It is a name that rings with greatness. An internationally known powerhouse of a national park that draws some of the highest numbers of any park on earth…
The Greater Kruger National Park (GKNP) and the larger Kruger National Park (KNP) next door are two of the most ecologically rich areas in Southern Africa and certainly stellar destinations for any safari experience.
Along with the Canyons Biosphere, the GKNP, and the KNP form an enormous biosphere reserve in northeast South Africa that overlaps Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces and has been ratified by UNESCO as part of the Man and the Biosphere Programme, which aims to explore and improve the relationships between people and their environments.
If you’re looking for a true wildlife experience filled with phenomenal natural wonders, you can’t go wrong with this outstanding African safari destination.
What’s the difference between the Kruger National Park and the Greater Kruger?
This is a question we get a lot, so it’s probably worth clearing this one up early. While they share part of the same name, and indeed are neighbours, the Kruger National Park and the Greater Kruger National Park are two very different entities.
Kruger National Park is a state-sponsored park in the far north-eastern region of South Africa, covering a massive 19,633 square kilometres. Measuring 360 km long, with an average width of 65 km, the northern Kruger is also where South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique meet. If you happen to find yourself at Crooks Corner looking north, you will have the Mozambique border on your right, Zimbabwe straight ahead and South Africa directly behind you.
The Greater Kruger is best described as an extension of the Kruger National Park. Lying to the west and sharing a 50km unfenced boundary, the GKNP is a patchwork of private game reserves measuring 1,800 square kilometres, all under the umbrella of the Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR).
Animals can roam freely between the two parks as the vast majority of the area is unfenced and if you’re staying in the GKNP you can visit Kruger Park for a small fee. However, the same does not apply the other way as the GKNP is reserved for paying guests staying in one of the private reserves within the park. This allows the GKNP to provide a level of exclusivity and lower numbers that its larger neighbour just can’t match.
Which park should I choose?
Kruger National Park is often referred to as the “People’s Park” – open to all and catering to all budget levels. Accommodation can range from simple thatched bungalows to more luxurious game lodges, while most visiting KNP bring their own vehicles and experience this wonderful wilderness region on a self-drive adventure.
The Greater Kruger National Park, where we primarily operate in the area, is the more exclusive, more luxurious and quieter neighbour next door. You won’t find the same kind of numbers here where tourists typically take part in game drives organised through their own safari operators and are accompanied by excellent knowledgeable guides who can really bring this wonderful wildlife sanctuary to life.
It’s difficult to say that one is better than the other, especially since they technically incorporate the same slice of African Bushveld, but the experience of staying in the two parks is very different.
What is the history of the two parks?
The Kruger National park was established in 1898 by the President of the Transvaal, Paul Kruger. A few years earlier, the area between the Sabie and Crocodile Rivers had been put aside for restricted hunting, which was named the Sabie Game Reserve – a name that was changed to the Kruger National Park in 1926.
As Kruger Park gained popularity, private landowners began establishing their own private game reserves on the boundary of the already established park. Eventually, the APNR was formed by 20 private farms or landowners with the intention of developing the local community and conserving the natural habitat.
In 1993, the fences that separated the Kruger National Park and the Greater Kruger were removed, creating one of the most illustrious reserves in the world and the perfect setting for any African safari experience.
What is Greater Kruger National Park like?
There are now more than 20 private game reserves in the GKNP, with some of the most well-known being the Timbavati Game Reserve – where occasional sightings of the incredibly rare white lion tend to occur – the Sabi Sands Game Reserve, and the picturesque Klaserie Private Nature Reserve.
The area generally provides a snapshot of exactly what you’d imagine an African safari destination would be – vast tracts of semi-arid grassland, neighbouring the arcane thick bushlands of the South African lowveld punctuated by the odd water hole and rocky outcrops that hold ancient secrets.
Gazing out across the African bush of GKNP from a safari vehicle is an all-encompassing experience that is almost impossible to put into words. With an abundance of wildlife, an intimate safari experience that comes from limited numbers, and experienced guides to lead you through this fascinating world, spending time in the GKNP is like living your safari dream.
What animals are found in the area?
Without trying to overdo things, the Greater Kruger National Park is unquestionably one of the best places in Africa for animal sightings. From the well established and surprisingly numerous lions, leopards, hyenas and elephants, to the rarer gems such as the white rhino, the pangolin, or the aardvark the GKNP certainly lives up to its lofty reputation when it comes to wild animals.
