South Africa: Wildlife Destinations
Kruger National Park
Kruger's star species: Lion • African elephant • Rhino • Leopard • Buffalo
For the ultimate South African safari head east to Kruger National Park, a vast reserve stretching 350km along the border with Mozambique. How you visit depends largely on budget. There are several luxury, all-inclusive camps in game reserves along Kruger’s western boundary, but for free-spirited travellers a better (and cheaper) option is to drive into the park, exploring its tarred road circuits and staying at self-catering restcamps. Many, like Olifants, offer excellent facilities such as restaurant, swimming pool and guided game-viewing excursions. Work your way south through Kruger, ticking off some of its 147 mammal species (including the big five) and 500-plus varieties of birds, before continuing through Swaziland and on towards the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park.
Kruger’s private game reserves include Sabi Sabi, Londolozi, Singita and Ulusaba – names synonymous in the safari business with exclusive accommodation, outstanding service, fine cuisine and outstanding game-viewing with top-quality guides.
Getting there Located in the south of Kruger, approximately 460km east of Pretoria on sealed roads, Skukuza is the biggest restcamp with the most facilities in the national park.
Getting around Most people drive themselves on the park’s 800km of mostly sealed game-viewing roads. Guided drives and bush walks are also available at most camps.
When to go Wildlife concentrates around water sources May to October. Birdwatching is best during summer when migrants arrive, while the wildebeest rut takes place March to May.
Things to do Game drives, bush walks.
Places to stay Skukuza Rest Camp has a choice of safari tents, cottages and campsites for all budgets, plus facilities ranging from restaurants and swimming pools to an internet café. It is one of a dozen or so standard self-catering restcamps dotted throughout the park. Private camps include Bateleur Bushveld Camp and Plains Camp. The Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve is home to the spectacular properties of Singita and Sabi Sabi.
Madikwe Game Reserve
Madikwe's star species: Cheetah • Wild dog • Brown hyena • Black rhino • Lion
Tucked into a remote corner of South Africa’s North West province, the 75,000ha Madikwe Game was only established in 1991. Prior to that, farmland had a tenacious, yet unproductive, grip on this Kalahari borderland. Not only were cattle degrading the land, but they were doing little to improve livelihoods in an economically depressed region.
When extensive land-use studies suggested that Madikwe would be far more prolific as a wildlife estate, the green light was given to an extraordinary transformation process. A 150km-long fence was erected around the reserve’s perimeter, while its habitats were carefully restored to a blend of Kalahari thornveld and mixed bushveld – a merging of biomes that brought geographically distinct species like impala and springbok side-by-side.
It was the restocking of Madikwe, however, that dominated the headlines. A kind of modern-day Genesis, over 8,000 animals from 25 large mammal species were released into the reserve during Operation Phoenix – the world’s largest ever reintroduction programme. The herbivores came first, with 1,175 impala, 770 blue wildebeest and 547 zebra being added in 1992 alone. Hundreds more arrived the following year, along with an ever-growing infantry of buffalo, eland, elephant, gemsbok, giraffe, hartebeest, kudu, waterbuck and both white and black rhino. Then, from 1994 onwards, small numbers of predators were added to the mix, including lion, spotted hyena and African wild dog. With leopard already present on the reserve, Madikwe’s big five status was sealed and the tourists started arriving.
Getting there Lodges in Madikwe can arrange private air charters to the reserve. Otherwise allow around four hours to drive to Madikwe from Johannesburg. A good option for breaking the journey is to spend a few nights at Pilanesberg National Park.
Getting around Lodges organise game drives and activities.
When to go Best time to visit is May-September when wildlife congregates near waterholes.
Things to do Game drives.
Places to stay Properties include Jaci’s Lodges, Madikwe Safari Lodge and Thakadu River Camp – a partnership ecotourism project between the reserve and Molatedi Community.
Further information madikwe-game-reserve.co.za, madikwecollection.co.za.
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wildlife travel essentials: South Africa
WHEN TO GO
Visit year round. Winters are mild and dry, summers are hot (especially in the lowveld) with afternoon thunderstorms. Southern right whales can be observed close offshore from July to November, while flowers are at their best during spring (August to September).