along the rivers, dense thickets on the plains, open grassland savannah, some good size rivers, numerous large pools and lakes, and plenty of places for faster riding. This all makes for some exciting riding, and excellent wildlife viewing.
Spending a night under the stars is a wonderful way to enjoy reconnecting with the wild in Africa. As the weather is mostly good year round, and rarely especially cold at night, this is a super thing to do in the Kruger. Because this region is so fertile and such excellent wildlife habitat, there is a really good chance of falling asleep to a nocturnal chorus of lion, hyena, owls, nightjars, elephant, and bush-babies. All this, combined with an astonishing number of stars illuminating the ‘bedroom roof’, ensures a truly fabulous way to enjoy a romantic night in Africa.
Happily, there are plenty of lovely lodges with star beds, or sleep out tree-houses, with a range of styles and levels of luxury to choose from. Our favourites include Rhino Plains Camp, Tanda Tula, Ngala Tented Camp, and Lion Sands which has no less than three treehouses.
Because the wildlife viewing is so good in the Kruger region, it’s a first class place for taking great photographs. A large number of the guides here are excellent photographers themselves, and they are always happy to help guests make the most of photographic opporunities. Londolozi, Chitwa Chitwa, and all of Singita’s lodges, which are Ebony and Boulders in Sabi Sands and Lebombo and Sweni inside the park itself, have photographic editing and printing facilities and guests can hire top quality camera equipment at Chitwa Chitwa and Singita. Savanna Lodge has a computer set up for viewing and editing photographs and loading them onto a USB stick or DVD. Tengile River Lodge offers photographic tuition.
Many lodges can provide a private safari vehicle for an additional charge, and this makes a big difference for a lot of photographers, allowing the freedom to stay as long as they want with a bird or less ‘interesting’ animal.
Africa’s people are without doubt the unsung heroes of the continent and spending time with lodge staff and their families is a real highlight for many guests.
Plenty of lodges in the private reserves beside the Kruger National Park have staff who have worked with them for decades. Many live in one of the communities just outside and adjacent to the wilderness areas, and it often suprises visitors just how impoverished these villages are. The importance of tourism to these local communities cannot be overemphasised; one job in Africa often supports more than eight other people.
Spas and wine cellars
A bit of pampering hs become an accepted and welcome addition to a first class safari, and plenty of lodges in the Kruger region now feature glamorous spas. Our favourites include Chitwa Chitwa, Londolozi, Lion Sands Ivory Lodge, Royal Malewane, Cheetah Plains, and all of Singita’s properties.
Most of these beautiful lodges also have superb wine collections, housed and displayed in creatively designe, climate controlled wine cellars. Guests are able to visit to choose a bottle or two, or have a private lunch or dinner in the cellar in some cases.
Among the additional extra-curricular activities on offer are tennis, archery and croquet, which can be enjoyed at Singita Castleton. Fishing is offered at several of Londolozi’s lodges including Pioneer Camp.
If you would like further ideas for safaris outside the vehicle in the Kruger National Park, or elsewhere across the continent we would be delighted to help. Email is probably the best way to contact us right now and we’ll respond as quickly as we can – usually on the same day. We very much look forward to talking to you.