Below is a day-by-day overview of our time in Kruger, describing the routes we took and everything else we saw and did (restaurants, activities, accommodation). We had an incredible time in Kruger – we got to see so many animals, starting the moment we entered the park. I won’t go into too much detail regarding animal sightings, since it’s hard to remember what happened when. At the end of each day’s report, I’ll summarize the animal highlights.
Day 1, afternoon: We entered Kruger at Orpen Gate. We took the H7 to Satara, a great first drive in Kruger. Satara is a nice big camp, and I love the set up with all the bungalows. The bungalows look really nice from the outside and have an outdoor kitchen and deck, great for reading and cooking. Inside it’s pretty basic, old, and not so nice, but perfectly adequate. It’s hard to complain when you’re surrounded by lions!
We arrived a little after 2 and booked the sunset game drive for that night, which went from 4-7 pm. The game drive was incredible, and a great deal for about R250 each. Our guide was so nice and knowledgable and stopped whenever anyone requested it. At one point I seemed to misplace my phone, and spent a good few minutes frantically searching my pockets and the floor of the truck in an effort to retrieve it. Our guide – ever accommodating – kindly stopped the car until I could locate the phone. After a minute it became apparent that the phone was not there, and it must have slipped through a crack in the canvas sides of the safari truck. So we turned back towards the area where I last remembered having my phone, and the other passengers shone flashlights at the ground until ten minutes later my phone miraculously reflected the light! The guide stopped the truck (she had to back up directly next to the phone because getting out of the truck with a circling leopard around was too dangerous) and retrieved my phone. So I am pleased to say that I still have my phone, with a big crack on its back as a souvenir.
Dinner afterwards was at the Mugg & Bean, a chain which runs the restaurants at a few of the camps. I love them. They have big fun menus – and even bigger portions, definitely consider sharing dinners! – with good food and reasonable prices (R50-90), which is very nice of them since we’re a captive market. They have a small proportion of vegetarian options, about one per page, but since the menu is so huge there a lots of choices for everyone. My only complaint is that service is very slow.
After dinner we spent some time staring at the sky, which is pretty amazing here in the middle of nowhere. We were able to see thousands of stars and the Milky Way!
Memorable sightings: Our first day in Kruger was our best day, and we saw 17 different mammals, including a rhino, giraffes, elephants, lions (from far), a leopard, hippos, a hyena, warthogs, baboons, monkeys, ostriches (I know, not a mammal), and many more.
– 3 minutes after entering Kruger from Orpen Gate, before we saw a single impala (there are millions of impalas), we saw a White Rhino (fun fact: they’re not actually white) right off the side of the road. It was our closest rhino sighting of the whole trip.
– On our sunset tour, after dark, we saw an injured leopard on the road. We followed him/her as he/she walked along the road for about 20 minutes, right next to our truck.
Day 2: We started our day with a short drive up and down S100, returning for breakfast before we checked out. We took the main roads from Satara to Skukuza, and from Skukuza we took a small detour on Doispane Road and the S3 to Paul Kruger Gate.
We stopped at the Tshokwane Picnic Site for lunch, where we had some snacks we bought for the road. We’ve read and heard that there is a lot of crime in SA, but up to this point we’ve felt pretty safe. Unfortunately, we were mugged at Tshokwane. We were sitting at a picnic table, having lunch in peace, when the brazen criminal jumped onto the chair right next to us. The number one rule is to give the thief whatever he wants without resisting, so we abandoned the table in fear. Then the unrepentant monster proceeded to invite his family over, and they had lunch at our table, at our expense! We thought that the other tourists would immediately report the crime to police, but instead they took pictures of the criminals, as if they were celebrities. What a barbaric and dangerous country.
After a long day of driving we made it to our home for the next two nights, the Sabie River Bush Lodge, 19km past Paul Kruger gate. We highly, highly recommend SRBL, especially if there’s a night or two where you can’t find space inside the park. We paid about R1100/night including tax, around what we paid for the bungalows in Kruger. But instead of a basic bungalow, we had a really nice big room. The resort itself was beautiful, with a mini putt course, nicely manicured paths, and a great deck overlooking the river, where we saw hippos and elephants. Best of all, breakfast and dinner for two were included! They had a really nice fancy-looking restaurant in the resort where meals were served. We were expecting a mediocre buffet for both meals, but instead dinner was a three course meal that was surprisingly delicious. Breakfast consisted of an initial cold buffet, followed by a made-to-order egg-based meal. Lastly, the service was amazing. Everyone who worked there is so nice and friendly. Our first morning I went to get something from the car before breakfast, and someone was hand-washing every car in the parking lot!
