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Self-drive safari in the Kruger National Park

Listed under Safari in South Africa.

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The Kruger National Park, established in 1898 to protect the wildlife of the South African Lowveld, sprawls over an area of nearly two million hectares and is home to an impressive number of species: 507 birds, 336 trees, 147 mammals, 114 reptiles, 49 fish and 34 amphibians according to the South African National Parks authority. That means that even when you don’t see one of the famed Big Fives (elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, rhinoceros) there still is plenty else to look at.

Game drives in elevated open vehicles complete with ranger and spotter afford exceptional views over the surrounding bush, and seeing a good selection of game is almost guaranteed as guides exchange sighting tips over the radio. Guided trips are also the only form of safari that allows off-road and night time exploration. I particularly enjoyed self-drive safaris, however, a specialty of the Kruger National Park. A network of tarred and dirt roads crisscrosses the park and visitors are free to roam at their leisure, provided they never get out of their cars in the bush and return to camp or exit gate by sunset.

I took off every morning armed with a road map, plenty of drinking water, a full gas tank, a dusted-off telephoto lens and a healthy dose of patience. Alternating between the peaceful solitude of remote dirt roads and the comforts of the easily-accessible main sites, I spent hours watching a hippo’s nostrils poking at the surface of a lake, a beetle building up a dung ball much bigger than its own body or a baboon nursing her young. And when a majestic elephant bull unexpectedly emerged from the bush to cross my path, the undisturbed privacy of the encounter made it all the more precious.

Written by  Francoise Ohayon.

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