Undoubtedly the best way to experience the Kruger Park is to with your own vehicle. A Kruger Park self-drive safari gives you the freedom to plan for your own interests and move at your own pace.
A key to enjoying a self-drive safari is to understand that time operates differently in the natural world. The rhythm of the bush is beyond human control and is dictated primarily by the cycle of seasons and the times of the day. The three broad Kruger experiences are:
It is possible to incorporate all three experiences into a single trip, and to help you decide you should read the following...
Recommended Self-drive Routes and Maps If you are self-drive safari enthusiast visiting Kruger Park, this comprehensive compendium of routes and maps will help you choose and plan your trip.
Each region of the park can be examined in detail, and will reveal to you what animals and birds are active in a particular area, as well as a the best lodges or camps to stay at as you explore Kruger Park. To maximise the Kruger experience one must consciously slow down and breath deeply. Remember, too, that the landscape is a fabric in which all the birds, plants and wildlife are like interwoven threads. Look for the points of connection. There are petrol stations at all the major camps and workshop facilities at Skukuza, Letaba and Shingwedzi.
Plan your day around bush time During a 24-hour period there are four main activity times in the animal world - early morning, day-time, late afternoon and night-time. Much of the "action" happens either early in the morning or late in the afternoon and one should plan one's game drives around these times, and rest when the wildlife rests, which is during the middle of the day.
Make use of get-out points Make a point of stopping at the ﬁrst get-out spot after entering the park. Spend at least a quarter of an hour walking around, listening to the sounds of the bush, feeling the temperature, looking at the landscape. What kind of birds are around? What is the weather doing? This is the best way to start adjusting your body clock away from the rush of the outside world.
While in the park, plan your Kruger Park self-drive journeys around get-out points - either at picnic spots or Rest Camps. It breaks up the time spent in your vehicle and sensitizes you to the different environments and scenery.
Drive slowly There is one uncontested truth about enjoying Kruger - the slower you drive, the more you'll see. Avoid the temptation to go fast when nothing much appears to be happening in the bush around you. Wildlife blends naturally into the environment and can easily be missed if you are speeding.
Switch off at waterholes Stop at waterholes, on river banks or shade points and switch off the engine. These are often the most rewarding moments as one witnesses the passing pageant of animal life and the central role that water plays in governing their relationships.
Ditch the "checklist mentality" It's great to see as much as you can. But the beauty of Kruger is that it allows you to experience the rhythm and cycles of the natural world in its entirety. Good sightings should be events that punctuate your experience of the Park rather than be an end in themselves.
Use Rest Camps as education centres There is a wealth of information in every Rest Camp, from the names of trees to environmental and archival displays. Each bit of information enhances your subsequent drive. Rest Camps are a good source of information as to what to look out for in an area. Most of them have at least one sightings board which can help you plan your route in the direction of the last observed kill. Remember that Lions will probably be at a kill hours after it has happened and scavengers may linger in the area for days.
Get creative about Impala As one of the most common large mammals in the park, you may see up to 30 different Impala herds in a day - start differentiating between them - how big are they? How many ewes are there in relation to rams? Are they huddled closely together, which often indicates their awareness of danger? Or are they spread out. Are the impala grazing or browsing? What other animals are with them?
The tools for the Kruger experience are:
Respect wildlife and other humans
Most people have come to Kruger to get away from the noisy outside world and to experience African wildlife at its ﬁnest. Don't interfere with wildlife either by feeding them or driving too close to them.
Wildlife always has right of way in crossing the road. At kills or sightings where there are several cars, take your place in the queue, switch off your engine and enable everyone else to enjoy the experience too. Remember also that most of your fellow humans have come to Kruger for a "wilderness" experience and thus minimising unnecessary noise from music, cell phones and loud talking would almost certainly be appreciated.
Stay in your car on your Kruger National Park self-drive unless you are at ofﬁcial get-out points - wildlife is used to vehicles, which have an accepted silhouette, whereas a human shape signifies that of a predator, which will cause alarm.
Share your experiences Ask people at Rest Camps or get-out points whether they have had any special experiences or sightings, and share yours. Everyone is in Kruger for more or less the same reason, so don't feel shy about talking to strangers. Information gleaned from other visitors may be helpful in planning the next part of your route.
Kruger Park Self-Drive Routes
Find more information and maps on all the main Kruger Park Self-Drive Routes
Read questions and answers in our Help on Self-Drive Safari guide