Battle at Kruger

Three species - two of the Big 5 (lion and buffalo) clash ... enter a third species - an opportunistic crocodile ... and incredible drama at Kruger National Park ensues.

1. It's huge

Kruger sunset

Wildlife grazing in Kruger at sunset

(Image: Onne Vegter)

Kruger is one of the biggest nature conservation areas in the world. The Park covers almost 20,000 km² (or some 7,600 miles²). It spans two provinces: Mpumalanga and Limpopo, and borders two countries: Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

There's something quite humbling about standing at one of the lookouts (the one at Olifants Rest Camp is a personal favourite) when you realise that, in whichever direction you look - from horizon to horizon - is pure, untamed Kruger. Unspoiled natural African bushveld. It certainly adds a new perspective on life.

2. It's part of a bigger picture

White rhino in the Kruger

White rhino, one of the Big Five

(Image: Simon Vegter)

On 9 December 2002, the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP) was proclaimed. The GLTP is a 35,000 km² peace park that links together some of the best and most established wildlife areas in southern Africa: South Africa's Kruger National Park, Mozambique's Limpopo National Park and Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou National Park. This vast conservation area is being managed as an integrated unit across the three international borders.

Plans are all set to gradually incorporate other neighbouring lands, some of them ancient tribal lands, into what is intended to become a bigger transfrontier conservation area measuring almost 100,000 km². The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park and its surrounding transfrontier conservation area will then become the world's greatest animal kingdom.

3. It's old

The Kruger was established by its namesake, Paul Kruger, the South African President of the day in 1898 as a protected area for wildlife and to reduce hunting. Proclaimed in 1926, Kruger Park first opened its gates to the public in 1927. The entrance fee of the day? A princely sum of 1 Pound per vehicle.

It's steeped in history, from ancient San rock paintings to vital archaeological sites like Masorini and Thulamela. These national treasures reflect the cultures, peoples and events that have played a part in creating and conserving the Kruger National Park and all its assets.

4. It's fascinating

Kruger National Park has more large mammals than any other park in Africa. Besides the famous Big 5: elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and buffalo - there is a wealth of antelope species, warthogs, ostriches, zebra, wildebeest, hyena, cheetah, wild dogs and many smaller animals like otters, mongeese and shrews. Definitely the crown jewel of South African national parks, Kruger has a huge variety of species: 336 trees, 49 fish, 34 amphibians, 114 reptiles, 507 birds and 147 mammals.

5. It's natural

Lionesses at a kill

Lionesses at a kill

(Image: Nicky Firer)

There are no cages, pens or circus performances at Kruger National Park. What you see is what you get: animals behaving as they should in their natural habitat. It's 100% authentic - a vast, untamed natural wilderness where you'll find a variety of eco-systems, plant life, birds, reptiles, insects and mammals that go about their daily lives before your eyes. Some are the hunted. Some are the hunters. And one of the highlights of any trip to Kruger is to witness 'a kill'. Or even something more unusual and dramatic, like the famous "Battle of Kruger" - where three species - lion, buffalo and crocodile - pitted their wits against each other. It's really worth watching if you haven't seen it yet (or even if you have before) :

[Ok, another thing you probably didn't know: we're lucky enough to have the guide from the "Battle of Kruger" video, Frank Watts, on our team. Together with Simon Vegter and Nicky Firer, our guides win many accolades and we're seriously proud of them.]

But whatever happens at Kruger National Park, you can be assured that it's unrehearsed, as-it-happens and absolutely real.

6. It's sub-tropical

Leopard in the Kruger

Portrait of a leopard

In general, the Kruger National Park is hot and dry, whatever the season. During the summer months (September to April), it's hot and sunny with sporadic thundershowers. Temperatures can often soar to more than 38 °C (100 °F). Winter months extend from May to August, and this is the dry season, with temperatures averaging between 8°- 26°C (46° - 79° F).

Of course, there's always healthy debate about when it's the best time to visit Kruger (a similar question already has 325 replies and 9330 views on the Kruger National Park forum page!) Ultimately, it seems that it's often down to personal preference - or when you can sneak a visit.

Here's a quick, general guide:
June to August

Mid-winter, dry season. Arguably the best time for game viewing. Animals tend to stay close to dwindling waterholes. The bush is dry and trampled, making it easier to spot wildlife.

September to November

Springtime, first rains due. An exciting time of renewal - bush bright and green, not too thick yet. Many animals are giving birth and starting to mate. An abundance of young often means plenty of predator action.

December to February

Summer. Bush is lush, green and thick, making game viewing more tricky. Early morning and late afternoon game viewing is best as animals hide in the shade to escape the midday heat, often boiling hot.

March to May

Becoming autumn. Daytime temperatures not as hot. Bush is very thick, hampering good game spotting. Last of the thunderstorms, often quick and dramatic and helping to cool things down.

