31 May 2014

Kruger National Park, here we come

The Kruger National Park (KNP) is one of the premier game reserves in the world. Located in the "lowveld" savannah in the far northeast of South Africa, it receives little attention from the outside world compared to the well advertised and popular safari destinations of East Africa - Serengeti, great migration, etc.  For some of us, that's a good thing.

From it's southernmost gate at Crocodile Bridge, to Pafuri Gate in the north, you have to drive over 400km (240 miles). It is greater in size than Wakes or Israel and is almost the size of Massachusetts.  The park straddles the Tropic of Capricorn and so it is truly in the tropics. It's wide variety of savannah habitats, geography and climatic areas gives it an abundance and variety of wildlife unequaled anywhere.

According to the Prime Origins Guide to the Kruger National Park by Brett Hilton-Barber and Professor Lee R. Berger, 21 of Africa's 72 antelope species are found in the park, from the tiny suni to the great and majestic eland. Predators abound. Lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dogs, hyena and many smaller predators such as jackal, caracal, civet and genet. Great numbers of elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, hippopotamus and rhino, both black and white, graze and browse in this environment. 

KNP is "one of the great birding spots in South Africa." Because the park straddles the Tropic of Capricorn, it lies in the southernmost range of many tropical bird species and the northernmost extent of many southern species.  Many of Kruger's birds are migrants from Eurasia and other parts of Africa to the north that fly here to spend summer in the south. There are about 380 species that are resident here year-round. KNP is the best place to view the great birds of prey, with 17 eagles and almost 80 others raptors living here.

The rivers of Kruger are home to several thousand crocodiles. 54 Species of snake are found within the park, though it is rare to see these.

The network of roads and "camps" within KNP have been developed and modernized since it opened to tourists in 1927. The area was first proclaimed as a wildlife preserve in 1898 by the Transvaal Boer Republic, Paul Kruger. This was known as the Sabi Game Reserve. Later he proclaimed  a large area to the north, the Shingwedzi Reserve. These were combined after acquisition of 70 privately owned farms between them in 1926, and the park was officially re-named The Kruger National Park. In 1927 three cars visited the park, and today more than a million visitors come to Kruger each year. This is a popular destination for most South Africans, much as the National Parks in the U.S., such as Yosemite, Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Park are favorite vacation spots for Americans.

My first visit to Kruger was as a schoolboy in 1959. I went back again as a first-year university student in 1962. No doubt, these visits sparked my lifelong interest in wildlife and a desire to pursue biology studies. The next trip was in 2001 when Jan and I took friends to the area. The park had expanded and modernised its facilities but still retained the  wonderful qualities and characteristics that had so impressed me forty years earlier! Today, many of the main camps have souvenir shops and mini-supermarkets where campers and travelers can re-provision, and of course, petrol (gas) can be purchased in most camps as well.

An especially memorable visit was in 2006 when we re-visited several of the camps that I had stayed in in 1962, especially Punda Maria in the north. Outwardly the thatch-roofed "rondavels" or cabins looked much the same, but inside, the conveniences had been updated, with air conditioning a notable improvement. Since then we have been back twice, visiting with some of our family and our 11 year-old granddaughter in 2012. Is it apparent that this place holds a very special place in my heart?

Now we are going back again and we will spend time in the southern area, based at the biggest (HQ) camp at Skukuza. Some of the mountains here rise up to 2,500 ft and the most annual rain falls here. The big cats are often seen here and the bird life and vegetation is different from the grassland and savannah further north.

80% of the rainfall falls between October and March (summer), so visitors in June can expect to see mostly warm, dry days and cool winter nights. Each day in KNP offers new experiences and surprises. We hope to write about some of these as we travel, so stay tuned.

13 May 2014

Back to Gomo Gomo - two years later

Gomo Gomo Game Lodge is a private and intimate camp situated in the prestigious Klaserie Private Nature Reserve, giving you best traverse viewing. We can vouch for this because we are about to make our third visit to this little "lowveld paradise."  We began making plans for this trip last November. Here are the steps to take when planning a safari like this.

Step 1: Always check the South African School Calendar to make sure you are visiting while the local kids are in school.

Step 2: Consider the weather. In 2012 we went in late July and it was very cold.  Temperatures across South Africa that year were at record lows.  The evening game drives were frigid, requiring many layers of clothing. This time we decide to go in early June, so the weather should be really nice. 

Step 3: The season is important.  I enjoy going during the rainy season, from November through March.  The bush foliage is dense and the bird life is amazing. Hundreds of migratory bird species take up residence in southern Africa, and the big herds of buffalo and elephant move around in the lush environment. But Jan prefers the winter months, June through August, when the leaves have fallen and wildlife (at least the mammals) are easier to spot. Water sources shrink, forcing the animals to congregate around the areas water holes, and remaining river pools. 

So - we decided on June, when temperatures are still relatively mild and the bush has lost most of it foliage. The best of both worlds.

Step 4: Choose the location. We have been to the lowveld area around the Kruger National Park a number of times.  In fact, it is a place I visited twice as a teenager in 1959 and 1961. So we know we will get our moneys worth. We first visited the Klaserie Wildlife area, west of Kruger Park in 2001 and had a wonderful three days at Kings Camp.  Then we returned to stay at Gomo Gomo, in their old location, in 2006. It was a fabulous trip and we regretted spending only three days there. In 2012 we spent four nights at the new Gomo Gomo Camp with some of our kids and our eleven year-old granddaughter Avery.  We all had a blast for four full days and even saw a white lion cub -  a big highlight.

Step 5: Consider the cost!  Gomo Gomo will cost us under US$200 per night per person.  This includes all Game Drives, all meals and accommodations.  Nearby, upscale lodges might charge up to $880 to $1,000 pp per night.  Hey, they all have the same wildlife to view so why pay more? As we are returning guests, Gomo Gomo has offered a discount as well. 

This time we have booked a full five nights at the camp.  After we leave, we will rent a car and spend five nights in the Kruger National Park. For a self-drive safari KNP can't be beat. Accommodations will set us back about $100 per night for both of us and restaurant fare is good and inexpensive, by American standards.

Step 6: Once the game camp and KNP bookings were made, we booked our plane tickets. It is important to book and pay as far in advance as possible.  The return airfare from Denver to Johannesburg was just a bit over $2,000 each. Then there is a short flight from Johannesburg's O.R. Tambo Airport, by South African Airways Express commuter flight, to the Gateway airport near Hoedspruit.  Cost, about $160 each. We are picked up by Gomo Gomo staff at the airport for a 30 minute drive to the lodge.

With less than three weeks to go we keep saying "Three weeks from now we will be over the Atlantic.." or "In three weeks we will be arriving at Gomo Gomo!"  They say that we become more patient as we grow older, but that is not true in this case. We are like two kids waiting for Christmas Eve. 

We will be posting more news as our trip begins and hope to share photos along the way. Join us on Facebook.

About this Blogger

My photo

Graduated Rhodes University. Writer, photographer, book maker. Co-own BookCrafters with my wife.