Saturday 9 December 2023

Kruger National Park, South Africa - July 2023 - Logistics and Itinerary



  • A five day trip in the second week of July with two of the kids on a self-drive safari in the peerless Kruger National Park. The kids met me after work at the airport on a Thursday evening and we took the late flight. We returned overnight on the following Wednesday, after which I went straight to work and the kids went home. 
  • Flights: British Airways from Heathrow to Johannesburg, once again booked with a car to turn it into a holiday. I booked Premium Economy and upgraded with miles to Business - I was nervous about the drive across to Kruger and wanted a good sleep in a flat bed. I booked air miles tickets for the kids in Economy for about £350 each, they weren't driving!
  • Car: A regular petrol saloon, some kind of Toyota I think. A 4x4 would have been better simply due to the extra height, but even the gravel roads in Kruger are perfectly navigable in a normal car if it is dry and you are careful. We went everywhere!
  • Getting to and from Kruger: It is at least a four hour drive from Jo'burg to the Kruger's Malelane and Crocodile Bridge Gates via Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit), and often longer, on the 12 and 4. The dangers of driving in South Africa are well documented, the roads are good but driving standards are poor in addition to other hazards. Drive in the day, stick to the main roads, don't stop other than in petrol stations, have nothing on show and keep windows closed and doors locked at traffic lights. Study the route in advance and don't blindly follow the SatNav. Poverty is extreme and you are rich. Once you are inside the Park you are fine. The remaining family members  in the UK apparently watched our progress every step of the way!
  • Accommodation: We stayed in basic but well-appointed bungalows and huts in the KNP Public Rest Camps, with all nights booked well in advance via the SanParks website as this was during SA school holidays. You need to create an account which is rather a faff and will likely require an email in addition to the automated process as it does not quite work properly, or didn't in late 2022. Other accomodation is available, including much posher private camps both inside and outside the Park.
  • Public Rest Camps
    • The camps are self-contained villages, encircled by high electric fencing to separate you from the wildlife. All have a variety of accommodation, a visitor centre, a restaurant, a shop, and a petrol station. The key benefit is that you are already inside the Park when it opens, and will have it to yourself for a while before people and tours based outside make it in.
    • You can camp, or you can choose from various permanent dwellings depending on how many you are and how much you want to spend. 
    • Most huts and bungalows sleep 2 or 3 people, and all have basic cooking facilities including a permanent brai. As a guide these huts cost something like £70-80 per night in 2023.
    • All the camp shops sell food (mostly red meat and game it has to be said), cold beer, wine, soft drinks, some limited vegetables, and most importantly wood and lighting materials for the fire. You literally don't need to bring a thing, nor transport anything between the camps. They close much later than the camp gates do, so you have plenty of time to get organised and then go buy dinner.
    • All the camps have strict opening and closing times depending on the season. Make sure you get there on time before they close the gates!
    • The camps all offer various game drives or walks, either in the morning, at sunset, or after sunset. These can be booked online with your accommodation, afterwards, or when you arrive. The sunset drive is a little longer, usually 3 hours, as it leaves at dusk and returns after dark, whereas the night drive is 2 hours entirely in the dark. Spotlights are provided.
    • You can enter all public camps as a day visitor to use the facilities, shop, petrol station etc.
  • Park Information
    • You have to have booked accommodation at the point of entry to the Park.
    • You cannot enter the Park if it would be dark by the time you got to your booked accommodation and the Rest Camp was closed. There may be some wiggle room but you should absolutely not count on it.
    • The Park has a number of entrance gates, and the one you use should be picked carefully, mainly to avoid driving through more dangerous urban areas. We entered and left via the Malelane Gate near the southern Mozambique border, as this is very close to a main road.
    • In addition to the camps there are also Picnic Sites found here and there which serve breakfast, lunch, coffees etc. It is a good idea to buy a map which shows where these and other facilities are.
    • You can use credit cards everywhere within the camp.
    • The Park itself has an entrance fee per person, or rather a fee per person per day you spend inside it, known as Conservation Fees. You can pay this upfront or when you get there, but make sure you factor it in to your costs as it quickly adds up at about £20 per (foreign) person per day. A "Wildcard" (an annual family pass to all SA Parks) might save you money even if you are only going for a week.
    • The Park staff are super-friendly and helpful, but their IT is shocking and on reflection it would have been easier to have bought our Wildcard before we got there.
    • Roads are slow, and traffic jams are common when people stop so look at animals, especially big cats! Make sure you leave plenty of time to get where you are going that evening. 
    • For your first and final nights book accommodation that is close to the edge of the Park.
  • Literature/Resources
    • I used the Kruger Website to understand the different areas in the Kruger which is absolutely vast.  There are sections on each area, which roads are good for which game, which lookout points to try. It is a must read.
    • Books: SaSol Birds of Southern Africa (Sinclair, Hockey, Tarboton and Ryan), and the Kingdon Guide to African Mammals.
    • For birds I printed eBird checklists for all the camps.
    • Tinkers do a foldable map of the Park which shows all the major and minor roads, camps, and facilities, as well as driving times between locations. It can be purchased in all camp shops. Indispensable.
    • At work I sit very close to a native South African who has been to Kruger many times and gave me masses of hugely helpful advice. Cheers Anthony! This page is really a summation of everything he told me and what I learned when I was there.
  • Food - Brai all the way! 
  • Animals have right of way and cars stop. If an Elephant or other large mammal seems to be deliberately coming towards you, back up. Turn around and leave if you have to.
  • Birds are plentiful, but not often easy to see from the car, which of course you are not allowed to get out of and it would be foolish to do so. Birding is actually best inside the camps.
  • Insects - I deliberately went during the two months of the year when the mosquitos are dormant. Kruger is in the malarial zone but we didn't see a single one.
  • Vegetation - varies by season, and is lusher and more impenetrable in the summer as you would expect. In winter it is probably easier to see animals. Bush fires are common so take precautions and don't ever risk it. There are always other roads to take.
  • Other - South African plugs are odd, and most travel adaptors don't have what you need. Phone signal was OK, especially around the camps, but it wasn't consistent.


