It's a common source of confusion among people planning a trip to South Africa: to go to Kruger or not? Why does the place have such conflicting reviews? How can one national park give such polarising impressions to people?
In a short answer, it doesn’t. Most people are arguing about two different areas and don’t know it, comparing apples to oranges.
They are comparing the Kruger National Park, one of the largest parks in Africa, to the Kruger private reserves, the much smaller and privately owned land adjoining the park.
Simply, Kruger National Park is a name known around the world, challenged by only the Serengeti in Tanzania for its fame as an African wonderland. This fame attracts up to 1.3 million visitors each year to the national park, populating the park so much that the main road has been paved to accommodate such numbers.
To see the numbers of animals in Kruger also nowadays means seeing the tourists that congreagate along its roads, forming ‘Jeep Jams’ as all jostle to get that perfect picture. With such thick bush inside the park and visitors restricted to its roads, animals are usually seen here by the roadside and anyone who pays can enter, whether it be a local or a tourist in a rental hatchback from Johannesburg airport.
But yet there is another ‘Kruger’, the one spoken of with such fondness. These are the private reserves and concessions that largely lie alongside the national park.
With no fence line between the two Krugers or each other, these reserves share the depth of animal life with the national park and none of its mass tourism. This is where the lodges like SabiSabi, Ulusaba and Lion Sands have their home.
Only guests staying at these various lodges may gain access to the private reserves, meaning safaris here are quieter and far more immersive. Being on private land also grants you other perks, like the ability to leave the road and track an animal through the bush, great for those elusive animals like leopards.
There are also no time restrictions here: you can enjoy night drives and early morning starts while others form queues to wait for the park gates to open. At night you may hear lions roar and hyenas hoop rather than nearby traffic.
To see any elephant is better than seeing none at all but to see an elephant in a wild environment is even better again. This is the battle of the two Krugers.