The Kruger National Park in less than 36 hours
If time isn’t on your side, don’t let a trip to the Kruger National Park fall off your must-see-while-in-South-Africa list. A whirlwind trip of the park can be done – in less than 36 hours, in fact – and is not only worth the trip in ways only the experience itself will show, but is also a rollicking good adventure.
Undertaking such a journey is fairly simple and requires only the bare minimum of forward planning. Starting in Johannesburg or Pretoria is best, though if you happen to find yourself in one of the smaller towns en route to the Kruger – such as Nelspruit – so much the better. Following that, here are a few steps to help you along your way:
- Book a night’s accommodation. Preferably somewhere in the south of the park as this is where you will spend most of your time. Pretoriuskop, Skukuza and Berg-en-Dal are the most easily accessible options. Do this as soon as you know when you will be visiting the park, as the self-catering bungalows in the park tend to fill up in advance
- Hire a car. Depending on the number of people you will be travelling with, this needn’t be a very big car. A 4X4 certainly isn’t essential, though the comfort and extra height such a vehicle provides can be pleasant. The dirt roads in the Kruger are in good condition, and a light car will serve just fine
- Pack some padkos. Padkos is an Afrikaans word that has no English equivalent. It literally means ‘road food’ or ‘food for the road’, and is a fundamental part of any South African road trip. Biltong – a dried, cured meat indigenous to South Africa and loved by its locals – is essential
- Pack some more food – something a little more substantial than road fare this time. You may choose to eat in the restaurants at the camps for dinner and breakfast, but a few packed sandwiches will stand you in good stead as you cruise the park, marvelling at its inhabitants and beauty. If you choose to prepare your own dinner, a braai (barbecue) in the bush is a uniquely South African experience, and all camps offer braai facilities
- Leave Joburg bright and early, around 4am, or even earlier if you can manage it. The gates to the park open between 5.30am and 6am, depending on the season, and the early hours afford some of the best game-viewing opportunities. You may choose to enter the park via the Numbi or Malelane gates, which are situated about five hours from Joburg. Phabeni Gate is also an option, though you’ll need to add an extra hour to your travelling time
- Check what your accommodation offers quite closely. Almost all will supply bedding, but you might need to bring a towel with you if you choose an option that makes use of communal bathrooms, and perhaps even some crockery and utensils if you select one with a communal kitchen too. Camping, of course, is also an option, but requires all the necessary gear
- Pack the essentials. Your camera – obviously! It’s going to be glued to your hand. A pair of binoculars if you have, a few warm clothes for the mornings and evenings, and some toiletries. Beyond that, really, it’s just the biltong
- Leave with a heavy heart the next day, and a promise to return. The gates close between 5.30pm and 6.30pm – again, depending on the season – so make sure you’re out of the park by then. Distances can take an unexpectedly long time to travel in the park – less a result of the imposed speed limits and more of the sights encountered along the way – so make sure to give yourself enough time to get to the gates if you have wandered deep into the park. Leaving around 4pm would probably be best, as it'd give you more daylight hours of driving on your trip back to Johannesburg
And that’s that. With a little bit of planning, and a minimum of fuss, spending a day-and-a-half in the Kruger is easily achievable, and so worthwhile. As an aside, it is possible – though not guaranteed – that the Big Five will keep you company within this time. Keep your eyes open.