  • Day 1 - We landed in Johannesburg just after 9am local time. It takes a while to get through immigration and out of the airport, so time was already pressing when we finally got on the road. The drive was incident free along Route 12 and then Route 4, and took about four and a half hours. We arrived at the Malelane Gate about an hour or so before it closed. It took about half an hour to do the paperwork, which included showing them all my printed copies of my booked accomodation and ID etc. It was then about a 30 minute drive to Berg-en-Dal rest camp.
  • Day 2 - Berg-en-Dal to Lower Sabie via Afsaal Picnic Site and Skukuza. Lower Sabie overnight. Night drive from the camp at 8pm.
  • Day 3 - All day driving around the Lower Sabie region, down to Krokodilpoort and back up (as there was no petrol at LS). Overnight at Lower Sabie again. Sunset drive from the camp at 4.45pm.
  • Day 4 - A long drive up through the grasslands via Orpen Dam, Satara and Olifants to Letaba. Overnight at Letaba. Sunset drive from the camp at 4.45pm. Ideally we would have stayed further south, but the trip was initially booked as two people before adding another indecisive child, by which time we couldn't add a third person to our hut at Skukuza (all the other camps were fine). Letaba, 170km and nearly 4 hours further north was the closest I could find. You really do have to book early.
  • Day 5 - All the way back down south to be in position to leave the camp at lunchtime the following day and do the drive back to Jo'Burg in daylight. Overnight at Berg-en-Dal.
  • Day 6 - We spent the morning looking for game close to the Crocodile River along roads like the S114, before leaving the Park at around 1pm at the Crocodile Bridge gate for the drive back to Jo'burg. This was very slow indeed and we only just made it in daylight. 


  1. In contrast to recent negative comments, I'm looking forward to this one. Already bringing back memories of two trips to SA to stay with relatives, with visits to Hluhluwe/Umfolozi both times & Mkuze as well on my first visit. All the advice on travel, etc. held good 17 & 26 years ago - a little scary second time around as my then partner & I did the trip on our own from our base near Durban.

    1. There was actually only one negative comment, but it was way off the mark and really pissed me off!