When you are reading this you are probably planning a trip to South Africa. Congratulations, you will have a wonderful time! This post is going to answer a question that many travelers to South Africa have: should I go for a self-drive into the world-famous Kruger Park or decide for a guided safari (or: game drive) in a private reserve?
By the way, for those not planning a trip to South Africa (yet) please scroll down to enjoy our wildlife photography!
In August 2016 we spent almost four weeks traveling from the east to the west of South Africa: Johannesburg to Cape Town. What a trip it has been! We totally fell in love with the country and the wild animals contributed to that big time. Click here to read about our trip with complete itinerary.
During our three days in and around Kruger we enjoyed both a self-drive as well as a private reserve game drive. I hope that with sharing our experiences it will be easier for you to make a choice. And if you still have questions, don’t hesitate to contact me!
Best safari near Kruger
Kruger Park is one of over 50 major national parks in South Africa and a big thing for all those traveling to the country. It’s an immense park where you can spend days and days exploring the natural beauty and wildlife. Situated on the borders of Kruger you will also find dozens of private reserves (part of Greater Kruger). So what is the best way to experience the wildlife in Kruger?
We booked game drives in two private reserves: HESC and Tshukudu.
1. Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC)
Our homebase for visiting game reserves near Kruger was the small city of Hoedspruit. Hoedspruit is home to the well-known HESC, a centre involved in conservation, breeding of endangered animal species and rehabilitation of wild animals in need. They also offer game drives in the Kapama private reserve.
We embarked in our open-vehicle at 06h00 (still dark) for an exciting early morning drive. I will let the pictures speak for themselves. We saw an amazing herd of giraffes while the sun was rising. The huge numbers of buffaloes and wildebeest was impressive, especially when you know this was our first game drive ever!!
2. Tshukudu Game Reserve
An early morning game drive at HESC was followed the next day by an afternoon drive at Tshukudu Game lodge. We loved this private reserve, especially because it is home to a couple of cheetahs that were born inside the reserve and therefore used to being surrounded by human beings. They are still wild animals but when approached with caution and the correct instructions you have a once-in-a-lifetime experience…. Film crews from all over the world come here to film these siblings and our ranger (who was totally awesome by the way) indeed brought us up close and personal!
3. Self-drive Kruger
After two days of game drives we continued our trip South towards Swaziland. We decided to drive right through Kruger Park where we entered at Numbi gate near Hazyview. We took Voortrekkers Road all the way down to Malelane gate. Yes, we encountered wonderful wildlife while driving Kruger park. The scenery was perfect. But honestly speaking the private reserves offered us a unique wildlife experience that just could not match our self-drive adventure.
Self-drive or private game reserve at Kruger?
The answer to that question of course also depends on your own preferences and budget. Private game drives have a certain price tag, but mind you so does the entrance to the Kruger Park. We clearly loved the private reserve game drives for multiple reasons. In the above mentioned reserves the rangers drive their cars extremely close to the animals. The animals are used to the shape and the ‘behavior’ of the car, so they don’t run away. The rangers don’t need to stay on the road, they just (if possible) go where the animals are (we have been watching a pack of lions at dusk where the ranger ‘parked’ our car in the middle of huge thorny bushes!). While driving they also stay connected to other rangers to learn about current location of various animals.
Game drives offered us memories that we will never, ever forget. You start feeling humble watching the beauty of nature and the diversity of wildlife moving majestically through the wilderness. It’s unbelievable that so many people still make it their goal in life to kill these beautiful animals just for selling the ivory horn or tusk. As you can see on the picture below, horns of rhinos are being removed by park rangers for only one simple reason: to keep the rhino alive. A sad but true reality. The important work of park rangers and organizations like HESC is extremely important, a matter of life or death.
Stay tuned for more travel stories about South Africa.
South Africa has always been on our list. I went to Kenya 25 years ago and have dreamed of taking my family back to the continent but South Africa has been top of the list. Did you find it difficult brining your kids in? I’ve heard they are very strict about documentation in an effort to cut back on child trafficking.
Great that you plan to taking your family to South Africa, I highly recommend it! 🙂 Good point you are raising about bringing your kids in. South Africa indeed changed the regulations recently because of the reason you are mentioning. You have to be able to show an original birth certificate of your child. So in our case we had to pay a visit to the municipality to get an original birth certificate that we could bring. After that, going through customs only took a couple of minutes. No problem at all as long as you bring the correct documentation. Have fun!
Wow, what memorable experiences, Emiel! I believe private game drives are better option than self-drive since those rangers know the area and the animals better than most of us. I’m still prioritizing other places to visit at the moment, but when the chance to visit South Africa comes, I will surely refer to this post before going on a safari near Kruger Park. Btw, Happy New Year! I can see your blog has a fresh look too. Wishing you and your family a year full of exciting travels!
Thanks Bama and happy New Year to you too! Yes, the blog has a whole new look. I started blogging back in 2010 and this is the 3rd design. Ready for the next couple of years! 🙂 I have lots of stories from our SA trip to share so if you ever have the plan to travel down there, this blog will be your place to go to… Thanks and have a great 2017!
Wat een schitterende foto’s Emiel! Wat hebben jullie ook veel dieren gezien. Oh, als ik dit zo zie zou ik zo weer terug willen om nog een rondje ZA te doen, haha.
Dank je wel Yvonne! Het was prachtig, wij zouden ook zo nog een paar rondjes ZA willen doen 🙂