A Week in Kruger, the Mother of All Safaris
Steeped in legend and history, the iconic Kruger National Park in South Africa is waiting for you to explore its vast landscapes and spectacular African wildlife.
By: Subhasish Chakraborty Photos By: Singita
Being born and brought up in India’s remote north-eastern state of Assam does have its advantages, especially when it comes to appreciating concepts like wilderness, mountains, conservation issues etc. I still vividly recall my childhood wildlife holidays spent in some of India’s best known national parks, like Kaziranga, Manas, and Pobitora, accompanied by my dad, who, as an agriculture scientist, had to frequently visit the region’s remote hinterlands.
When it comes to viewing wilderness in all its glory, nothing surpasses the excitement and drama that one is ensured of in any African safari, and it took me a while to zero in on one of the world’s greatest wildlife reserves—Kruger National Park—and embark on a dream safari.
Kruger National Park isn’t just stepped in legends; it is also iconic in terms of sheer vastness, incredible landscapes, and extravagant African wildlife. The only irritating part, if any, was the journey—12.5 hours from New Delhi to Johannesburg.
It is always wise to do your pre-departure homework well in advance of your trip since visiting Kruger is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many visitors. After consulting my friends in the travel/tourism and hospitality domain, I chose Singita as they had two top-end lodges in Kruger: Singita Lebombo Lodge and Singita Sweni Lodge. The idea was to experience Kruger from two different wilderness locales that would offer me the most comprehensive views of this truly mesmerizing wilderness zone.
Much of Kruger is bushland, and both of the lodges offered me everything from rare and exclusive entrées to over half a million acres of unspoiled wilderness. Indeed, these days it is hard to come by wildlife reserves that can boast of the “Big Five” (elephant, lion, rhino, leopard, and buffalo) in the same reserve. But then, Kruger is an exception!
My personal naturalist, Ross Couper, knew the terrain like the tip of his finger, having spent long years in this part of the wilderness. As our 4×4 vehicle penetrated deep into Kruger’s core wilderness zone, I was informed that the park is all off 19,485 sq. km. and was officially designated as a national park in 1926 by the South African government.
As we traversed along Kruger’s Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO designated “International Man and Biosphere Reserve,” I gave an honest hearing to Ross’s erudite talk on Singita’s story—the genesis in 1925 when Luke Bailes’s grandfather bought a small piece of land that, later on, would evolve into a success story in the realm of wildlife conservation.
The park is so vast that if, for instance, you are traveling from east to west, you have to cover 90 kilometers. The north and south of Kruger are blessed with two shimmering rivers—Limpopo and Crocodile—that heighten the wildlife panorama by a few more notches.
We decided to take a breather, and my wizened naturalist, Ross, set up the table against the surreal backdrop of Khandzalive, which, incidentally, happens to be the highest point in Kruger.
As a travel writer, I have often wondered about the kind of life a naturalist or field guide lives on a day-to-day basis. Back in India, I believe they live a tough life, not just guiding visitors but also taking on the additional responsibility of guarding the forest and its resources from poachers. And needless to say, they are poorly paid.
I wanted to hear from Ross about his life in the African wilderness, and this is what he had to say: “Every day we guides and trackers rely totally on ourselves to find animals. We are equipped only with keen eyesight, tracking skills, and our knowledge of animal movements and habitat preferences. Excitement mounts as we search for any clues that may lead us to find a specific animal. Patience is required as well. When we do find what we set out to look for, the search for animals can end up being extremely rewarding. When we do not find what we were looking for, frustration can creep in. Nevertheless, because the results are unpredictable, the search is inevitably exciting.” That perhaps sums up life in the African wilderness.
But then, in the words of Luke Bailes—easily one of the greatest wildlife conservationists of all time—African wilderness is a “place of miracles,” and they strive to conserve and protect these miraculous and incredible places. When I asked Ross if he was happy with what he does, his curt reply was “Why not? Is there any job on Earth that would pay me to be in harmonious union with nature?”
