by Andrew Wagner ( Specialist Kruger Park Guide)
Having spent so much time in the Kruger National Park on Safari guiding guests, as well as privately in my own capacity on holiday, I have to say that I definitely have a few special places, which always get me excited.
My memories of Kruger dial all the way back to when I was 4 years old. These are some of my most treasured memories and are triggered both visually and by smell funny enough. Having grown up visiting the Kruger Park some 4 times a year for pretty much my entire life, my memories are entrenched in the times spent with my family but also the places that we visited. One of the things I love to do with my South African clients is chat about their experiences and what they saw and where they saw it. These conversations can go on forever and always with a big smile and happy heart. That’s the real Kruger effect.
35 years later I know spend roughly 270 days a year in the Park and have privately guided over 3,000 guests through Kruger since 2017. These are personalised safaris in Kruger National Park and focus on sharing my favorite routes, camps, roads and regions with my clients. It’s a real privilege and would be hard to argue that its really work but in truth it is far more exhausting than my previous corporate career all but for the fact that this the kind of stress that I thrive on and enjoy.
So that said I’ve created my own Safari Style and used that to created itineraries for both our Kruger National Park Day Safaris and our Overnight Kruger Park Tours. What my guests probably should know is that I create Kruger Park tour itineraries around my personal favourites because I’m a firm believer in the power of sharing personal passion. If clients can experience your raw passion, it evokes something inside of them. It stimulates greater levels of engagement and interest and adds a positive energy to the entire experience. One of the absolute benefits of starting a Kruger Park Safari business without any prior experience (other than being a qualified guide) is that you don’t follow the industry norms and you take a clean slate and create what you want. This is exactly what we have done with Safaria, we have offered a next level experience for guests wanting to travel to the Kruger National Park on Safari. We have pioneered a new format and a new language of Kruger Park experiences for guests. We don’t subscribe to the mass model and can’t stand a cookie cutter approach. It’s not rocket science but as with any safari experience, the safari guide makes the difference on every safari! This I cant stress enough.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, the most important aspect of any Safari Tour or experience, is your GUIDE !
I have travelled Africa on many safaris and all the memorable experiences are as a result of the guide. Great safari experiences pivot on the back on a great guide who has the ability to engage you completely. They capture your attention and imagination and fill your experience with endless wow moment. Most of these moments don’t involve Lions killing antelope or crocodiles plucking gazelle from the waters edge. It’s the atmosphere and ambience, the storyboard, moments of awe and wonder. It’s the simple observations carefully explained that enthrals the senses and captivate your emotions.
Most guides will offer you a perfectly good holiday safari in Kruger but a great guide will create an experience that you will never forget. They take a holiday Safari and turn into a blockbuster movie with you as the lead actor and themselves as the producer. Best of all you’ll know when this is happening because of that precious moment when the little voice in your head says “ wow this is incredible, what an amazing experience”. So make sure you find out about your guide, their experience, their qualifications and whom they’ve guided. The luxury of any safari is in the actual experience itself, and this lies in the hand of your guide., not the wildlife, not the 5 star accommodation, fancy cotton sheets, crystal glasses and fine dinning menu….the Guide.
Well the truth is that I would really need to show you and unpack the moment for all of my favorite spots. My favorites are places that take into account both the ecological diversity of the area as well as the effect on the senses and the emotions that they create. It’s the combination that makes me smile every time I wonder into these favorite spots.
I’m not the biggest fan of Southern Kruger and not because its not stunningly beautiful with incredible wildlife diversity but ironically, the number of open safari vehicles and mass travel at certain times of the year (see when are the best times to travel in Kruger) make it somewhat congested and unless your guide most people don’t know how to behave at a sighting. Just to also clarify, when is say Southern Kruger National Park I mean the area between the Crocodile river in the south and Tshokwane picnic sight just north of the Sabie River.
S118 & S119 – Following the Mlambane drainage system, this narrow dirt road offers great views over the riverbed with wonderful lush riverine trees and bushes regularly visited by Elephant, Leopard, Lion and a variety of antelope. The road is also great for birding in the summer months and is dotted with White Rhino midden’s for the entire 15km.
H2-2 – The Voortrekker road is a road I just cat let go off. It often has the worst corrugation (washboard) surface but the landscape and the history of the route is just incredible. This road is the classic African safari route. The changing geology offers different topography and vegetation with views in summer that are sublime. Ship Mountains landscape between December and March is out of a fairytale and its also home to some of the rarest species in Kruger like the Lichtenstein Hartebeest, Sable Antelope and Common Reedbuck. Birding is a treat with the roast contrasting between woodland species, grassland species and then thicket habit. This road offers Lion, Cheetah, WildDog and a variety of plains game and large herbivores. It also has Afsaal outpost or Pretoriuskop camp at either end making it convenient for a stop.
S110 – The Berg-en-dal Camp loop road is a very unique road in that it offers guests terrain that cant be experienced anywhere else in Kruger. While the main road to the Camp has regular Lion and Leopard sightings it’s the gravel road on the northern side that I prefer. Winding its way round to Mutjulu water point, this body of water is one of the few places the game can find water in the area making it an area with good activity and a wide variety of species. This landscape is mountain bushveld and combines typical savanna woodland with giant granite boulders and hills. The granite rocks that form these hills are among the oldest in the world having being formed some 3,6 billion years ago. The last 5km make their way down to and along the Matjulu riverbed before connecting with the H3.
S23 – This is the Biyamiti river road and it follows 11km of dry riverbed on gravel road. The area forms part of the greater Biyamiti catchment area, which eventually spills into the Crocodile River. Along the route, just north of Biyamiti camp road there is a weir, which usually has water for 10 months of the year. The location is stunning and attracts game from far and wide with a eye level view of the water as you drive passed. The weir is a spot not to be missed!
The eastern side of the Park is very different to the west as a result of geology and the underlying parent rock producing rich basaltic or clay-based soils. As a result the terrain is flat and offers great grassland views with plains full of grazing herbivores and predators.
S29 connecting to S122 – This gravel road takes you through another very unique terrain and other than the S37 to Nwanesti, its one of only two possibilities to experience the furthest examples of Kruger’s eastern savanna grasslands that border the Lebombo mountain ranges. These roads can either be full of plains game or fairly spares but with incredible views. Best time is late winter from August to September to catch the migrating Zebra and Wildebeest, which make their way North West to the Lindanda plains south of the Sweni River and S126. see “Best time to Visit Kruger” blog post.
S28 – Nhlowa gravel road is a 24km gravel road that connects Crocodile Bridge Camp to Lower Sabie through both excellent game viewing and birding country. This road is both a classic safari road experience traversing open plains with scattered woodland savanna intertwined.
Two of mu favorite look out point in Kruger are found along the H10 from Lower Sabie heading towards to Tshokwane picnic site. These two sites are Nkumbe Lookout point, which offers incredible views over of the plains towards Skukuza. Nkumbe arguably has one of the best views in Kruger and I can never leave without trying to find at least 7 different mammal species. Orpen Dam look similarly offers great views of a small dam filled by a natural spring and surrounding catchment. It’s a great place to just “wait and see” with great mammals and birds.
So these are a few of my favourites spots in Southern Kruger National Park. If you want to know more or have a few questions just send me an email and id be happy to help you with your routes and expectations.