The 5th President of the old South Africa Republic (The Transvaal) was Paulus (Paul) Kruger, who was the inspiration for one of the largest game reserves in Africa, Kruger National Park.  Paul Kruger died in 1904, but he saw the future of a protected reserve for South African animals.

Kruger National Park spans nearly 20,000 square kilometers in the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga; from north to south it stretches 360 kilometers and 65 kilometers east to west, along the Mozambique and Zimbabwe borders. 

Kruger is located in the NE corner of South Africa.

The park is a magnificent combination of low and high veld terraine packed with just about every known animal in South Africa. Areas of the park were first protected by the government of the South African Republic in 1898, but it became South Africa's first national park in 1926. The Park was named after Kruger, as was the gold Krugerrand or better known today as the paper Rand.  There is a fabulous museum within Kruger’s home in Pretoria honoring him.

Kruger National Park is part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a peace park that links Kruger National Park with the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, and with the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique. The park is part of the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere, an area designated by UNESCO as an International Man and Biosphere Reserve.

The park has nine main gates that allow entrance to the different camps; we entered the southern Phabeni Gate. Griffiths paid the park entrance fees, which are all included in any tour conducted by Drifters.

Thatched huts at Pretorius Kop iin Kruger.

The Pretorius Kop (camp) was named after M.W. Pretorius, a member of the old Republic Triumvirate, and a friend to Paul Kruger.  It was a traditional thatched roof looking village of dun-colored rodovals, each with a platform bed and a sink, but also with A/C; we were visiting in the fall so the nights cooled down and the windows had mosquito screens so they stayed open.

Some of these African huts were larger to accommodate families, but the showers and toilets are communal in block houses nearby.  Arrival was hot and most Drifters guests peeled off the sweaty garments for bathing suits because the word was out about the clean camp pool.

Hey, who left the windows open on the truck?  Vervet monkeys tore through the truck like storm troopers anything looking for edible and they became so spooked they left their dung calling card in the cab.  I think we were all to blame for the hub bub because the camp was so serene and safe the last thing we expected was monkey marauders, who bailed into the arms of a tree after Griffiths yelled at them.

We all pitched in on our Drifters Adventure.

I must say that Griffiths was one of the best one pot cast iron chef anywhere around.  The beef stroganoff with rice dinner was superb the single night we were at the Kop.  With the structured timely meals and all the bush walking, I actually was losing weight and feeling great. By now all Drifters guests knew each other on a first name basis and helped each other in all aspects of the tour, like grabbing me another beer from the cooler.

Our slow day long game drive through the park was in the big excursion truck.  Drifters has no accommodation facilities or game viewing trucks in the park. Everyone was as excited as kids in Disneyland with the wildlife that popped up and then disappeared. This region of Kruger bush was more like scrublands than lush subtropical forest, but the Park boasts streams and waterfalls.  Kruger is all about the wondrous game viewing.

White headed eagles wait for lunch.

White headed eagles stripped apart a kudu kill near the road then flew into dead trees to eyeball any witnesses, especially predators.  Zebras and white rhinos were plentiful for the paparazzi hanging out of the Drifters truck like goggle-eyed celebrity stalkers. Kruger has had a problem with rhino horn poaching, which kills the rhinos; the Mozambique poachers are killed on site by a special Kruger poaching squad.

A National Park wild dog unit was tracking the canines by helicopter but the spotted and mottled pack made a break for it, right down the road in front of cars and game viewing trucks, including us. Their coats made them vanish like ghosts with the colors of the bush when they went off road.

A single male sable was frozen in place on a gnarly knob of rocks, only his tail twitched, his gray hide blended well with the dead branches. Kruger was the only place in South Africa I saw a sable. He surely was a Boone and Crockett trophy candidate, but all game is protected in Kruger.

The rare and elusive sable.