Kruger, and much of Africa’s wilderness, is an unpredictable place. You never know how your next wildlife drama is going to unfold. Apart from lions, which are definitely the centerpiece, rhinos, too, are on the prized lists of visitors. But rhinos are passé for me, having been exposed to them countless times in Kaziranga, where it is much easier to spot them given their greater numbers there.
The buzzword here in Kruger is “unpredictable,” but I came here to spend time lion watching and would settle for nothing less. One week in the African wilds is a long time, and Kruger doesn’t disappoint lion aficionados. My only previous brush with lions was at Gir Forest in Gujarat. But then, those were Asiatic lions and not the prized African ones that the whole world craves.
So off we went into the bushy, secluded tracks of Kruger where lions are known to frequent. My field guide, Ross, was of the opinion that the lions have been very active of late, so there wasn’t much to be worried about. As Ross went on, narrating how the Mhangene pride was maturing in terms of numbers, our 4×4 vehicle made an abrupt halt, the tires screeching to a halt almost instantly.
My head experienced a thud as it hit the windshield. For a moment, I saw nothing, although it was dawn and the red molten ball was rising splendidly across Kruger’s magnificent panorama. As I came to my senses, Ross offered me an energy drink, rubbed my shoulders, and clasped my hands warmly, inviting me to disembark from the hardy vehicle to gaze in utter amazement at the sight of a rather large pride of lions, known as the Shishangaan Pride, drinking water from the marshy pond just 500 meters away.
A full five minutes passed. An intense wildlife drama unfolded in front of my eyes—the landscape desolate and unpopulated and the wilderness one splendid isolation. The pride, fully satiated by their early morning drink, made one too many growls, and the entire pride disappeared into the surrounding vegetative canopy heaving their manes with pride.
That’s the essence of being in Kruger National Park. Here it’s all attitude and positivity that reminds me of Swami Vivekananda’s immortal words: “The moment I realize God sitting in the temple of every living creature, the moment I stand in reverence before every living creature and see God in them—that moment I am free from bondage, everything that binds vanishes, and I am free.”
Indeed, Kruger sets you free and touches visitors at every level: spiritual, emotional, and physical. Memories of Kruger will linger forever.
Traveler’s Fact File
Singita Lebombo Lodge
This remarkable lodge in Kruger National Park offers 13 grandiose suites, and there is also an exclusive private-use villa that offers discerning guests the very best of African hospitality.
The private villa is indeed the most sought-after accommodation at Singita Lebombo Lodge. It is nicely tucked away from the central lodge and comprised of 2 two-bedroom suites, with an exclusive private pool. The villa is close to the river bank and has an in-house open-plan kitchen to cater to the diverse tastes of the guests.
Singita Sweni Lodge
This lodge is well spread out across 33,000 acres of private concession in Kruger National Park, and the shimmering Sweni River offers a truly surreal backdrop for guests to unwind in the very heartland of wild Africa. This lodge is the epitome of –the fusion of African architecture with the contemporary. Guests at Singita Sweni Lodge can rest assured of spotting diverse animal species that meander down along the banks of the Sweni to quench their thirst.
Singita offers regular charter flights, and all flights land at the Satara airstrip, a 45-minute drive from the lodge. Singita staff transport guests to the lodge in air-conditioned vehicles.
The travel time from Johannesburg to Satara is one and a half hours.
The rich and famous touch down in their exclusive private aircrafts, and pilots are recommended to broadcast their arrival on a 124.8 MHz frequency. Please note that only a small number of companies have permission to land at the Satara airstrip, which is maintained by the National Parks Board. King Air, Cessna, and PC12 can land at Satara without any hitches.
- From Johannesburg: approximately 8 hours’ drive (+/- 600km)
- From Hoedspruit: approximately 2–3 hours’ drive (+/- 155km)
- From Skukuza: approximately 2–3 hours’ drive (+/-110km)
- From Hazyview: approximately 3.5 hours’ drive (+/- 156km)
- From Nelspruit: approximately 4 hours’ drive (+/- 216km)
For further information and reservations, please feel free to get in touch with:
Tel: +27 (0)21 683 3424
Tel: +27 (0)21 683 3424