Self-drive through Kruger
The world-famous Kruger National Park is one of the ultimate places to wildlife watch. Whilst you can opt to do a guided tour, self-driving allows you freedom to visit at your own pace… and is super easy!
You are bound to have the trip of a lifetime self-driving through Kruger National Park. Here's all you need to know before you go, so you can make the most of your time there...
Before you set off
Stock up on the snacks
The distance between camps can be far, and the quality of what you will find at each camp also differs massively so I'd say to stock up on food and drink before entering the park so you aren't totally relying on the stores and camps to have what you need. Especially if you are staying overnight, more of that later.
Know your route
Be prepared for what route you are wanting to take, and look up estimated driving times. I was surprised to learn the distance we were covering would take us the best part of a whole day, and we had to keep our eye on the time to get to the camp before the gates closed.
Bring a wildlife book
This was so useful when I spotted something unusual and wanted to try and identify it. We had a Lonely Planet with us which had an animal section in, without it we wouldn’t have even known what we’d managed to spot!
Get up early
Get to the gate early to make the most of your day. We stayed near the park the night before and got up really early to ensure we were there at opening time. We entered via the Phabeni gate and there was already quite a queue when we got there, plus lots of paperwork to get the right permit before entry.
Kruger: passes and gates
There’s a number of different gates which you can enter and exit Kruger through. The gates near the Southern region of Kruger are best if you are arriving from Nelspruit and the Kruger Mpumlange International airport. Whereas Phalaborwa and Orpen are the closest to Hoedspruit Airport (internal flights from SA only).
Day passes into Kruger are now available to pre-book online, or you can turn up on the day on a first-come, first-served basis. There’s also the overnight pass for those staying in the park. You’ll need to be in registered accommodation and show your reservation details at the gate to get the overnight permit.
Gates into the park open at slightly different times throughout the year, but roughly open from 5.30-6am and close at 5.30-6.30pm. These are strict times, and you can only enter later in case of emergency, and if your camp is within 10km of the gate itself.
If staying inside the park, the camps also have gate opening and closing times, and tend to open a little bit earlier than the main gates. This is a big advantage as means you can be right in the middle of the park and set off nice and early in the search of game spotting.
Driving in Kruger
The driving is really easy, the roads are clearly marked and so navigating is no problem.
The max speed limit is 50km/h on tarmac roads (most of the roads we stuck to in Kruger were tarmac), and 40 km/h on gravel. They do speed check and everyone does stick to these speeds, you’ll want to in order to spot the wildlife as your driving through. But it means no getting anywhere fast.
Check the sightings board
There’s helpful sighting boards hung up in each rest stop with what’s been sighted nearby. Also talk to the staff when you stop, they sometimes have info that you could otherwise miss out on.
Take advantage of other people’s sightings!
A few times we stopped nearby another car, wondering what on earth they were looking at, and nearly every time they had spotted something interesting that we would have otherwise passed! You’ll know when something massive is coming up, as so many cars will be pulled up… meaning you can’t miss the action!
Staying in Kruger
I’d highly recommend staying in Kruger itself, as you can get up early and start your wildlife spotting as soon as your camp gates open without the congestion you get around the main entrance park gates.
I pre-booked accommodation online through SanParks, and I think it’s fair to say spaces in the camps get quickly booked up so book in advance.
We stayed in Olifants camp, which overlooked the Olifants river and was close by to the Phalaborwa gate which we were exiting from the next day. It was super cute accommodation staying in a little round ‘hut’ – basic inside but perfectly clean and practical.
In the camp there was a shop and a restaurant, but these shut at 7pm and 6pm respectively, so don’t expect any late night dining! We were pretty unprepared for this, but everyone else seemed clued up and had come loaded with cooking gear, there’s a braai (BBQ) outside every hut.
The bigger camps offer a variety of game drives and walks with experts.
What you’ll spot in Kruger
I was a little worried that I might not spot much wildlife on a self-drive but I couldn’t have been more wrong!
We spotted a wider array of animals than we actually had on the game drives in the lodge we had stayed at beforehand, down to the sheer size of Kruger. One thing I think helped our spotting-ability was that we had just finished a 2 day guided game drives, so felt like we had become used to how to spot animals (kind of, I’m still not claiming to be an expert!). We spotted the 4 of the big 5 (the leopard eluded us), as well as some more unusual and rare animals such as vultures, white rhino, hyena, kudo, ground hornbills and an ostrich family with their chicks!
This by no means is the full list, but just a taste to convince you that you can absolutely see it all on your own!
Useful links: https://www.sanparks.org