A Guide for First Time Kruger Visitors

A Guide for First Time Kruger Visitors

A Guide for First Time Kruger Visitors

Those who are first time visitors to the Kruger National Park are truly in for one of the most life changing experiences. This park is the stuff of legends and it is often featured on the must-see places lists as well as being a bucket list adventure of note.

Planning your trip to the Kruger National Park will present you with a myriad of options. You can choose to book a safari with a touring company like Royal Safaris, or you can drive yourself. Both have their pros and cons, and both will have an effect on your budget. When you begin your planning, you should do so with a clear but flexible budget in mind and it is important that you make sure you have researched all of your available options, and come up with an idea of how you’d like to see this world famous park.

In our quick guide, we cover the basics about what you need to know while planning your trip to the Kruger Park for the very first time. Our tips are helpful for both self-drive safaris and guided ones.

Plan your time of year

Summer or winter? There are benefits to visiting at either time and it’s really a matter of preference. Many park guests find that autumn, winter and spring, which runs from April to October, are the best times to visit as the intense heat that characterises summer has not yet arrived. Summers in the park can be quite overwhelming as it can be rather uncomfortable for most.  During the summer months the vegetation in the park can be quite over grown, which makes it incredibly difficult to spot animals.

What would you like to see?

Planning your route can, in a way, help you plan what you see. Keeping in mind that the animals go where they please making it impossible to know exactly what you’ll see, there are some places in the park that are home to more of one kind of species.

At entrance gates and rest camps, you’ll find sightings boards marking what has been seen and where. You can then drive these roads in search of those animals, and if you are lucky, they will still be hanging around.

Planning your route is also important for other reasons. Certain areas of the park are known to be more prone to malaria infected mosquitoes while other regions are almost malaria free. The routes you choose can also take you to watering holes and rivers (where animals are known to frequent) and you have the opportunity to take a trip to historical landmarks and memorials.

Where will you stay?

If you are going on a Kruger Park safari with a company, your accommodation arrangements should be included as a part of the package, if you are spending more than a day in the park. Many safari companies choose Hazyview as the place to accommodate guests. If you are driving yourself and intend to stay in the park, there are over 12 rest camps to choose from while there is also private accommodation and luxury accommodation in the park.

Getting there

Whether you’re driving or flying, the park is only 3 hours away from Johannesburg, and depending on the entrance you’d like to use, the park is an hour’s drive from Nelspruit and Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport. The park is easily accessible and there are countless transfer companies offering a ride.

Royal Safaris takes the hassle out of organising a Kruger National Park safari and we offer a wider range of safari options than most of our associates. With us, you can enjoy a morning drive with breakfast or an evening drive with a memorable braai and sundowners. The choice of how you experience the park is up to you.

Antelope of the Kruger National Park

Antelope of the Kruger National Park

Antelope of the Kruger National Park

When driving around the Kruger National Park, one of the first things you probably will see are the various antelope that call the Kruger Park their home. Here are some of the Kruger Park’s most famous antelope…

The Impala is the most common antelope in the Kruger national park and probably the first animal you see when entering the Kruger Park. The Impala is a social animal that lives in herds up to 40. Their fur color is duotone, with reddish-brown on their back and half of their sides and the rest is a cream colour. The Impala is both a grazer and a browser and feeds on grass, leaves twigs and even fruits and acacia pods. Impala aren’t shy animals and will go and explore camp sites and even walk up to your porch.

The Lichtenstein Hartebeest is a rather large and rare antelope. Both the females stand 1.25m tall at shoulder height with the males weighing up to 200kg. They have a dark brown ‘saddle’ on the back that stretches from the tail base to the base of the shoulders. Unlike the Red Hartebeest, the Lichtenstein Hartebeest has very short, stubby horns and it also has a much longer face. The Lichtenstein Hartebeest is a very rare animal that can only be found in the Kruger National Park (where originally thought to be extinct) in small numbers. The herds of the Hartebeest are rather small ranging around 10 members.

The Waterbuck is also a rather well-known antelope that can be found in the Kruger National park. It is a robust antelope that stands 1.4m and can weigh up to 260 kg. They have a grey colored coat with white rings around the eyes and nose and a white patch on their necks. The Waterbuck has very prominent ears that stick out under the horns of which the males are the only ones with long forward-facing horns). Another unique feature of the Waterbuck is the fact that their shaggy coat has a very unpleasant, musky smell that can linger at resting sites. Waterbuck are very strong swimmers and will retreat to very deep water when seriously threatened.

