Winter is the Best Safari Season
It may be summer in the UK, but in South Africa it is winter and that that means it’s the best time of the year for a South African Wildlife Safari. There are many regions of South Africa that offer a truly magnificent safari experience; my absolute favourite is still the Greater Kruger National Park (GKNP).
Where is the best place to go on a South African Safari?
This prime wildlife region of South Africa is not only home to the ‘Big 5’ (Buffalo, Elephant, Leopard, Lion and Rhino) but many other magnificent creatures that roam freely in this vast 2-million-hectare wilderness. Incorporating a variety of habitats, the GKNP offers you a selection of safari lodges and camps skilled at creating a memorable Safari Experience.
The charming little town of Hoedspruit and the city of Mbombela (previously called Nelspruit) act as gateways into the GKNP, home to the finest game reserves and luxury lodges in South Africa’s prime wildlife region.
World renowned lodges such as Londolozi, Ulusaba, MalaMala and the Thornybush collection of lodges, deservedly command worldwide attention, but there are multitude of lesser known private luxury game lodges that too warrant the spotlight and offer an equally incredible safari experience.
Where is the Greater Kruger National Park?
The Greater Kruger National Park (GKNP) stretches across two South African provinces: Limpopo and Mpumalanga. Bordering Mozambique to the east, Zimbabwe to the north and Eswatini to the south.
The region offers spectacular scenery and stunning attractions. The majestic Drakensberg mountains drop down steeply from the grasslands of the Highveld escarpment to the subtropical Lowveld savannah below. Making a road trip simply stunning.
It’s home to the ‘Big Five’ (Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Leopard, Lion and Rhinoceros) and an additional 135 animals and upwards of 500 bird species. It’s fauna and flora and protected status make this region a nature lovers paradise.
Most South African holidays would commence or end with a safari. For this blog post I am using the quaint bushveld town of Hoedspruit as the gateway into the central GKNP. Focusing on some of the many awesome safari lodges in and around the Klaserie and Timbavati private game reserves.
Hoedspruit is in a subtropical zone, offering an awesome climate all year round. The average temperature in summer is between 28 to 40 degrees Celsius with beautiful and spectacular thunderstorms in the evenings.
We are focusing on the best time to go on safari in South Africa and that is in winter (May to September). The winters are mild and dry at an average temperature of 5 degrees Celsius in the evenings and up to highs of around 28 – 30 during the day. During winter you can enjoy beautiful clear skies day and night.
The winter months are best for game viewing as the vegetation is sparse and game becomes much easier to spot. There is also no rain during the winter and the animals become increasing reliant on fewer waterholes.
However, the summer months (October to April) do attract migrant birds back from their wintering north, ideal for bird watchers.
Getting to the Greater Kruger National Park
Hoedspruit’s Eastgate Airport provides direct flights between Cape Town and Johannesburg.
An overnight flight from London will get you into Johannesburg in the morning (1-hour time difference in UK summertime and 2 hours in winter, so no jetlag). There are several connecting flights then to get you straight into the Lowveld.
Blessed with an excellent road infrastructure the drive from Johannesburg offers the opportunity to enjoy an Awesome road trip. Self-drive routes from Johannesburg and Nelspruit are full of history and natural sights. Use the experience to get to see some of the best scenery South Africa has to offer.
There are many routes but the most popular is the Panorama Route.
Driving the Panorama Route
The Panorama Route is home to some of the most breath-taking scenery in the country. This route is steeped in history and connects several cultural and natural points of interest. Famous landmarks such as the Blyde River Canyon, Bourke’s Luck Potholes and the Three Rondavels make this journey very rewarding.
The Panorama Route is centred around the Blyde River Canyon, the world’s third largest canyon, and features numerous waterfalls, one of the largest afforested areas in South Africa, and several natural landmarks.
The route starts at the foot of the Long Tom Pass just outside Lydenburg, following the natural descent from the Great Escarpment to the Lowveld, and ends at the border of the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces near the Echo Caves. Interesting places on the route include:
The historic town of Pilgrim’s Rest remains much as it was in the turbulent gold-rush days of the 1870s. Thousands of fortune seekers crossed the perilous mountains and rugged terrain in the search of gold.
This is truly an amazing setting where you can get an idea of what it must have been like back in the day. A former storekeeper from Pilgrim’s Rest, Percy Fitzpatrick wrote the popular book; Jock of the Bushveld, well worth a read.
Blyde River Canyon
The views from the 26km-long Blyde River Canyon, the world’s third-largest canyon (after the Grand Canyon in USA and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia), are superb, both from the bottom and the top, and are easily accessible by road or on foot.
A good way to take in as much as possible is an easy half-day’s drive on which you’ll see the Pinnacle – an enormous quartzite pillar; God’s Window – with seemingly unending views of the surrounding countryside (and a good place to buy curios);
The Bourke’s Luck Potholes are curious, deep rock pools named after an early gold prospector; and, at the end of the route, the Three Rondavels. These massive rock formations resemble rondavels (beehive huts) with the Blyde River swirling hundreds of metres below. The view here is awesome in the full sense of the word.