Memorable sightings: A female lion and cub lying about 20 feet from the road on the S100, and a male lion guarding a dead hippo about 100 feet from the road. Also numerous elephant sightings, and a small owl in a tree at Satara.
Day 3: We took a full day trip around Kruger. We made an H4-1, H10, H1-2 triangle from Skukuza to Lower Sabie to Tshokwane and back to Skukuza. We saw African buffalos shortly after entering the park, completing the “Big 5” (we managed to see lions, elephants, giraffes, and a rhino on day 1, but surprisingly no buffalo for our first two days). Lunch was at the Mugg & Bean at Lower Sabie, where you could see hippos and elephants from the restaurant. Others saw a lion through binoculars or zoom lenses, but we couldn’t see.
Side note: People here have an unhealthy obsession with lions. We have had so many great experiences with elephants, our favourite animal here, since they come in groups of 10+, with babies, and they eat, play, walk, play-fight, cross the road, roll in the water/mud, etc. As everyone knows, lions are extremely lazy. They just lie there and do nothing. Obviously, a lion is a magnificent animal and a lion sighting is very special. We are very grateful that we were able to see one 20 feet from the road near Satara. I would love to see something like a male lion walking majestically down the road, but we weren’t that lucky. Otherwise, a sleeping lion is a sleeping lion, and once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. So I don’t understand why everyone needs to take out their binoculars and zoom lenses to see a bit of a lion lying down 500 feet away. Whenever I see 10 cars pulled over, someone tells me there’s a lion far away that everyone’s trying to get a small glimpse at. Meanwhile, we’ll keep driving and come across a group of elephants crossing the road, with nobody else in sight. [/end rant]
Memorable sightings: When we left Lower Sabie to drive up the H10, it started raining hard. We drove along the H10 expecting that animals would like the rain and start dancing in the streets, but that didn’t happen. We drove for 30 minutes and saw nothing at all. We were getting pretty discouraged – there were no cars and no animals anywhere in sight. Then, we saw an elephant by the side of the road. We pulled over and saw 10-15 more, including about 4 babies. We killed the engine and rolled down the windows, and for the next 30 minutes nobody else came. It was just us and the elephants. They came within literally three feet of our windows. We heard only the sounds of them and the rain and we watched them feed, play-fight, walk around, cross the road, and best of all play in the mud. Near the end the rain stopped and a huge rainbow appeared, right behind the elephants. Definitely our best Kruger experience.
– On the H10 just south of Tshokwane, we saw a leopard tortoise crossing the road. We planned to make sure he made it across without getting hit by a car, but after 5 minutes and minimal progress we gave up. They are in no hurry.
Day 4: We checked out of SRBL and drove to Berg-en-Dal. We took the main roads there, with a detour on the S120, a curvy dirt road that climbs and descends a mountain. Today was our least amount of driving of our Kruger days, and also the least productive. We checked into Berg-en-Dal, which was the nicest bungalow of the three we stayed in. The camp is really nice and feels very small, even though there are 91 bungalows. We took it easy tonight and didn’t do any drives in the late afternoon/evening. We walked the “Rhino Trail,” a nice 30 minute walk along the fence in the camp, which was fun even if we didn’t see any rhinos. We had dinner at the restaurant, which is not a Mugg & Bean. It’s a fancier and nicer place, with a much smaller menu (2 pages vs 20 at M&B) and higher prices (R90-110 for a main course). We both got the veggie burger, one of the few vegetarian options on the menu. To our surprise, it was delicious. It was also humongous, as it came with two patties and three onion rings inside the burger. We both took half of our burgers home and still had a big meal!
Memorable sightings: Not much. A few elephants and hippos, and African buffalos and giraffes on the S120.
