The Southern section of the Kruger is the most visited part of the game reserve, and with good reason. Most people enter the park in this region, simply because, for one, it’s the closest part of the park from wherever they’re traveling from.
This is also the area where it is the easiest to see all of the Big Five along with plenty of others, including the very rare and endangered African Wild Dog. The southern section is bordered by the Crocodile River in the south, the Sabie River in the north, and the Lebombo Mountains in the east, along the border with Mozambique.
This safari also includes a visit to the luxurious Sabi Sands Game Reserve, a 65,000-hectare reserve, sharing an unfenced border with the world-renowned Kruger National Park. This area offers extraordinary close encounters and prolific wildlife sightings, particularly of the elusive Leopard. The Sabie and the Sand rivers run through the reserve, which adds further dimension to the incredible biodiversity of this area. Sabi Sands offers a perfect bed to everyone on safari, and for every budget, ranging from mid-range to ultra-luxurious. You can be sure to enjoy an exclusive experience guaranteeing an unforgettable time in the African bush!
Your Nature Travel guide will meet you at Kruger / Mpumalanga International Airport near White River, a small town on the southwestern corner of the park, and then head straight into the Kruger National Park and make our way to Skukuza Camp.
Skukuza is the park’s administrative headquarters, its largest camp and sometimes feels like a small town compared to the other camps in Kruger. It is situated on the southern bank of the Sabie River. This is a perennial river and one of the largest and most biologically diverse in the park. The habitat here comprises riparian zones, with large trees lining the river banks, and Sabie River thickets away from the river courses. The permanent water source here attracts large numbers of Impala, one of the main prey items of Leopard, and we will be on the lookout for these and other predators such as Lion, African Wild Dog, and Spotted Hyaena.
African Elephant and African Buffalo are also common in the area, usually heading down to the river as the day heats up. The area is, however, not really suited to large numbers of grazing animals and small herds of browsers such as Greater Kudu and Bushbuck are more common here.
We have two nights at Skukuza, spending time in the mornings and afternoons out in the field looking for mammals, birds and anything else that attracts our interest. We will traverse the southeastern section of the park, going down to Lower Sabie Camp (with its tranquil Sunset dam nearby) or even venturing further south to Crocodile Bridge Camp.
Our daily routes will depend on what we have seen so far and what the general weather and other wildlife conditions are like. We might also visit the famous Lake Panic hide near Skukuza’s nursery; a great spot from which to see aquatic bird species and animals drinking from close up. Your expert guide will make the decision as to where to point the nose of the safari vehicle to ensure your maximum enjoyment!
When we are not out on safari in the park it is important to look around for interesting creatures even inside the camp fence. The campgrounds are well foliaged and there are some lofty trees along the river’s edge. Activities and facilities are diverse, as are the animals and plants found both within the camp and in the surrounding areas. The camp is a great place to spot the dove-sized Wahlberg’s Epauletted Fruit Bat and the very cute South African Thick-tailed Galago.
The camp also houses the Stevenson-Hamilton Memorial Library And Museum (James Stevenson-Hamilton was the first warden of Kruger National Park) which has some fascinating artifacts on display. You’ll get to know some things about Kruger Park that you’d never imagined! There are also very engaging stories to read, like the miraculous tale of Harry Wolhuter, one of Kruger’s very first game rangers, complete with real-life props showing his escape from a lion attack while patrolling on horseback.
Our next destination is Satara Camp, about 90 kilometres (56 miles) north of Skukuza. Satara itself, although fairly large, has a rustic charm, with the bulk of the accommodation set out in a series of circles. The nightly fires burning in front of the bungalows are a special sight. The ambience of the camp, Kruger’s third-biggest, recalls the mood of colonial Africa with red-roofed public buildings, thatched chalets and neatly raked paths.
We will spend two nights here, going on morning and afternoon game drives, thus maximising our chances of seeing animals, birds and other interesting fauna and flora. Will definitely explore one of the most famous roads in the entire park, the S100, that runs east-west from Satara towards the Lebombo mountains and Mozambique. Many long-time visitors to Kruger swear by this road for spectacular sightings of the Big Five, many species of raptors and other rare creatures. Will also venture to the nearby Nsemani and Sweni dams that are always worth a “stop-and-scan”.
The sweet grasses that grow on the fertile soils formed on shale and volcanic basalt, and an abundance of excellent browsing trees, sustain the largest Impala, African Buffalo, Giraffe, Greater Kudu, Common Wildebeest, Plains Zebra, Waterbuck and Sable Antelope populations in the Park.
Satara, however, is Lion territory, as no fewer than 50 prides occupy home ranges in this area, with an average pride size of 12 lions. Within a 20 kilometre radius of Satara, 22 lion pride have been counted! Satara is rightly known as “cat camp”. Lions are inevitably followed by scavengers, and this area also contains large numbers of Spotted Hyaena, Black-backed Jackal and vultures. It is also one of the best areas in the entire Kruger to see Cheetah.
The camp itself is always worth exploring, and a walk inside the fence perimeter might give us views of Honey Badger, African Scops Owl and Red-billed Buffalo Weaver. An optional night drive from Satara might yield Cape Porcupine, Leopard and even the elusive Aardvark.
After a last morning drive and breakfast, we will wish Kruger well and exit via Orpen Gate and enter the adjacent Sabi Sand Game Reserve, a 65 000 hectare private conservancy that is open with Kruger National Park, allowing the game to move freely between the two. With breathtaking scenery and luxury lodges, expect high-quality service, excellent cuisine, and world-class facilities during your Sabi Sands safari.
We’ll check-in in time for lunch and have time to relax before our first-afternoon safari, led by an experienced local field guide and tracker. The Sabi Sand Game Reserve offers what is widely considered the best cat viewing in Africa, with regular close-up encounters with both Lion and Leopard to be anticipated. Cheetah and African Wild Dog are also found in the reserve, though they are usually fairly nomadic within their large home ranges which takes them out of the reserve and into the neighboring Kruger National Park and Manyaleti Game Reserves, so the chances of seeing these two predators depend on them being in the area at the time of our visit. Sabi Sands is rightly considered as the best place in the world to see the Big Five, and your four-night stay basically guarantees that you will see them all; some of them more than once.
Over and above the wonderful animals we are likely to see here, a true highlight will be observing the Shangaan tracker practising his craft as we track the big cats. Superb wine and excellent local cuisine will be enjoyed in the evenings after the afternoon safari, and altogether this will add up to a truly awesome experience. We have four nights in the reserve, divided between two different camps, which will give ample time out in the field studying, photographing, and just generally enjoying our subjects. You will enjoy a morning and afternoon game drive daily, with ample time to relax in the camp during the hot hours of the day. Some camps will offer a camp walk, or even a short bush walk while out on your game drive!
After your 9 days southern Kruger and Sabi Sands safari extravaganza, your Nature Travel guide will transfer you back to the airport (or your chosen point of departure) for your onward journey.