Hoedspruit offers some of the best wildlife and adventure experiences in the world. This region is a place of game, adventure and rich history, known as ‘the land of the rising sun’ in the local siSwati and Zulu languages.
This Lowveld region is known as one of South Africa’s top adventure centres, local activities include: river rafting, abseiling, climbing, quad biking, horse riding and mountain biking. Take flight and enjoy the scenic beauty from the sky in a hot air balloon, helicopter or onboard a microlight.
Hoedspruit offers a selection of great restaurants and bars where locals and tourists mingle. This is the place to stock up on any supplies you may need for your time on safari.
Support the local community by shopping for souvenirs and mementos at the local arts and crafts shops dotted in and around town offering a fantastic variety of unique gifts, souvenirs and mementos.
Wildlife enthusiasts, bird watchers, nature lovers, hikers and adventurists will discover a land of opportunity, a place to reflect and enjoy the natural world in all its splendour.
The Best Safari in South Africa
Game viewing in Mpumalanga is probably as good as it gets. The iconic Kruger National Park is a pristine wildlife area which covers an astonishing 7,523 sq. miles. Measuring around 220 miles in length and averaging 40 miles wide. The Kruger is the size of a big country; comparable to that of Israel or Wales.
The Greater Kruger National Park (GKNP) was formed as the result of a landmark agreement between the Kruger National Park and surrounding private nature reserves. Together they have removed their boundary fences creating the GKNP, which is managed under their joint conservation.
Private Game Lodges of the Greater Kruger National Park
The GKNP is renowned for its luxurious lodges and awesome game viewing opportunities. In this unique region wildlife rules, and nature displays its many spectacular ecozones, from bushveld and mountains to savannah and forest. Here is a selection of some of my favourite game lodges.
The Thornybush collection offers guests the choice of twelve different camps and lodges in a pristine Thornybush Private Nature Reserve, part of the GKNP. The reserve covers 14,000-hectares of unspoilt African bushveld offering excellent game viewing opportunities of the ‘Big 5’.
Luxury accommodation is offered in a choice of Classic and Premium lodges, all are amazing.
Klaserie Sands River Camp
At the Klaserie Sands River Camp expect to be impressed. This lush and intimate lodge accommodates just eight guests in luxurious suites along the dry N’tsiri riverbed. At Klaserie Sands River Camp you can enjoy a complete African safari experience, with daily game-drives as well as guided bush walks. Love this camp.
This fantastic reserve offers an affordable, luxury bush experience. Renowned for its hospitable and informative staff. The game drives offer opportunity to locate the ‘Big Five’ as well as a variety of other exciting African mammals. I absolutely love this lodge; the staff truly make your visit so memorable.
Situated in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, Kings Camp faces an open savanna plain with a waterhole, which is frequented by a wide variety of wildlife both day and night.
Simbavati River Lodge
Located in the heart of the world-renowned Timbavati Private Nature Reserve you will discover the Awesome Simbavati River Lodge. With just eight luxury tents and three chalets this exclusive game lodge provides a haven for your exclusive African Safari.
This superb lodge is built on the banks of the Nhlaralumi River under the shade of the magnificent Jackalberry and Leadwood trees. Visiting during winter the dry riverbed provides you excellent game viewing opportunities.
The Awesome Tanda Tula Safari Camp consists of just twelve exclusive luxury tents, each with breath-taking views over the Nhlaralumi riverbed. Located deep in the Timbavati, this is serious ‘Big Five’ country.
Enjoy the unique setting from the comfort of your luxurious tent with stunning views over the riverbed and into the African bushveld. Each luxury en-suite tent comes with a Victorian bathtub, an outdoor shower and a spacious deck.
Tanda Tula is owned and run by Don and Nina Scott who have created an extraordinary guest experience. Together with their passionate, well trained staff, guests are offered an African Safari Experience which will create everlasting memories.
Motswari Private Game Reserve
The Motswari Private Game Reserve offers a fabulous African Safari experience in the pristine Timbavati Nature Reserve. With a maximum capacity of no more than thirty guests, Motswari offers accommodation in 15 luxury-appointed en-suite bungalows’
Wildlife Safari Checklist
- Comfortable walking boots or shoes and comfortable socks.
- Wear light coloured clothing (khaki) which is best to deter mosquitoes.
- Insect repellent
- Warm clothing (jersey / jacket for evenings and early mornings)
- Guide books (birding and mammal guide books will make your safari more rewarding, and help you to identify and learn about the surrounding fauna)
- Camera and lenses
The Greater Kruger National Park does lie within a malaria zone and you should check with your GP which anti-malarial medication they would recommend prior to your safari.
In addition, take sensible precautions to avoid been bitten. Mosquitoes are attracted to dark colours like blue and black. Wear lighter shades as that will help deter the mosquitoes and will also help you feel cooler by reflecting sunlight.
If you have a ceiling fan use it as the turbulence of the air keeps flying insects away. At sunset apply insect repellent, I would recommend purchasing a local product such as Tabard or Peaceful Sleep.
A successful safari requires knowledge, patience, luck and perseverance; all these ingredients will enrich your South African Safari Holiday. Good Luck and enjoy every minute of the natural world.
“Until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter”African Proverb