The Kudu is surely the most popular and iconic of the antelope in the Kruger. The Kudu is a massive antelope that show very strong Sexual dimorphism, with the bulls bearing massive record-breaking spiral horns that can reach 1.8 meters. With a shoulder height of 1.4m and weighing an average of 300kg, the Kudu can be crowned the king of the antelope. The Herds of Kudu usually consist of 20 members, with young bulls forming groups with older bulls after sexual maturity and young cows staying with their mothers. The hierarchy of kudu herds are size based, with the largest bull being the on in charge. All Kudus have beards and manes but the length depends on the age of the kudu. Both the male and female kudus have a light grey coat with white stripes on their sides.

The Black Sable is a very large and muscular antelope that is characterized by its glossy black fur, white face and long curved horns. The males are rather large, weighing in at 270 kg and about 1.4m at shoulder height. The horns on young antelope are only visible from two months old.  Black Sable is primarily a grazer, feeding on grass and other plant life found on the grass. The Black Sable also chews on the various carcasses found in the Kruger Park that help them counter Phosphorous deficiencies. The Herds of Black Sables are varied in size and are usually active during the early mornings and late afternoons. When young bulls are sexually mature, the Territorial bull will evict them from the herd.

When you book a Kruger Park Safari with Royal Safaris, you can experience these amazing animals yourself

Nocturnal Animals of the Kruger National Park

Nocturnal Animals of the Kruger National Park

Nocturnal Animals of the Kruger National Park

Anyone who has visited the Kruger National Park for a night drive or an evening drive will agree that a Kruger Park safari at this time of day is once in a lifetime experience that you won’t soon forget. 

When the sun dips low in the Kruger National Park and night falls, another, more magical side of the park comes alive. Dusk is the hour that the nocturnal hunters start stretching their limbs,waking up after a lazy day in the African heat. The haunting owl calls start-up and the hyenas start their laughter. Hippos leave their pools to go grazing and burrowers leave their dens for the dinner. And let’s not forget the singing of the jackal which fills the night.

Nocturnal Animals of the Kruger

A study of the trees will reveal several eyes staring back at you. The Bush Baby is surely the cutest of the night animals and is frequently seen going about their night time activities in the trees. These remarkable animals have amazing jumping abilities. 

The largest of the rodents in South Africa is the Porcupine, whihc is another nocturnal creature you might be lucky enough to see. Porcupines normally mate for life and the pair can have up to six burrows that they move their young around in as a defence against predators. Although porcupines live in pairs, they forage alone so it is more than likely that you will only see one and not a couple. 

Lions hunt in prides so if you lucky you will see either a kill or a pride of lions feasting after the kill. At a lion kill you are more than likely going to find hyena hanging around trying to get a bite to eat. Although Hyena can do their own hunting they prefer to scavenge from the other hunters. Leopard typically drags their kill up a tree to enjoy their meal in peace so be sure to keep looking to the trees. 

African Civets are similar to Genets with their striped and spotted coats. African Civets are larger than Genets and where African Civets are found on the ground, Genets are more likely to be spotted in trees. African Civets produce a sharp musk liquid from their pineal glands that were used as a perfume before the synthetic musk was produced. 

Aardvarks are a very rare sighting even though they are common throughout the Kruger National Park. This strange looking animal comes out at night to feast on ants or termites. Aardvarks are solitary animals and only pair up to mate where after the male leaves and the females will bring up their young on their own. 

Another animal that feasts on ants and termites is the Aardwolf. They can also be seen eating other insects that are around at night.

A huge highlight of being in the Kruger National Park at night is the night sky. On a clear night, without any city lights around, you will be awestruck at the amount of bright stars you will see. It will truly make you aware of the enormity of the universe. Looking up you will be able to see millions of stars. The San people have a story about how the Milky Way came to be. It is told that a young girl needed a visible path and so took ashes from a fire and threw them together with some bits of edible root into the sky. And when you gaze at the heavens, it is a story that is so easy to believe. 

Book a night drive with Royal Safaris, the only private company authorised to take guests on an exciting evening trip into the park.

Elephants of the Kruger National Park

Elephants of the Kruger National Park

Elephants of the Kruger National Park

While enjoying a Kruger Park safari with Royal Safaris, guests will almost certainly see an elephant or 6. The Southern Kruger is home to a massive number of elephants and you can imagine just how hard they are to miss!

