The best driving routes in the north of Kruger

Posted on 4 October 2021

By Ingrid van den Berg

We take a look at three routes in the more remote and scenically spectacular region north of Shingwedzi rest camp.


North of Shingwedzi, the meandering S56 follows the Mphongolo River course where riverine forest is in stark contrast to the surrounding monotonous mopane shrubveld. This is home to the rare Sharpe’s grysbok which is often confused with steenbok, but occupies a different habitat.

Tsessebe, which are considered the fastest antelope in Southern Africa and only occur on the northern mopane plains, are occasionally seen drinking at pools where numerous road loops get close to the riverbank.

Tsessebe enjoying a mudbath.

Buffalo and elephant herds and journeys of giraffe, may be seen in the riverbed.
The route offers prime habitat for lion and leopard, but with lower game densities comes lower predator numbers. Birding is excellent for terrestrial, frugivorous and general bushveld species. Sightings of endangered raptors are always special. The Babalala Picnic Site is an all-time favourite of ours and offers gas braais, tables and chairs, a kitchenette and clean ablutions.


The S99 is the botanical jewel of the north and was named after the many specimens of pod mahogany along this loop that circumnavigates the hill behind Punda Maria rest camp. The slopes support an astounding diversity of plant species, several of which are unique to the park.

The easiest trees to recognise here include: large-fruited bushwillows with their winged fruits; the baobabs; the apple-leafs with gnarled trunks; jackalberries with dense, roundish canopies; sycamore figs with their distinctive yellowish trunks and leadwood bushwillows with pale grey bark that breaks up into small regular snakeskin-like blocks. The Lebombo ironwood is only found here and in the Lebombo Mountains.
The soil in this part of the park is sandy and well-drained, and in summer it supports a wonderland of flowering shrubs and annuals. Game sightings include elephant, Sharpe’s grysbok, impala, kudu and buffalo. Predators are around but are not often encountered. Bird diversity is great, so birding is rewarding.

Sharpe’s grysbok.


This loop is a birders’ paradise. One of the highlights is the confluence of the Luvuvhu and Limpopo rivers where a triangular tongue of land is wedged between SA, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Crook’s Corner is one of the most notorious historical places in the park. Ivory poachers, gun-runners, fugitives and others evading the law based themselves here so that they could simply hop over the border out of legal reach.

Visit the banks of the Luvuvhu to experience its tropical atmosphere, see the Sykes’ monkey (the only place in the park where this species can be found) and enjoy the variety of birds, including
the crested guineafowl, Meve’s starling and the racket-tailed roller, that only occur here. An all-time special sighting would be the Pel’s fishing owl.
The baobabs here are awe-inspiring, but so are the fever trees, figs, anas, sausage trees and many others. The Pafuri Picnic Site has a special ambiance, wonderful facilities, an informative open-air display centre, and offers excellent opportunities for birding.

One of the largest baobabs in Kruger. image: Anton Crone

White fronted bee-eaters

Pygmy kingfisher.

There are many more good roads in Kruger, but the best one is the one you are driving on. Exceptional sightings can happen anywhere.

When you can stay over
SANParks accommodation in Kruger starts from R390 for camping and R1580 for a basic bungalow. Book your trip here.

For a more luxurious private option with guided game drives and walks, book into Return Africa’s Pafuri Luxury Tented Camp (with family tents too) on the northern bank off the Luvuvhu River.

Read: Central Kruger National Park driving routes

Pictures: Anton Crone

Featured picture: Richard Brown


The best Kruger campsites, north to south



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