Thursday, September 30, 2021

A visit to Kruger

 Michael - Thursday

The Kruger National Park is South Africa’s iconic game reserve – a huge area of pristine bushveld wilderness that stretches along the border between South Africa and Mozambique. It extends 360km from north to south and 65km from east to west. It was proclaimed as a national park in 1926 and additional areas were added over the years. About 400 square km in the very north was subject to a successful land claim in 1996 by the local people who had been displaced by the previous government in order to extend the national park. However, they decided that rather than resettle the area, they would adopt a conservation strategy and run a variety of private lodges in the area, which had never been extensively opened to tourists before. Since then a further 2,000 square km was added by the incorporation of a variety of privately-owned game reserves along the western border. These do not form part of the national park, but now have no boundary fences with Kruger and follow general conservation guidelines set by the national park. (The Olifants River Game Reserve where I have a share in a bungalow is one of these.) The greater park is host to over 500 species of birds and all the lowland mammals including all the big cats, elephant, both species of rhino, and buffalo.

Such a comfortable spot...

I was invited by my friend Aron Frankental (whose superb photographs have appeared here and even on the cover of a Kubu book) to join his family at one of the special family houses that he’d booked in Kruger to celebrate his seventieth birthday. (The celebration had been delayed by covid, but better late than never! Stan unfortunately couldn’t join us because he’s currently in the US.)

Ground Hornbill going about his business

Agama at Lower Sabi camp

Hyena with cubs

Skukuza is by far the largest rest camp in the park, and there’s a separate village which houses the administrative and research centre for the park. It’s large and busy, and it wasn’t Aron’s original choice. Last year he’d booked the whole of a small rest camp but covid ruined that plan. However, it turned out that the house has a wonderful situation in a quiet, private position right on the border of the camp with frontage onto the Sabi River. It has six bedrooms each looking across the lawn area towards the river, and a separate communal lounge and dining area.

Wild Fig house Skukuza

The view from the house

A visitor to the house

We had a wonderful four days, and it was great to spent time with Aron’ sons and their delightful families. I haven’t visited this area of the park for many years, and it was interesting to see how it’s developed. As with so many things, there were positives and negatives. Kruger has introduced many new ways of catering to tourists and making the experience more enjoyable for them. Open vehicles driven by licensed private guides, night drives to appreciate the wonderful nocturnal life, much better restaurants and shops. Even the picnic sites where you’re allowed to get out of your vehicle and wander around, now have shops where you can get a decent cappuccino and other treats. A clever innovation that struck me was a bank of carports protecting your vehicle from the scorching sun whose roofs consisted of solar panels that are used to power all the facilities. I was really impressed.

The Shalati Hotel train on the Sabi bridge

Then there is the impressive Shalati hotel situated on the old railway bridge spanning the Sabi near Skukuza. It’s five star accommodation with wonderful views of wildlife and the river, and the price is fair at $1,000 per couple per day including all meals, drinks, and game drives.

The rooms are beautifully done with picture windows

But… Why does there always have to be a but?  The house we stayed at with its attractive design and super setting has been allowed to deteriorate. Although it’s clean, it lacks basic maintenance that has resulted in faulty plumbing, jammed doors, and gaps in the tiles. One tired sliding door eventually gave up altogether and collapsed, fortunately without injuring anyone. Skukuza management has the resources and facilities they need. Apparently, it just doesn’t have the commitment to keep things at the quality that visitors would be entitled to expect given prices that are fair but not bargains.

Spot the lion...

Skukuza is easily accessible from surrounding towns for day visitors and the road from there along the beautiful Sabi river is sealed and one of the best roads for game viewing in the winter when the animals congregate along the watercourse. Lions are always the most sought after sightings, and the traffic jams over a busy weekend would do justice to Johannesburg gridlock. The good news is that the animals have learnt to completely ignore the cars. Stay alert – the impala don’t even glance as they step into the road confident of their right of way. Elephants, however, may take a slightly different view. If pushed too far, they may push back!


  1. Sounds Wonderful - happy memories of staying at Skukuza Rest House pre Covid. Some interesting people around the camp and wild adventures on early am guided walks.

  2. UHH, about those elephants redirecting traffic...

    Seems to me that Shalati beats Skukuza if one cares about the state of accommodations.