Once driven almost to extinction on the African continent, the elephant population has grown from a mere 120 in 1920 to about 10 000 to date.  Through a huge conservation effort, the Addo Elephant Park and Kruger National Park now protect large herds which span massive areas across both parks.

About the Elephant

The elephant is the world’s largest land mammal and can weigh up to 7 tons and reach a height at the shoulder of 3.3 meters.  The tusks of the older bulls can weigh up to 60kgs each.  Some of the older elephants have had tusks that weigh up to 90kgs.  An elephants tusks, which are actually their upper incisors, keep growing throughout their lives.  For the males, their tusks are not only used to obtain food but are also used to fight or in self-defence.  These majestic animals can live up to an age of 70 years.

The elephant has a modified nose in the form of a trunk and this appendage has about 50 000 muscles in it.   At the very tip of its truck, it has extremely sensitive finger like appendages that enable the elephant to pick a flower, pull out grass and even take a thorn from their feet.  Its trunk is also capable of finding water, above or below ground.  They have an inch of thick, sensitive skin and they love to swim and after swimming, they will throw sand or mud on their bodies that acts as a sunscreen.

Elephants are herbivores and feed on about 300kgs of grass or bark in a day.  All that eating makes them thirsty and they can drink up to 200 litres of water in a single session.   That results in a heap of dung being deposited every 15 minutes.

Family Life

Due to their 22 month gestation period, elephants only have one calf every 3 or 4 years.  Calves are only weaned after 2 years. Females normally stay in the herd while the males leave at about 14 years when they are expelled from the herd and join other male groups.  Males generally breed until they are well into their twenties.  The elephant is a very caring mother and should a calf become orphaned, another nursing mother will suckle the orphan. Elephant herds are always lead by an older female.

The Emotions of an Elephant

Elephants are capable of extreme emotion and even seem to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.  They have been seen grieving at the body of a dead elephant of their herd and even cover the carcass the flowers or leaves. When they come across an elephant carcass they are known to spend time visiting, and gently touching the bones with their trunks.

 

In general elephants are peace loving animals.

Females may show aggression when they have calves with them and males in must can be exceptionally aggressive.   A sick, injured or harassed elephant may also show aggression.  Generally, an elephant will first do a mock charge in an attempt to ward of the threat.  They do this by standing tall and facing the threat with their ears spread wide.  Sometimes they shake their head and swing their trunks.  They may even storm at the threat and then stop before reaching the threat.  It’s best to then move away slowly as an elephant is quite capable of killing its threat and have been known to overturn cars with ease.

When on a Kruger Park safari with Royal Safaris you will see elephants and more as we drive through the park. Contact us to book your Kruger safari, breakfast or bush braai.

James Stevenson-Hamilton

James Stevenson-Hamilton

James Stevenson-Hamilton

Nicknamed by the Tsonga people as “Skukuza”, which loosely translates to “The man that turns everything upside down or the man that sweeps clean”, James Stevenson-Hamilton was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1867.  Although well educated, James Stevenson-Hamilton decided to follow a career in the military and he stationed himself on the banks of the Crocodile River in South Africa before moving and settling at Skukuza which was known at the time as Sabi Bridge.

James Stevenson-Hamilton served as the first warden in the Kruger National Park, which was then called the Sabi Nature Reserve, from 1902-1946.

In 1902, James Stevenson-Hamilton was seconded from the military by Sir Godfrey Lagden, to become the parks first warden.  Sir Godfrey Lagden deemed James Stevenson-Hamilton as a bachelor, a man of means and a professional soldier and therefore fit for this unusual appointment.  After signing a two year contract, Stevenson-Hamilton left for what was described back then as the “White Man’s Grave” with only a map of the area, oxen and wagon, provisions and ammunition.  The area of the Kruger National Park as we know it today, was uncharted back in the day and rife with malaria.  Since “game ranging” was a completely new term, Lagden gave James Stevenson-Hamilton free rein in the area with his only instruction being “Make yourself generally disagreeable and eliminate poaching.

James Stevenson-Hamilton believed that if there was no shooting of game in the area, the game would lose their fear of humans and come back to the area.  He made it his first order of business to announce to the locals, that no shooting would be permitted.  He moved from Crocodile Bridge to make his headquarters at Sabi Bridge.   Here he appointed two rangers, one being Harry Wolhuter, and with the aid to these two rangers they trained local rangers.  Many poachers were caught and soon the locals realised that they were serious about the no shooting rule.  They even caught and convicted senior policemen for poaching in the area.

James Stevenson-Hamilton not only patrolled the reserve to keep it safe from poaches, he also saw the need to thin out the lions and wild dogs.  He managed to convince companies in the vicinity of the Sabi Reserve to lend him land which eventually gave him a huge landscape, spread out in a remote corner in the Transvaal.   This new land extended the original 3 100 square kilometres to 36 000 square kilometres, creating what is today the Kruger National Park.  Wildlife could now roam safely from Crocodile Bridge to the Limpopo River.  Up to this point it was still known as a reserve but in 1912, Stevenson Hamilton presented his idea to nationalise the reserve and transform it to a national park.

In order to do this he needed the support of the public and therefore the reserve was opened to the public.  His idea was put on hold by Wold War 1.  Encouraged by Stevenson-Hamilton, Piet Grobler established the National Parks board in 1926 in parliament and the dream of Paul Kruger turned into the Kruger National Park.  The Kruger National Park was officially opened to the public in 1927.

After 44 years of service to the Kruger National Park, James Stevenson-Hamilton retired and settled in White River, where he passed away on the 10 December 1957 at the age of 90.

The Kruger National Park has a rich and diverse history, and you can find out all about it when you join Royal Safaris on an exciting Kruger National Park safari. Book your trip today.

Owls of the Kruger National Park

Owls of the Kruger National Park

Owls of the Kruger National Park

There are few things more hauntingly beautiful than hearing an owl calling after the sun has set. When on an evening drive in the Kruger National Park, or when enjoying an evening braai, it is not unusal to hear these mysterious birds.

A Supersitious Past

Associated with witches and sorcerers, owls have for the best part not being the most liked bird.  The fact that owls are mostly seen at night does not help their plight.  Many people in the rural communities are known to put spikes on their roofs in an attempt to keep them off their roofs, as it is believed that should an owl land on your roof, it is a bad omen.  As owls are fairly easy to catch during the day, witch doctors use them in their traditional medicine, as it is believed that owl ingredients in their potions help patients with eye sight problems and also wisdom and hunting.

Although owls have huge eyes that do see well at night, it is the exceptional hearing that enables them to hunt successfully at night.  Owls are usually found in woodland areas of the Kruger National Park.  The most common owls found in the Kruger National Park and surrounding areas are the Barn Owl, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl and the Marsh Owl.

Verreaux’s Eagle Owl

The Verreaux’s Eagle Owl stands about 66 cm tall and can weigh up to 2.3 kg.  This owl has a wingspan of 1.5 meters, and it has a pale grey body, a set of distinctive ear tufts and a pale face that is black rimmed.  Although its eyes are dark it has pink eyelids.

The Verreaux’s Eagle Owl is known to snatch roosting birds out their nests at night.  It also preys on bats, springhares, mongooses, rodents, frogs and a variety of insects and fish.  A special treat for this owl is a hedgehog, after peeling away the spiny skin, which it neatly discards, it tucks into the flesh.

In Shangaan folklore the Verreaux’s Eagle Owl is known as Nkhunsi, a messenger of death sent by a malevolent person.  To undo the death spell you will need to sever the head of the owl, that way you are able to send the ill fortune back to the person that sent it to you.

Barn Owl

In comparison, the Barn Owl is smaller and is only about 36 cm tall.  It weighs about 500g and has a wingspan of about 90cm.  The  Barn Owl can be found in and around rest camps as they are comfortable around humans.  It has a golden buff and pale colouring with a distinctive heart shaped face.  This owl preys mostly on rodents, although it does prey on birds, frogs and lizards.  At dusk Barn Owls and be seen gliding low over the ground or beating bushes in an attempt to get the smaller birds out.  They only hunt from dusk as they can easily become prey to other raptors during the day.

 Marsh Owl

An adult Marsh Owl is about 36 cm, weighs 310 grams and has a wingspan of about 90cm.  This owl has a gray disk face and centrally placed ear tufts.  The rest of his body is shades of brown.  A favourite meal is the Mole Rat, but it also preys on small birds and rodents.  The Marsh Owl also eats termites and beetles.  As its name predicts, Marsh Owls are commonly found in marshy areas, particularly where there are thick reeds of grass.  They can also be found in open thorn savannah though out the Kruger National Park.

Book your Kruger Park night safari with Royal Safaris and keep a look out for one of the many owls that frequent the park.