Kruger for beginners- Part 1:
Updated: Jan 23, 2022
We have travelled to Kruger a number of times over the years, at all times of the year. Because of the long distance and holiday time restrictions we more often go in December. We have done this for years on a shoestring budget, mostly because we camp and that is very inexpensive. SANParks accommodation ranges from R300 to a few thousand per night. Private lodges are plentiful and at much higher rates with 5-star service.
Making a booking:
This can be done through SANParks website and travel and accommodation websites. For best budget bookings in SANParks - 11 months in advance for school holidays and to get what and when you want. We first stayed in Hazyview and went into the park each day. Other surrounding towns are lovely too, Nelspruit, White River and Graskop are special but there are many lodges all over. You can book relatively close to the time if you not in the Park – SANParks gets booked up very quickly.
Look at a map of Kruger before you book. South is a good start for a first timer as it has the largest amount of game, big 5 and elusive cats. For a more peaceful and quieter trip, up North, Satara being my “centre” guide. We self-drive but there are so many affordable game drive/walk options too. Personally, we loved every camp, we have favourite roads and picnic spots in the park, but really, they are based on individual memories. The “tinkler” guide and Kruger Self Drive are my favourites, but there are many YouTube channels and books to show you (soon we will have one too 😊 ). Staying outside the park means you need to travel inside, this takes time and waiting in queues. By staying inside the park you will get to drive at the best viewing time, with fewer cars and no queue. The internal gates of camps open about an hour before the outside gates that enter the park.
Once you have made your booking, you can sit back and start to daydream.
How to get there:
We have in the past alternated flying and driving. You can get to Joburg or Nelspruit and rent a car. Every time the drive was better. Having our own vehicle and set up made the hours in the car worth it. In saying that we do spend many hours in the car. Our kids have grown up with it and are pretty good. Granted it takes getting used to for kids but is totally worth it. They come home feeling awesome with amazing stories (as I said, the hardest experiences turn out to be the best stories). I usually go prepared, books, activities, videos and audiobooks. There is a real connection that happens in the car, one I cherish.
We are driving to Kruger, with a Karoo, Bloemfontein and Joburg stop over. It is about 24 hours in one go – one stop possible but hectic. I plan snacks/ meals in advance, as well as petrol stops – google maps is especially useful.
Traveling with kids can be tricky. We need to plan for eventualities, considering each age group. There are car games, audiobooks, music, movies and games on devices. I try to draw up a homemade booklet on the places of the trip, with colouring in, activites and interesting facts (pinterest and google very helpful, a tip a friend gave me). We always have Google maps open to show our route, including stops on the dashboard, this is not for us, as we know the way, but a great way to prevent the "how much longer" question on repeat as Google Maps shows the time and distance to go. Packing a lunch box is a good idea, and I have seen some excellent "chair backs" for kids that attach to the back of the front seats with compartment for all the kids goodies, juice, snacks, devices, book etc., alternatively can make up your own.
Car time is precious, we all together for hours and it leads to real connection, laughs and memories.
Planning the itinerary:
Here is where I can be OTT. I plan all desired and potential routes and stops, meals and days – on a spreadsheet. I research well in advance (remember – this is my fun part – planning researching and reading) and draw it up. This way we get there and decide our direction – listen to the current campers – and have mostly got an idea of what is to be expected – time / food and planning wise. The days do not follow the itinerary exactly but rather guide our trips. I have always needed to be prepared because we have done this since Sebastian was small, then Kahlan and now Josh. You can’t be unprepared in the park with kids, but as long they had their needs met we could enjoy the adventure.
The shops in each camp are excellent for almost all essentials, and some luxuries. There are take-aways and restaurants in each camp too. Picnic spots often sell items and rent skottels etc. Remember, outside the park there are many decent towns with shopping options if something goes wrong.
On a final note to this edition, we have learnt that things will almost always go wrong and cause speedbumps and frustrations on these trips but it has taught us to see each obstacle as an adventure and treat it as such. I cannot say enough the resilience it has taught our kids. We are definitely more comfortable being uncomfortable and see opportunity in these experiences and turning our attention to all that matters.