Making the Most of the South of Kruger (Part 3)

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Following on from ‘Making the most of the South of Kruger (Part 2)

Skukuza Rest Camp (The big one)

Being the largest camp in the park, Skukuza boasts well run facilities, such as a small airport, a golf course (watch out for those crocodile), a nursery, a post office,a  library, doctors rooms, two restaurants, a large well stocked shop, the park’s admin headquarters, as well as all the normal necessities.

It’s like a small town nestled in amongst some of the most eye catching and tranquil stretches of land in the Lowveld region.

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Leopard

Don’t get me wrong though, it’s not all hustle and bustle. Being so large, there are many places to go to feel at one with nature- the most popular being the shady walkway along the fence that offers a spectacular view of the Sabie River. Enjoy a meal from the restaurant on the deck and keep an eye out for herds of elephant. They regularly come to the water’s edge to drink alongside the massive crocodiles who patrol the river in search of prey . One of the camp’s big draw cards are the enormous Sycamore Fig trees scattered around the grounds. They attract a host of different diurnal and nocturnal creatures so have a look through the canopy when walking past. Fruit bats are a particularly common resident and are found under many of the lapas and communal bathrooms’ thatch roofs.

Accommodation ranges from the basics, such as a variety of campsites and safari tents (really good value), to the more indulgent family cottages and luxury bungalows (the riverside units, in particular, are absolutely stunning). Make sure you book early, especially if you are looking to stay during one of the holiday periods, as it gets very busy.

NB – Keep your tents zipped up and your windows closed as the local baboon and vervet troops can be quite naughty!

Red-billed Oxpecker perched on a buffalo

The area surrounding Skukuza is generally very thick and woody. This makes finding and photographing the animals that call this place home slightly challenging, especially during the rainy season. Being so close to private concessions like Sabie Sabie and Mala Mala ensures that there is a high concentration of all of the Big 5, as well as the occasional wild dog and cheetah sighting if you’re lucky enough. Skukuza is situated near the fork of the Sabie and the Sand rivers which flow all year round and as a result big herds of elephant are often seen in close proximity to the camp.

Possibly the most famous hide in all of Kruger is found 5min from camp. Lake Panic is a tourist hotspot and for good reason. Built on top of the water, this wooden hide provides some of the best birding and scenery in the park and is truly a nature enthusiast’s paradise. At any given time you willl be able to find as many as fifteen different species of birds going about their business, close enough for any keen photographer to get a good image. Hippos and crocodiles are in attendance most of the time and can even be found under the hide trying to escape the hot African sun.

Only a few cars are allowed to park at the hide at any given time but be patient at it is definitely worth the wait!

All in all, Skukuza and the area surrounding it, will not disappoint. It is a definite must for first timers and seasoned veterans.

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Grey Heron nest at Lake Panic

Hot tip – Pack enough snacks and liquids to last you a while but be careful not to drink too much as you may be in the car for some time if you come across an amazing sighting and restrooms are not always close by.

Best drives:

  • For a quick trip, travel east along the H11 toward Paul Kruger gate, then onto the S1 and down the S65 before heading back to camp. Keep an eye out for leopard and wild dog who frequent these roads.
  • The loop made up of the H1-2, H4-1 and H12 is possibly the best game viewing route in the area, with regular sightings of all the Big 5 during the cooler hours of the day. To spice things up, include the S83 on your way round Every few years a certain lioness uses the thicket along the riverbed as a hiding spot for her newborn cubs.
  • For the history fanatics, first travel towards the Steven-Hamilton Memorial (the first warden of what is now known as the KNP) via the H3 and S114 and then the Bushman Paintings found at the corner on the S21 and S112.
  • An early drive down the H3 and then the H1-1 and stopping at Transport Dam (where ‘The battle of Kruger’ was filmed) for a cup of coffee and a rusk is highly recommended. A large variety of game comes and goes throughout the day- be patient!
  • A trip to Lower Sabie rest camp down the H4-1 for brunch or a late lunch is very scenic and can provide some good sightings. Stop at the Nkhulu picnic spot to stretch your legs and to stock up on snacks at the kiosk.
  • For those looking for a longer drive, drive north east along the H1-2 stopping at Tshokwane picnic site for a break, then head south along the H10 towards Lower Sabie rest camp for lunch before travelling back towards camp via the H4-1. This is known as big cat country, so keep your eyes peeled!
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Lioness carrying her cub over a dry riverbed along the S83

Hot tip – Always pack insect repellant (the more environmentally friendly the better) when traveling to Kruger. It will help keep the flies away during the day and all the other creepy crawly’s away at night.

Things to look for:
Game

  • Lion
  • Leopard
  • Elephant
  • Wild dog
  • Big crocodiles
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Birds

  • Saddle-billed stork
  • A variety of owl species
  • Goliath Heron
  • Fish Eagle
  • Purple crested Turaco
  • African Jacana
  • Black Crake
  • Kingfishers
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Black Crake at Lake Panic

Equipment

Here is my recommended gear list when traveling to the Kruger National Park.

Necessities
– General purpose lens. (An all in one lens, e.g. 18-200mm, 24-105mm etc. Used for family snaps, as well as landscape and environmental shots.)
– Telephoto lens. (Anything above the 300mm range would be ideal. A little bit of length comes in handy at Kruger.)
– Beanbag for the window. (Something to keep the camera steady when needed. I use a homemade beanbag made with rice. It can also be useful when sitting in a hide.)
– Two or three decent sized memory cards.

*If you are using a bridge camera like a Powershot, Finepix, Coolpix, etc. then only the bottom two points should apply to you. In most cases, when traveling with the whole family, bicycles, skottle, tent, etc. less is more!

Luxuries
– Second camera body (I keep my second body at my feet with a 70-200mm attached for easy access when I need something a bit wider).
– Wide angle lens (something in between 14-24mm).
– Super telephoto lens (anything on the longer end of the scale with a shallow depth of field to really isolate your subject, i.e. 400mm f4/f2.8).
– Teleconverter (when that leopard in a tree is just out of reach).
– Ball/gimbal head with a ground pod or door mount (you can never be too steady when stuck in a vehicle).
– Reliable tri-pod.
– Laptop or file storage unit to back up your images at the end of each day (once you’ve had a card go bad you’ll never go on holiday without one of the two again)

*If you do have the space, why not take the kitchen sink!

If you’re a bit strapped for cash, but would love to take a 600mm f4L IS with you, why not rent it for the week instead at a fraction of the price.

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Young elephant bull

That concludes the Southern section of the Kruger National Park.

I hope this series will add value to your next trip.

Until next time!

Chad Wright

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