This article is not sponsored but was written based on the experience of one of our contributing writers.
Despite having stayed in South Africa my entire life, this world-renowned park had never piqued my interest until my 10-year-old son asked if we could visit it so that he too could understand the ongoing hype surrounding the park. Apart from it being an internationally acclaimed marvel - it is also a much sought-after holiday destination for South Africans.
The park, which is home to the Big 5, covers approximately 19000 square km of the South African landscape. Situated in Mpumalanga, it is surrounded by numerous towns and accommodation options to suit individual preferences.
The greatest appeal of the neighboring towns is that many of them have preserved their colonial artistry and passing through them really does feel like a step back into time and South African history.
One of the surrounding towns that we stayed at is Hazyview which is about 66kms from Nelspruit as well as the nearest airport however, I would suggest driving from Johannesburg as it is a mere 400km away. The drive from Johannesburg takes you along a scenic route where apart from numerous pioneer-type towns such as Belfast and Dullstroom, you pass the likes of the Three Rondavels and Bylde’s Canyon which both form part of the Drakensburg Escarpment. The Panorama Route also offers many worthwhile stops such as Bourke’s Luck Potholes and a plethora of waterfalls.
We stayed at Hazyview Sun which along with Sabi River Sun belongs to the Tsogo Sun chain of hotels. While Hazyview Sun is exclusively hotel-centered, Sabi River has the option of self-catering. Other accommodation options suitable for children include Hazyview Cabanas and Kruger Lodge which both also offer self-catering. Accommodation can even be found within Kruger Park and range from authentic camping experiences to luxurious lodges. Although the town is relatively built up despite its rustic roots, halaal food is sparse. There is a Chicken Licken – a well-known chicken franchise - and a Muslim-owned garage that has a few halal options but staying for more than a weekend could prove problematic meal-wise.
The closest gate from Hazyview is Phabeni Gate which is only 20Kms away from the hotel. The gates open at different times during different seasons and are open as early as 5:30 am in summer. However, getting into the park comes with a fair amount of admin. You have to first book a visit to the park prior to the actual day of visiting via www.sanparks.org and have to pay both an entrance as well as a conservation fee. South African and International visitors pay vastly different fees and you can either pay online or at the park. However, regardless of whether you book online or at the park, you have to still physically disembark and register at the gate. The line moves relatively fast but be prepared for a line because the Kruger enthusiasts are there very early because early morning is when you get the best sightings. Many of the hotels provide a breakfast pack so do remember to request one while at your hotel however ensure that you also take enough snacks and drinks because the park is hot, driving 20 km an hour can be a bit tedious and most of the rest camps only open at 9 am.
There are private tours as well as tour options outside the park’s gate however I would advise that you drive your own vehicle, especially with kids. The tours follow a particular route and although the drivers may be experienced rangers, something as natural as the Kruger Park is anyone’s game and you can either see a lot or nothing at all regardless of who is driving. From Phabeni Gate it is about 39 km to Skukuza but at 20 km per hour it can take up to 2 hours to get to the camp between the stopping and the sightings.
Skukuza houses a day camp for day visitors with a convenience store onsite and a swimming pool however you need to pay a fee to enter the swimming area. Alongside the day camp is Selati Bridge which is home to the prestigious Kruger Shalati, a train still stationed on a dormant railway line, which has now been converted into a luxury hotel- not suitable for children but a must-do for adults. In this compound, there is also a play area, a train-themed restaurant, a 360 cinema, and a coffee shop.
Although the park goes further north, we stuck to the southern part and continued towards Lower Sabie which is notorious for its abundant wildlife. An added plus of this spot is the wudhu and salaah facilities which have been built for the benefit of the Muslim community and again a variety of tourist shops make it a comfortable stop with kids. A useful facility at each stop is the sightings board which is regularly updated so that you know what to look out for in a particular region.
Our next stop was Crocodile Bridge which is about 35km away. The stop at Crocodile bridge is very minimal but is also an exit point from which we exited. Exiting at Crocodile bridge places you about 2 hours away from Hazyview so a significant amount of ground is covered in the park but you are also a mere 10mins away from the Mozambican border.
TIP- carry your passports along and make a trip to Mozambique. From the border, Maputo the capital city is only 1 hour away where you can enjoy tropical beaches, prawns, and cashew nuts –all indigenous to the country.
Some activities at Hazyview apart from the park include: