Kruger National Park driving routes: The south

Posted on 17 June 2020

With Kruger recently opening up for day drives, it’s time to get exploring the 3000-odd kilometres of public road in South Africa’s favourite national park. You can’t possibly drive them all, so Getaway asked the Van den Berg family – authors of the excellent Kruger Self-Drive guidebook – for their all-time best drives in Kruger.

Wildlife is not evenly distributed in the park, despite the rich diversity of species, and roads that usually offer good sightings don’t always deliver on expectations. This unpredictability is what makes game drives so exciting – you just never know what you could see next.

The best way to drive in Kruger is to slow down, relax and focus on the small things. When looking for the big things, remember that availability of surface water (dams, waterholes, rivers) greatly influences the movement and concentration of game, so plot these on your map and be vigilant when you approach. Tarred H toads carry heavier traffic than dirt S roads, but the latter can offer a more intimate bush experience.

Over the next three weeks, we’ll bring you the Van Den Berg verdict – nine drives in total, divided into the southern, central and northern regions of the park. We start the three-part series with these must-do routes in the south.

A white rhino peacefully explorers the dry Biyamiti riverbed. Image credit: Catherine Hofmeyr

H4-1

Sabie River Road

The two main attractions of this road are the scenery along the Sabie River it follows, and the abundance of game. ‘Sabisa’ is the Swazi word for ‘frightening’ and refers to the dangers of crossing this river with its slippery rocks and lurking crocodiles. The views of the riverbed are spectacular. Elephants, buffalos and grazers regularly cross the road on their way to water. Lion sightings often occur, and even the elusive leopard is regularly seen.

The riverine forest attracts a plethora of birds, shy bushbuck, monkeys and baboons while the surrounding thicket vegetation is ideal habitat for black rhinos. Hotspots are the high-water bridge over the Sabie, the Nkuhlu Picnic Site, Lubyelubye River crossing where the sandstone rocks are favoured by lions and klipspringers, and the popular Sunset Dam where people spend hours watching birds, game and other people.

Spot the big cats. Image credit: Heinrich van den Berg

 

Grey heron at Ntandanyathi bird hide. Image credit: Catherine Hofmeyr

 

Mom can’t seem to catch a break. Image credit: Catherine Hofmeyr

H4-2

Gomondwane Road

The entry road to the park from the far south-east is part of the ‘Southern Circle’. It traverses the excellent grazing area surrounding Crocodile Bridge Camp. Here the grass is sweet and palatable due to the underlying basalt soils. High concentrations of grazers attract predators of all kinds and many visitors encounter lion and leopard soon after entering the park.

There is usually some animal activity at Gezantfombi waterhole and this road is also famous for good cheetah sightings. Wild dogs are known to den in the vicinity, and then sightings are numerous and extremely rewarding. Closer to Lower Sabie Camp, the road follows the Sabie River where leopard and other game are often seen.

The road is steeped in history, being one of the first jeep-tracks into the park built by ranger CR de Laporte. Pioneering traders João Albasini (Portuguese) and Sardelli (Greek) had trading posts around here long before it was a park, and the Battle of Gomondwane was one of the first skirmishes between traders and Shangaan warriors.

A rare sighting indeed. Image credit: Catherine Hofmeyr

 

H3

Malelane Gate to H1-1

This drive initially takes you through a very scenic mountainous area covered by broad-leaved vegetation before it flattens out into gently undulating kudu country dotted with intermittent impala herds and the occasional predator. Look out for hyena that den under culverts, and wild dog.

A hotspot is the bridge over the Mlambane River where visibility is good and elephant, lion, leopard and other game often linger. Don’t ignore the turn-off to Renosterpan which takes you to a semi-permanent pan. A huge leadwood offers shade while watching game and birds from your vehicle. Afsaal Picnic Site has a shop, light meals, braai facilities and ablutions. The thornveld surrounding Afsaal is a particularly good game area with sweet grasses.

Thereafter the road passes the turnoff to Jock Safari Lodge, where the Mitomeni and Biyamiti rivers meet and enter the Biyamiti Basin which is another hotspot. Look out for klipspringer on the koppies, as well as elephant, lion, zebra, kudu and impala in this area. Kwaggaspan waterhole, about nine kilometres further, is worth scanning carefully with binoculars.

A kudu bull is the symbol of SANParks. Image credit: Catherine Hofmeyr

 

Wild dogs are also known as painted wolves. Image credit: Heinrich van den Berg

 

Elephant in Kruger south

Always give animals the right of way, no matter how big or small. Image credit: Catherine Hofmeyr

Plan a trip

The Kruger Self-Drive guidebook by Ingrid, Phillip and Heinrich van den Bergwill give you all the information you need, from routes and road ratings to maps and camp details. Use the discount code GETAWAY to order it for R476. hphpublishing.co.za

When you can stay

SANParks accommodation in Kruger starts from R250 for a campsite (two people), and around R1 180 for a basic bungalow, sleeping two (sanparks.org). For prime game viewing in the south, spoil yourself at Jock’s Safari Lodge.

 

Also read: Plan your day trip to Kruger

Words: Ingrid van den Berg






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