Day 5: We woke up early for a 6:00 am morning walk, which we had booked well in advance since they sell out fast. This is a pretty expensive activity at around R450 each (small breakfast included), but there are only 8 guests (6 in our case as there were two no-shows) and two guides. The guides drive you to a certain spot (it changes every day so that the animals don’t get too used to humans) where they park the truck and you all go on a long nature walk. You are instructed to walk in a single-file line, with the guides in front (with their big guns, just in case). The walk was a little boring to start, but it ended up being a really great time. It’s a much more intimate experience than driving, and you feel very exposed and vulnerable (at least I did). Plus it’s nice to get some exercise instead of being stuck in the car all the time.
Our guides were very knowledgeable. We learned a lot about animal behaviours (especially with regards to their droppings, which we saw a lot of) and about birds, which our guide could easily identify by their call alone. The highlight was when we spotted a white rhino high on a hill. With the guides leading us, we decided to approach the rhino. The climb was pretty intense for about 15 minutes until we were quite close. We stayed very quiet on the climb, since rhinos have remarkably good hearing and we didn’t want to scare him – lest he trample us. When we got close to him we found a good flat spot and had a nice breakfast with a rhino view! By this point the rhino had noticed us, and he gave us a pointed death stare the entire time we were eating. Thankfully he didn’t charge us, which I was half expecting. On the way down we spotted a giraffe and a bunch of hippos walking around on land. All around a great experience, and if you’re in Kruger for a while I would recommend doing it once for a change of pace.
After the walk we returned to the camp where we checked out and had breakfast, which was cheap and delicious; we’re big fans of the food at Berg-en-Dal. Then we set off for Lower Sabie, our final destination in Kruger. We took the S25 and S28 dirt roads. We got to Lower Sabie a little after two, and signed up for that evening’s sunset drive, since the sunset drive our first night was so great. Our bungalow was huge and pretty nice, though it had an odd layout, with the kitchen separate from the bedroom. The bathroom was big and had a bath but no shower. We think it was probably a handicap room.
The sunset tour was great. It started slow, as in general our guide was not very discerning, and in our opinion would waste too much time looking at animals that were too far away. For example, we spent 5 minutes looking at a single elephant hidden by bushes. Because of this we were in a rush later, and we had to ignore elephants crossing the road! Soon after leaving the camp, we were told that there was a leopard in a tree. I was anxious to get there quickly before the leopard ran away. Instead, we stopped and wasted 20 minutes letting everyone have a turn looking through binoculars at a lion 500+ feet away, which was very frustrating! Luckily we barely made it in time to see the leopard, and we ended up having great sightings later in the drive (see below), which more than made up for it.
One last lion rant (I promise): at night, we heard a lion roaring, which was pretty amazing. Instead of listening and appreciating the sounds, everyone desperately shone their flashlights along the ground, looking for the tiniest glimpse of a far-way lion. Michelle and I were the only ones not acting like our lives depended on spotting the lion. So while everyone else was being obsessive, we relaxed and looked at the stars. And then a shooting star appeared, the second time in my life I have ever seen one. And nobody else even noticed!
Later that night, after returning to camp, we drove along the driveway to a quiet dark spot, and took lots of pictures of the night sky. We got incredible shots of the Milky Way!
Memorable sightings: Unlike the previous day, today’s drive was very successful. We saw elephants, giraffes, lots of buffalos and hippos, and multiple rhinos, some from far and some from close. Other than our sighting 5 minutes after entering Kruger (which was the best of them all), today provided our only rhino sightings.
– As previously mentioned, we saw a leopard in a tree right by the side of the road on the sunset tour. We got there and the leopard was just lying on a branch! After about a minute (he’d been there an hour already) he climbed down, which was very impressive, and disappeared into the bush. An amazing sighting, and thankfully we didn’t spend another minute looking for that distant lion! We also had many great nighttime sightings, including two hyenas, multiple “bush babies,” and a civet.
Day 6: We had a big breakfast at the M&B, then left at 9:45 am for our long and boring drive back to Johannesburg, where we would stop at Tashas for an early dinner before going to the airport. We drove along the H4-2 to Crocodile Bridge gate, but we didn’t have any good sightings on the short drive. The highlight was after we left Kruger, there’s a one lane bridge across the river. But before we could cross, we had to wait as there was an impala traffic jam on the bridge!