Exotic Adventures: Kruger National Park, South Africa

There is no name more intimately associated with big game safaris than Kruger. Kruger National Park, inaugurated in 1926 as South Africa’s first national park, is one of the largest games reserves on the entire African continent. The massive tract of land encompasses over 7,500 sq miles of rolling savanna, waterholes and rivers and is situated in the northeastern part of South Africa.

It is populated by hundreds of native African species in their natural environment but its main draw has always been the high concentration of the Big Five – lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards and buffalo. The Big Five were so named by big game hunters who considered them the hardest animals to hunt on foot.

Today, Kruger National Park is at the forefront of conservation efforts that have paid some dividends in the past decades. You can be virtually certain that the next documentary you watch on these animals would have been shot at Kruger.

However, despite the park authorities’ best efforts, Kruger is a killing field, especially for the rhino population. From 2000 to 2012, close to a thousand of the majestic creatures were slaughtered; in 2013, the number skyrocketed to 520 for that year alone. The use of rhino horn in outdated Chinese concepts of medicine is the single culprit and educational initiatives are having negligible impact in demand from that part of the world.

Wide, open and wild Kruger is also home to many other species of fauna. Besides the hundreds of species of birds, visitors can also be mesmerized by cheetahs, hyenas, zebra, giraffe, hippos, African wild dog, waterbuck and impala.

The rivers abound with crocodiles which make approaching open water bodies perilous for both man and beast. Zambesi sharks, also known as bull sharks, have been spotted in the river waters in the south of the reserve. Besides crocodiles, Kruger also plays home to over 100 other species of reptiles, including the fearsome black mamba and several African rock pythons.

Kruger is a year-round destination, with each season bringing in its own migration of birds and animals. The open grassland and African sun combine to rarely let the daytime temperature drop below 25 degrees Celsius (77 F); in fact, temperatures of above the 30 degrees Celsius are the norm.

The months of April, May, September and October are the most popular for their combination of cooler temperatures and little to no rain.

Accommodation is varied, catering for those who want to rough it with minimal amenities, those who want a return to luxury between safari tours, and the spectrum in between. Rest camps, private lodges and camps abound across the geography so you have your choice of bed no matter what animals you want to have in your sights the next day.