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How to do a Self-Drive Safari in Kruger

I believe only Kruger allows self drive safaris in the various countries of Africa. This is how we did it.

We had four nights in Kruger (we lost our 5th night at the Zurich airport) and stayed in three different camps. One of the first things we did was buy a booklet with a map of the park, sold in each camp’s store. Then the next morning we would get up at 5 or 6 AM and do a self-drive safari, usually as part of our drive to the next camp. We thought we’d only be out two or three hours at a time but we enjoyed ourselves so much, we’d stay out five. Each day we saw an amazing number of animals.

We could have signed up to do a ranger led jeep or bus tour but we quickly saw it was best to be on our own. Driving our own car on the well maintained asphalt or hard-packed dirt roads, we could stop at a sighting and watch for as long as we wanted. The guided safari groups only stayed about five minutes at each stop before driving on. They missed a lot of great animal behavior, not to mention the other animals that would turn up after they left! And it was thrilling to be able to spot animals on our own.

The best speed for sightings was between 20 and 35 kph. You weren’t allowed to go faster than 50 kph, although we noticed cars and trucks full of local workers ignoring this rule. Unfortunately, each year in Kruger animals are killed from speeding cars so we tried to be very careful.

Most of the animals we sighted on our own but whenever we saw cars pulled over, we pulled over too, because usually it was something big. We drove with our windows down (recommended by the park experts) and of course didn’t play any music. It is not allowed. Passengers should also speak in soft voices and refrain from loud exclamations. Believe me, when you are gazing at a herd of elephants crossing the road or at a rhinoceros sleeping near your car, you will want to whisper! Signs throughout the park warn people to stay in their cars, “Humans Are Food!” We took this very seriously.

Don’t Get Too Close to the Elephants! photo by Chris Gough

Speaking of being food, we brought snacks and water and NEVER GOT OUT OF THE CAR unless we were at a designated (protected) picnic/bathroom spot.

Protected Picnic Spot with Good Food!

We each had a “job” to do. My son handled the zoom lens, I had the wide angle, my daughter filmed using an iPhone and my husband drove. I was constantly saying, “stop, stop!” and he would stop, sometimes having to back up first, and then we would watch and photograph and sit there in amazement. We had two pairs of excellent binoculars to share but half the time we were so close we didn’t need them.

Male Giraffe, photo by Chris Gough

It was great touring in the South African winter. There were hardly any other cars on the road, the camps were less crowded and the air was dry – cool in the morning/evening and warm in the afternoon. There was less vegetation so animals were easier to spot and water holes were smaller, so a greater number of animals would gather in one spot. I felt plenty warm in the afternoon sun, I don’t know how anyone could stand touring in the African summer when the temperature goes through the roof.

The only drawbacks to touring in the winter is that the vegetation is brown and most of the birds migrate away. But there were still plenty of birds to see and the terrain was beautiful.

Southern Yellow Billed Hornbills, photo by Chris Gough

The nationally run camps in Kruger were very good. You can read about them in my next blog.

4 Comments

  1. Matt Freeman Matt Freeman

    This sounds fantastic! I was lucky enough to have a trip to South Africa for work a number of years ago and a colleague talked me into visiting Kruger. Still think of it as one of the most exciting things I’ve done. Reading about your trip has me thinking about going again with the family!

    • KarenGough KarenGough

      Thanks Matt! I’m glad it brought back good memories. There’s more to come!

  2. Becki Becki

    Karen,

    I am having fun reading about your experiences!

    • KarenGough KarenGough

      Yay! Thank you! Nothing like virtual travel in a comfortable setting! 😉

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