If you visit our Facebook page where we regularly post our latest safari pics from Kruger, you'll see what we've been able to spot month by month - and we've been lucky to have had awesome sightings all through the year.

7. It's diverse

Buffalo at sunset

Buffalo gathering at sunset

(Image: Simon Vegter)

Whatever your preferences, there's something to suit your taste and pocket at Kruger National Park. Sanparks (South African National Parks Board) itself operates 13 rest camps, four satellite camps, five bushveld camps, two bush lodges and two overnight hides. Then within private concession areas inside Kruger National Park, there are a further 17 luxury safari lodges, offering a choice of accommodation types and styles from simple chalets and cabins to opulent and exotic safari tents.

8. It's got 9 different entrances

The Kruger National Park is kind of long and skinny: it's about 360 km (220 mi) long, but only about 90 km across at its widest point (average width about 65 kms / 40 mi). Depending on which camp you're visiting, there are nine different entrance gates which will get you inside this massive wildlife reserve. Here's a list of them with their approximate distances from Johannesburg.

  • Numbi gate: 410 km
  • Malelane gate: 425 km
  • Phabeni gate: 435 km
  • Crocodile Bridge gate: 475 km
  • Paul Kruger gate: 465 km
  • Orpen: 490 km
  • Phalaborwa: 490 km
  • Punda Maria: 550 km
  • Parfuri: 600 km

The gate opening and closing times also vary according to the time of year. These apply to BOTH the entrance gates to Kruger National Park, as well as the gates at each rest camp within the park.

Gate opening times at Kruger National Park
Months Open Close
November - February (Summer) 05:30 18:30
March 05:30 18:00
April 06:00 18:00
May - July (mid-Winter) 06:00 17:30
August - September 06:00 18:00
October 05:30 18:00

Have a look at this reference map of Kruger National Park to get a better idea.

9. It's easy to get to

A tower of giraffes in the Kruger

A tower of giraffes

(Image: Simon Vegter)

There's a great road network linking Kruger National Park to most of the major cities, like Johannesburg and Pretoria. If you don't feel like a long drive, there are reputable operators that offer an excellent daily road transfer service, from the main centres, as well as the nearby airports.

By air, there are several options:

Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) is near Nelspruit, capital of Mpumalanga province. There are daily flights from Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and Vilanculos (Mozambique). It's the largest airport in the area, better if you're visiting southern areas of Kruger - approx. 40 km to Numbi Gate, 60 km to Malelane Gate, 75 km to Phabeni Gate and 80 km to Kruger Gate. It's a good four hours drive to some of the northern entrance gates.

Eastgate Airport is at Hoedspruit and has a few daily flights to Johannesburg. At the moment, there are only three flights from Cape Town every week - on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. The closest Kruger National Park entrance gate is Orpen Gate, approx. 70 km away.

Phalaborwa Airport is just 2 km from Kruger National Park's Phalaborwa Gate, ideal if you're going to the northern camps like Letaba, Olifants, Punda Maria and Shingwedzi. There are two daily flights from Johannesburg midweek and one per day on weekends.

Skukuza Airport is inside Kruger National Park and was previously only open for chartered flights. It now receives daily scheduled flights from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

10. It's fighting the good fight

While committed to all areas and aspects of conservation, the staff and management of Kruger National Park currently face their biggest challenge ever - the scourge of rhino poaching.

The Park's anti-poaching unit consists of 650 specially trained anti-poaching game rangers, assisted by the SAPS (South African Police Services) and the SANDF (South African National Defence Force and the SAAF (South African Air Force). As from 2013, the Park is equipped with two borrowed drones and two Gazelle helicopters - kindly donated by the RAF to assist with monitoring from the air. They've also established various buffer zones and set up automated movement sensors to relay intrusions along the Mozambique border (from where most of the poachers have gained access to the Park) to a control centre. A specialist dog unit has also been introduced.

Yet it remains a formidable task. It is an enormous area to patrol. The greatest threat to the rhino is the Kruger's location, in close proximity to rural communities living in desperate poverty. To them, the few hundred rands they receive from poaching rhino horn will feed their families for months.

The onus is on each and every one of us, to assist, educate and support this vital cause. So that our children, and our children's children, can see these magnificent creatures for themselves.

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Which is better - a safari in the Kruger National Park or in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve? What's the difference between the two? And what are the pros and cons of each? I've done both types of safaris many times, so let's take a closer look.

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About the author

Alison
Alison

A 'word smith' or copywriter with over 25 years experience, love travelling, wildlife and conservation; fascinated by alternative energy, alternative building and alternative health. Consummate reader and traveller, both internationally and southern Africa. Have two remarkable daughters that continue to amaze and teach me daily. Consider myself privileged to live on the best continent on the planet.