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A long-term dream had been going on a safari in the famous Kruger National Park. South Africa has a large number of National Parks and game reserves , however Kruger National is by far the most widely known. If you have ever wanted to go on safari in Africa, this is a bucketlist item!
We flew to Johannesburg International Airport – from here you can either drive or catch small domestic flights. The fastest and perhaps easiest is the flight to Hoodspruit, however be warned, book these flights well in advance because there are limited seats on the smaller planes and the costs can get high! Most of the lodges have shuttles that will pick you up directly from the airport and drive you into the park and to your accommodation. Don’t pack the camera too deep in your bag though, from the time your plane starts its descent you’re a chance of spotting your first wildlife – even the airport has warthogs and cheetah! The drive from the airport to your lodge takes you through the gates and into the park and depending on where you’re staying and what time of day it is, you will almost certainly start seeing wildlife from the time you enter the gates. I remember we got really excited and wanted to stop and photograph every zebra and buck we drove past on the way to the lodge – don’t worry, this is just an introduction!
There are as many ways to experience Kruger National Park as there are animals within its boundaries. From day trips to luxury tours, from footed treks to bird’s eye views from helicopters.
KNP is one of the largest parks in South Africa and stretches 360km North to South. It has 9 main gates, 21 rest camps and 15 designated safari lodges.
The Winter/dry season (June to September) is considered the preferred time to visit the park – the weather is milder and relatively dry, there’s a much lower risk of contracting malaria and the more sparse vegetation makes it easier to locate and see wildlife.
Whilst you wont need spending money if youre staying at one of the lodges, if you want money for tips etc then you need to exchange or withdraw at Johannesburg.
Most places in the park have very poor phone coverage. If you are reliant on being contacable then take this into account. Hoyo-Hoyo had wifi in the common areas that allowed catching up on emails, social media or messages if you needed.
Hoyo-Hoyo Lodge genuinely exceeded our expectations. It was truly luxury in the bush. You will be welcomed by the extremely friendly staff who have usually grown up in the areas around Kruger NP. The accommodation itself is far from rough. Whilst small, the bungalows are more than adequate for the limited amount of time you end up spending in your room. One word of warning - the ground squirrels, whilst appearing cute, are highly effective thieves and will likely come into your rooms when you're asleep or not there and eat any food left out. They even went through our cases, chewing into anything that contained food!
The showers were outside, which provided a real “getting back to nature” feel, however it was also brutally cold if you wanted a shower before the early morning safaris in Winter.
The communal areas at the lodge are beautifully set up and overlook a waterhole that attracts a huge variety of wildlife. We found ourselves sitting for hours watching the monkeys annoy the elephants, the small gemsbock sleeping beside the deck or reading away whilst all variety of animal came by for their daily drink.
If you want to be certain of seeing every animal, go to a zoo. One of the greatest parts of a wildlife safari is that there are no guarantees, the animals, time of year, weather and a lot of luck determine what you will see.
We found that some drives were incredible with a huge varierty of sightings, whilst others went for hours without seeing much at all. For that reason I would definitely recommend spending at least a couple of nights so you can go on a minimum of 4 drives.
Drives are typically done morning and evening to take advantage of the most likely times animals are active.
We probably expected it to be easier to spot things than it was – our guide, Sweety Boy, was beyond incredible. His experience and eyesight was remarkable. Sometimes it literally took minutes and getting hundreds of meters closer until people in our vehicle could see the things he spied. I understand some people like the intrigue of driving themselves around places like Kruger, however the money you spend on an experienced safari driver is worth every single Rand. His knowledge and stories as we drove made the whole experience so much more worthwhile. I would recommend trying to have the same guide for the time you are there if possible. You will genuinely get to know how they work and they will get to know what you have and haven’t seen and try to build the overall experience for you.
We also did a guided walk through the Park. Whilst we felt safe at all times with the experienced (and armed) guide, it did have an additional element to the drives. Unfortunately we didn’t see a great deal as the area you can cover by foot compared to a car is very small. We did spend time following rhino and leopard tracks and it was definitely nice to get out and walk through such an incredible National Park.
Pack only what you need for the drives depending on the weather. It can be bitterly cold early morning and evening during the winter, so take lots of layers of clothes.
Most things are provided by the lodge, including morning teas – ours usually consisted of traditional rusk biscuits, biltong, tea, dried fruit and nuts. Cold drinks including wine, beer and soft drinks were also supplied at each small camp stop.
The all inclusive food at Hoyo-Hoyo was superb. They have their own chef who prepares restarant quality food from a menu that changes each day. Mostly it is a showcase of traditional South African cuisine – so ox-tail, malva pudding, boerworse and pap are all likely to be on the menu! We both love our food and I consider myself a pretty harsh critic, but the food at Hoya Hoya was excellent! They even went as far as setting up a private candlelit dinner for us on one of the nights.
If you have any dietary requirements you will need to make this known before you arrive, because it is too far from any towns for the kitchen to change the menu last minute.
Goes without saying, the game drives are the highlight and the main reason to go to Kruger National Park. I think if you lived in South Africa and visiting the park was more regular, then the self-drive option would be great and more flexible – but when you are travelling and perhaps time is short and expectation high, the guided drives are the best. It has the advantage of taking care of everything for you including food, local knowledge and access to areas not permitted in public vehicles.
There is a variety of lodges that offer these services with a range of budgets. Compared to most things in South Africa, game safaris in parks like Kruger are relatively expensive. However I would certainly suggest that spending a little extra to maximize your experience is well worth it.
The “Big Five” of African Safari animals are the lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo. Seeing each of them is what everyone wants to tick off. Different areas of the park are more well known for different species. We saw lions, rhinos, elephants and buffalo. The leopard is our reason to return!
Get a reasonable book or animal guide for your drives. It is incredible just how many different animals beyond the obvious ones you will see.
Bucketlist. Adventure. Wild. Nature. Animals.
These days, taking photos of your travel is a must. But for wildlife and safari drives, it becomes even more significant, because there is another variable in play – the animals!
Everyone has their preference in terms of photography equipment and some people spend thousands on cameras and lenses for safaris. For wildlife photography, it is nice to have a camera with a zoom lens (at least 200mm) as many animals will be some distance from you. To be honest, we also use a lot of iPhone photography no matter where we go, as it is very quick and easy and can be uploaded immediately to social media etc. It was interesting to notice on our drives that some other guests had a lot of fancy equipment but didn’t have experience using it and became frustrated they couldn’t get the shots they wanted.
Plan and book early. Compared to most things in South Africa, game lodges can be extremely expensive, especially in peak seasons. This includes internal flights to places like Kruger NP.
The additional costs of staying at one of the many lodges will be well worth the money! The guides are excellent and will significantly improve your chances of having a successful drive.
Choose your photography equipment wisely. Go with familiar equipment, pack your chargers with universal plugs and as always back up your days work.
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