The best chance of seeing lions in Kruger Park is on the Skukuza-Satara tar road (H1-2, H1-3) which climbs out of the Sabie River basin into the central grasslands. There are often elephant to be seen in the mixed woodlands at the N'watindlopfu River crossing and at the trio of water holes nearby. A place to stretch the legs is at the Kruger Tablets get-out point. Tshokwane is roughly halfway between Skukuza and Satara and the only stop along the road where food and refreshments are available.
The Tshokwane area is usually good for game viewing because the convergence of mixed woodland, pockets of grassland, riverine bush and the Lebombo mountains attract a wide variety of animal species. The central grasslands begin north of Tshokwane. This is big-game territory with the largest herds of grazers in the Park and the big cats that feed on them. The grasslands around Satara are renowned for buffalo and lion sightings. Most of the big raptors are to be found here, too.
Allow at least five hours for this drive, including a stop-off at Tshokwane.
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This road follows the Sabie River from the thorn thickets and mixed woodlands around Skukuza into the more open grasslands of south-eastern Kruger. It is a popular road for tourists and animals. There are reputedly more leopards per square kilometre in this riverine bush than anywhere else in South Africa.
The area around Skukuza is good for lion and hyaena sightings.
Nkuhlu Picnic Site is the only stop-off along this road and the terraced banks offer good views over the river and its resident hippo and croc populations. The N'watimhiri Causeway is a good detour off the main road. Larger herds of grazers become more evident closer to Lower Sabie as the bush becomes more open. Look out for cheetah and rhino in the thorn thickets closer to Lower Sabie Camp.
Birders should stop off at Sunset Dam, which is one of the main water-bird sighting spots in the south-east.
Read more on Game Drives from Skukuza to Lower Sabie
This is one of the most scenic drives in Kruger as it incorporates the Lebombo, giving wonderful views over the eastern grasslands. The road traverses a variety of habitats linked by stretches of grassland where one may see cheetah, lion, hyaena and the large herds of grazers they hunt.
The distinctive outline of Muntshe Hill stands out starkly above the lowveld. Mlondozi Dam lookout point offers good birding and views over the Lebombo and the eastern plains. Some 25km north of Lower Sabie, the H10 hits the Lebombo and rises up above the grasslands. Nkumbe Hill (394m) is one of the best view sites in Kruger.
The road then descends quite rapidly into the mixed woodlands of the N'waswitsontso River basin where there are often elephant to be seen.
The area around Tshokwane is good for lions and other big game.
Recommended time, two-and-a-half hours, including stops at Mlondozi, Nkumbe and Orpen.
Read more on Game Drives from Lower Sabie to Tshokwane
The Malelane-Skukuza road rolls gently through the mixed woodlands of south-central Kruger, rising and dropping through a series of low ridges and shallow valleys that form the catchment area of the Crocodile and Sabie river systems. The Malelane area is good for white rhino and many of the other grazers. Herd size is smaller here than in the eastern grasslands.
There are almost always animals in the more stunted veld south of Afsaal as the grazing here is particularly nutritious and hyaenas are regularly seen. Meals and refreshments are available at Afsaal. Look out for lions between Afsaal and Skukuza. A good view site is Mathekenyane (Granokop). The road then descends gently into the Sabie River valley thorn thickets around Skukuza.
Allow for three-and-a-half hours, including a refreshment break at Afsaal.
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The Voortrekker Road from Pretoriuskop to Afsaal descends from the foothills of the lower escarpment. In the 19th century, transport riders used this route which was romanticised in the book Jock of the Bushveld.
Near Ship Mountain there is a turn-off to where Jock is believed to have been born. The dust road follows a line of sweetveld grazing through the sourveld of south-western Kruger so there is a better than average chance of good sightings of rarer game such as eland, white rhino and sable antelope.
There is a take-away restaurant and shop at Afsaal which has a picnic spot under a giant jackal-berry tree.
Allow two hours for this route, as it should be taken very slowly.
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The dusty Timbavati Road follows the Timbavati River northwards, joining up with the main Satara road near Olifants Camp. The dust road and river wind through a mosaic of different landscapes in the game-rich grasslands of central Kruger. Leeubron is a good water hole for lion sightings as they are attracted by the herds of impala, wildebeest, zebra and other grazers.
Cold beverages and firewood can be bought at Timbavati Picnic Spot but there is no take-way restaurant or shop. Interesting stops are Ratelpan, the Piet Grobler Dam and Roodewal Water Hole. Kudu, giraffe, elephant and other browsers are usually seen along this drive.
Allow three hours, including a stop at Timbavati.
Read more on Game Drives from Orpen to Olifants
The Olifants River traditionally marks the divide between southern and northern Kruger. The loop road from Olifants Camp south over the low-level bridge at Balule is heartland Olifants rugged veld. Unsurprisingly, there are usually plenty of elephant along the river edges of the Olifants. N'wamanzi get-out point offers good views.
The dusty river road from Olifants to Letaba is a pleasant drive but game viewing is a matter of luck as the mopaneveld does not have the same carrying capacity as southern Kruger.
Engelhard Dam is known for its birding. One is likely to stop often along this route so allow four hours for a full experience, including a meal at either Olifants or Letaba Camps which have wonderful views from the restaurant areas.
The riverine vegetation and the water sustain large populations of elephants around Shingwedzi, where most of Kruger's largest tuskers have been recorded. There are three compelling drives through the alluvial flood plains around Shingwedzi Camp. They are the Red Rocks Loop, Kanniedood Dam and the Mphongolo Loop. Although you can cover them all in a nine-hour day, but it is preferable to split them up over two days. Red Rocks Loop follows the Shingwedzi River upstream for approximately 30km to the Tshanga Lookout Point and returns on the opposite river bank.
The S50 past Kanniedood Dam is a good game-viewing drive. There are often nyala and kudu browsing in the riverine bush and one should keep a lookout for leopard. Mphongolo Loop, north of Shingwedzi, supports large populations of elephants and buffalo and the area is reportedly good for lion. There are wonderful riverine trees along this dust road.
Read more about Game Drives around Shingwedzi
Mahonie (Mahogany) Loop around Punda Maria Rest Camp is a road for Kruger aficionados. It is a botanist's delight in that the dust road runs in a broad arc through sandveld foothills that support an intriguing mixture of trees and shrubs. The dust road is not a busy game road in terms of animal numbers. The more likely animals to be seen are kudu, impala, warthog and elephant.
However, it is a road for rarities - such as Sharpe's grysbok. The road has a good reputation among birders because it falls within the transition zone between subtropical and tropical birding environments and so there is a good chance of seeing species not normally seen in South Africa. This drive may seem a relatively short distance, but allow at least two hours in which to do it very slowly - best done at sunset or sunrise.
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The definitive far northern Kruger experience is the Luvuvhu River drive incorporating the Luvuvhu River Bridge, Pafuri Picnic Site, the road to Crooks' Corner and Nyala Drive. The Luvuvhu River valley has extraordinary clusters of forests and river vantage points and no shortage of crocodiles that sun themselves on the sandbanks. There is a high traffic of water birds and raptors. There are usually nyala, kudu, impala and baboons in the riverine forests dominated by nyala trees. Most of the leopard in northern Kruger are to be found in these tropical river forests.
Along the S64 there are dramatic sandstone koppies which are the site of the ancient Iron-Age kingdom of Thulamela. Pafuri Picnic Site is a good braai area beneath the tall ana trees (cold drinks and firewood are for sale). Marvel at the February 2000 flood high-level mark which is recorded on the ablution blocks. Although the road distance along the river is quite short, one can spend a whole day in this area and still not have enough. If under time pressure, allow four hours.
Read more about Game Drives along Luvuvhu River and Nyala Drive