The park is also home to 517 different bird species, including 253 residents, 117 non-breeding migrants, and 147 nomads, making this an excellent place for bird-watching. All in all, there are roughly 330 different trees, around 50 fish, more than 30 amphibians, more than 110 reptiles, and over 150 mammal species in Kruger Park. If you don’t find something that takes your fancy, maybe safaris just aren’t really your thing.
With almost no fencing between the two parks, you can expect to see exactly the same selection of animals in the Kruger as you would in Greater Kruger – the only major difference is that you will probably have much fewer people around you while in the GKNP.
What activities are available in Greater Kruger?
Few national parks provide the same variety of activities as the Greater Kruger National Park. From some of the finest game drives in all of Africa, walking safaris, guided bush walks and bird watching, to mountain biking, night drives and 4×4 expeditions, there’s plenty for everyone. One activity we really recommend doing at least once is sleeping out under the African night sky. It’s a spine-tingling experience that lets you feel like you’re in the very heart of African wildlife.
As we mentioned earlier, the larger Kruger National Park next door is open to all and provides an even greater variety of things to do.
Golf is probably not one of the activities you’d expect to find at a safari destination, but with four golf courses located in or around Kruger Park, you’ve also got the opportunity to hone your skills on the greens while enjoying this beautiful stretch of land.
The Kruger National Park is also home to over 300 archaeological sights, giving it an added dimension that few, if any, other national parks can compete with. These are popular tourist attractions that can break up the wildlife viewings – should you feel you need it.
The Albasini ruins, located at the Phabeni Gate in Southern Kruger, are the remains of an old trading post in 1845, while Masorini, near the Phalaborwa Gate in Central Kruger, is an Iron Age site on a hill which was also populated by the Ba-Phalaborwa tribe in the 1800s.
It’s believed that our distant ancestors lived in and around Kruger Park as far back as a million years ago, and the many archaeological sites present give us a fascinating glimpse of life through history for those who once called this spectacular land home.
Where can I stay in the GKNP?
From luxury lodges to more rugged bushveld camps and rest camps, there are certainly no shortages of accommodation options in the Greater Kruger National Park.
We highly recommend staying in the Timbavati Game Reserve or the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve, both of which offer excellent small boutique lodges and a truly authentic safari experience.
The Sabi Sand Game Reserve is another great option and one of the best places in the area to catch a glimpse of the elusive leopards. Formed in 1950, it is the oldest of all the private reserves boasting everything from a simple 3-star tented camp to 5-star luxury safari lodges.
Whichever private reserve you choose, because of its relative exclusivity, the GKNP provides some of the finest safari accommodation in all of South Africa.
Getting to and from Greater Kruger
South Africa generally has excellent infrastructure that makes getting around the country fairly simple and getting in and out from Kruger couldn’t be easier.
Most foreigners visiting the GKNP or the KNP usually arrive in either Johannesburg or Cape Town, though there are three airports either just outside the park or inside; Mpumalanga International Airport and Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport, both just outside the Park, and the small Skukuza Airport, located close to the Sabie River in Southern Kruger.
From Jo’burg, Kruger is around 5-6 hours by car, or about an hour by plane, though schedules can be patchy and might not match up to your itinerary. If you’re arriving from Cape Town, you’ll most likely take an internal flight to one of the airports close to the park, but if you do feel in the mood for a nearly 2,000 km road trip, driving is also an option.
Why should I visit the Greater Kruger National Park?
When people are planning to head to South Africa, we are often asked about the differences between the GKNP and the KNP and which they should choose.
In terms of animals, because there are few fences between the two, wildlife sightings can be similar but the number of humans is normally very different. Kruger National Park always brings in big numbers, with nearly a million people visiting each year, while there’s no escaping the fact that the GKNP offers a more exclusive safari experience, which typically equates to significantly lower numbers than next door and a more intimate experience with the animals as a result.
South Africa is blessed with some extraordinary landscapes, but the area around both Kruger National Parks takes it to a different level. With everything from luxurious safari lodges to smaller and much more basic satellite camps, and a huge variety of activities to suit every personal preference.
Dry season or rainy season, come hell or high water, this is one park you really need to visit – the perfect spot for any African safari destination and a region of the world that will leave its mark on you long after you’ve returned home.
Regions of the Kruger
Safaris in The Kruger
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