A bull elephant was defending his turf, I guess from us. In the tall grass a baby hyena yawned and gamboled about. A troupe of pesky monkeys were about, and clatter and din was raised. We stopped at a pond and hippos eyed us with suspicion. I now have so many photos of impalas I no longer click the shutter. Well, maybe just one more.

Just another day on the veld — impalas pose.

Kruger is such a magnificent park; we all agreed that more time was needed to explore it.

Drifters offers a 4 night, five day Bushveld excursion round trip from Johannesburg, with two nights at Bush Lodge,  one night at Hazyview Lodge, and one night in Kruger. With Drifters customizable self-drive programs guests can spend even more time in Kruger and other private game lodges in the area. 

In fact, Drifters owns its own luxury Game Lodge near the northern end of Kruger, in the private 35,000 hectares Balule Nature Reserve.

Drifters Game Lodge in the Balule Nature Reserve.
(Photo courtesy of Drifters.)

The Game Lodge is isolated and remote and is perfect for guests wanting more private time in a wilderness setting. A private ranger will take you game viewing for lions and rhinos. The Game Lodge offers organized walking and open vehicle safaris. The Game Lodge encompasses eight thatched suites and are insect proof, with an inner tented sleeping chamber. All suites are appointed with electricity, full bathroom, shower, and game deck overlooking the seasonal Mohlabetsi river bed.

Zebras dazzle in Kruger's grasslands.

The central lodge building offers broad shady verandahs and lounge overlooking a rock pool which is open for suntanning or swimming. Bring a telephoto lens for the abundant birdlife along the riverine forest, and it is guaranteed that you will see other big and small game in the wild during your stay at the Game Lodge.  Lunch is served on the verandah, and after an early evening drive, dinner is in an open air African boma.

Hoedspruit (Eastgate Airport) or Phalabonwa offers fly in services for those wishing not to take the five hour self-drive from Johannesburg. The Game Lodge is only 17 kilometers north of the Hoedspruit Airport, the main gateway to Kruger National Park. The Drifter Game Lodge package includes meals, accommodations, game drives, walks, and drop off at the Eastgate Airport.  A full bar service is available.

Just one of the Big Five you may see in Kruger.

The next morning, after boiled eggs, coffee, and rusks, a kind of hard biscuit, we were packed and ready to roll down the park and through Swaziland.  My new set of crocodile boots was dog paddling in the cocoa colored river in South Africa near Swaziland.  Griffiths made a wrong turn somewhere because a sign was down, but he figured it out, and soon we were getting visa stamps for the Kingdom of Swaziland at the Mankayane entrance.

Our road trek through Swazi chipped off a chunk of the temperate western edge of the country. The Kingdom of Swaziland, or sometimes called Ngwane or Swatini, is mostly rural patches of endless maize and sugarcane fields. The landlocked nation is surrounded by Mozambique to the east and South Africa along the other compass points; the people are named after the 19th-century king Mswati II.

Swaziland is a small country, no more than 200 kilometers north to south and 130 kilometers east to west. The western half is mountainous, descending to a lowveld region to the east. The eastern border with Mozambique and South Africa is dominated by the escarpment of the Lebombo Mountains.

The area that Swaziland now covers has been continuously inhabited since prehistory. The population is primarily ethnic Swazis whose language is Swati, though English is spoken as a second language. The Swazi people descended from the southern Bantu who migrated from central Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Anglo-Boer War saw the United Kingdom make Swaziland a protectorate under its direct control. Swaziland gained independence in 1968.

Some of us now called ourselves “Griffters”, instead of Drifters, in honor of our gear grinding Zimbabwean driver, Griffiths.  We screeched to a halt along a T in the road, near a dilapidated service garage with a rusted malfunctioned pay phone.  Eve tried making a call to her non-existent Hollywood talent agent as the rest of us set up the camp chairs in preparation for lunch.  On exiting Swaziland I noticed how beautiful the double stamps looked on my passport.

Next stop is Zululand Inn and The Dolphin Coast Lodge; click sign to read more adventures.

More Drifters Adventures Overland Tours

— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.