Game Drives (Self-Driving), Kruger National Park
We stuck to the main tar Road between Berg en Dal to Skukuza and had no trouble at all in spotting plenty of animals. We saw plenty of birds and animals. Twice we just missed a leopard. The car in front of us had spotted it. We stopped over at Afsaal resting camp. We stopped at Afsaal to use the restrooms and to have a short meal. We then drove ahead to Skukuza. We just walked around the camp to understand how it looked. We found Berg en dal better. We again drove towards Berg en dal and again made a stop over at Afsaals. They serve some very tasty icecream on waffles. They also serve chips, sandwiches, coffee and teas. They also have a small shop which sells basics.
This was truly an amazing experience. We started off from our camp -- Berg En dal towards Skukusa at 6 a.m. sharp. We woke early and packed breakfast and lunch and carried it with us. We were so lucky to spot so many animals and that too in such close proximity and what was even more exciting was that they were in their most natural behavior. We saw two deer that were fighting with locked horns, we saw two young elephants indulging in played fights, we saw a rhino with her baby, also many giraffe families,,, it is the most amazing experience.
The most important rule is not to get down. We saw a car right in front of us was about to be attacked by rhinos. So it is very important not to get off the car however exciting it may be to see so many animals in close proximity. It may prove to be fatal.
Another ground rule is not to provoke animals. It is true that when in a group they can even topple a car an cause immense damage.
The first thing to consider is what type of car to hire (assuming you are not a local who owns their own). For me, especially as I was visiting in the winter when the vegetation is less high and makes animal spotting easier, I decided to go with an ordinary sized 4 door car. Car hire in South Africa is cheap and there are plenty of good deals if you shop around. I ended up going through Budget Car Rentals as they are internationally recognized, although plenty of other companies seemed equally as reputable. I would recommend considering extra insurance - I took out glass waiver insurance which turned out to be a blessing when a large stone chip appeared in the windscreen after being passed by a truck!
The roads in Kruger are good - although some were closed due to flood damage while I was there. Most roads are tarred, although some of the more out of the way roads are dirt or gravel - I found the gravel roads to be easily, although slowly, travelled in my smallish standard car. Speed limits are slow and are enforced - 50kmph on main roads, 40kmph on others, signage makes it clear what speed is allowed. Petrol is available from most rest camps (consult the SANPARKS website below for more specific information.)
Animals were frequently and easily spotted - although some were almost a little too close for comfort. Make sure you do some reading on the behavior of animals in the park before you go - not only does it make spotting wildlife easier but it can also make your journey safer. Knowing that elephants put their ears out and shake their heads proved very useful when turning a corner and unexpectedly meeting a herd, including an unhappy mother elephant. Animals have right of way here - not only the big ones, but the smaller ones too!
Purchasing a map of the park is pretty much a necessity for planning routes for each day's drive. Rest camps have maps that are updated frequently showing where animals have been recently spotted which can give you some pointers if you are looking for a particular species. Make sure you leave plenty of time when traveling - speeds are slow in the park and times can easily blow out when you are frequently stopping to view wildlife. As animals have right of way, getting caught up waiting for an elephant to get off the road can take time that you may not have allowed for, and gate closing times at rest camps are strictly enforced.
Guided drives are useful in learning about species and seeing things that you might otherwise miss, but the freedom of self driving, including the ability to stop as often and as long as you like, is a bonus. There are few places in the park where you are allowed out of your car, so take advantage of those that do. I generally made sure that I would be somewhere for lunch where I could walk around - often one of the rest camps.
The Vervet Monkeys are rather common and you might see them in many places, on the road, on the trees and also at the camps, they are much smaller then the baboons and seems very friendly and sweet, but remember, those are wild animal, not pets, give them the respect and distance
Now, to spot that tiny Mongoose while driving 40 km/h you really need Hawkeye’s, I guess I have one, the right eye it is ;-) I don’t know how I spot it but I saw it for a brief of a second, I stopped, reverse a bit and manage to pick the camera and take this photo before it disappears back into the bush.
The lion is the king and here is a young prince. The Park is a great place to watch Lions. They are not so easy to spot as they camouflage extremely well and you might just pass by and not know they are there. In another day we took a guide/tracker that could track the lions and take you straight to their homes ;-)
There are thousands of Elephants in the park, when the eco system disturbed, too many Elephants are not good either and now the authorities in South Africa are abolishing the hunting prohibition on Elephants. Anyhow, there are many of those and you will see them everywhere while driving around the park.
The Baboons are common all over southern Africa, not only in the parks, they are usually in groups, from small family to big groups of even 50. They are basically vegetarians but can eat insects and meat as well. The Baboons consider danger animal, do not get too close to them.
The Impala is by far my favourite antelope, so beautiful and elegant, they are very common here in the park and you will see lots of them. They are at their best when on the run with the long and high jumps, it is just amazing to watch them, I could do it the whole day long.
Self driving in the park is one of the main issues that gives you the great joy here, the roads are excellent, road signs and maps available and all what you need is good eyes and some patient and you will see all the great animals around here.
In Kruger this is a normal and enjoyable practise. Stick to the rules, do not get out of your car and be sensible, tap in emergency no.s to your mobile and enjoy driving around the park slowly, with a book to help you identify the animals and birds you spot.
Take lunch too, there are spots to get out of your car to stretch you legs and enjoy the magnificent views.
Allow long enough to cover a small area rather than trying to travel large distances, it takes time to spot movement in the bush and then to sit and enjoy it.
The best way to do it. You stop when you want to and when you finished looking at whatever it was that you were admiring be it a bird or an elephant you can carry on. I bought a book on the park at the gate and was able to pinpoint most animals and tell my sister what bird,buck or rhino it was that we were just privaledged to see.
You are allowed to drive around on your own in Kruger and that's what we did the most of. I enjoyed that the most. I love exploring, turning down a road on a whim just to see what's around the corner. In Kruger, chances are what's around the corner is something you've never seen before in your life!
It is STRONGLY recommended that you stay in your car at all times, except at designated rest stops. But I have to admit that we did break the rules a few times to get some photos of small creatures and to move a turtle out of the road. We figured that the small critters and impala would know exactly when there's anything dangerous about, so when they looked relaxed, we felt comfortable outside - within a few yards of the car, that is.
I'm not sure how wise that really was and I'm sure some people will call me foolhardy, but it seemed to make sense at the time. . . But for the most part, and certainly when there were any big animals around, we stayed in the car.
Kruger Park is a self-drive game park (unless you are staying in some of the private lodges or going on a morning/night drive). Easy to read, clearly illustrated maps are sold at every entrance to the park. Take some time before you leave the car park, to look at the map and navigate your route.
I have often found that it is best to spend a few hours driving around the park before checking in on your first day. Head into your camp just after lunch, check in, unpack and then throw a few snacks together before heading out to a nearby water hole for some sundowners as the sun slips over the savannah.
Take note of the speed limit and keep to it! There are often speed traps (believe it or not) throughout the park.
The striking pattern of stripes in savannah zebras is different in each animal. Therefore the members of a family can recognise each other by their stripes. Although the stripes are extremely visible at close range, they make a good camouflage from far away and provide protection against predators. Lions in particular like to prey on zebras.