GREATER KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
Mpumalanga Province (meaning, "Where the sun rises") is South Africa’s eastern-most province and the site of the country’s prime game viewing area. Kruger National Park is here. Game fences between the Kruger National Park and the private areas have largely been eliminated allowing free movement of animals. The region is divided into regions including Timbavati, Manyaleti and Sabi-Sand. Lodges and viewing ranges in each area are privately owned. This extraordinary wilderness area sits about 200 miles east of Johannesburg at the foot of the Drakensburg Mountains. It extends from Tzaneen in the north, past Nelspruit, and south to the Swaziland border. To the east is Mozambique.
A significant geographic feature of the area is the "Great Escarpment" where ground elevations drop about 3000 feet from the high, cooler, inland plateau (the Highveld on which Johannesburg sits) to the low, hot, rolling scrubby plain below the Escarpment (the Lowveld). This area is home to a superb array of wildlife including the "Big Five" - elephant, lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, and rhino - and a fantastic collection plants, trees and bird life. No fences separate the private reserves from Kruger. Animals roam freely throughout the region. Accommodations at private reserves are substantially better (and more accessible by air) than Kruger Park itself. A game viewing expedition in southern Africa should include at least one stop of at least two nights in this area.
ESCARPMENT FLYING WEATHER: Johannesburg and much of interior South Africa sits on a high plateau at 5,000 feet MSL. East of the Escarpment, ground elevations drop abruptly to 1300 feet and then slope gradually to sea level at the coast. Orographic lifting of moist, tropical air from the Indian Ocean often produces cloud cover along the escarpment. The presence of clouds along the escarpment is normal but conditions are usually good enough for VFR flight. However, pilots and their passengers should accept the possibility of delays to flights moving across the escarpment. Along the ridge of the Drakensburg range, which forms part of the escarpment, is the Blyde River Canyon, a sandstone gorge with cliff faces plunging in a nearly sheer drop to the plain below. From the excellent viewing sites of the Canyon you can enjoy extraordinary views of the immense lowland plain to the east. There is no big game in the mountains. Airfields are scarce in this area and pilots are best served overflying these hills to destinations in the Lowveld.
LONDOLOZI – Sabi Sands
Set along the lush banks of the Sand River, adjacent to South Africa's famous Kruger National Park, Londolozi is comprised of five exclusive camps where the splendor of the bush melds with luxury living. Your accommodation is an air-conditioned chalet, with a private deck, a plunge pool, as well as indoor and outdoor shower. Each lodge has a lounge and dining area, leisure deck, bar, swimming pool and boma for outdoor meals. Your day begins at dawn with an early morning game drive in an open land rover. Midday is spent on bush walks or lazing by the pool. After tea, an evening game drive. Almost certainly to be seen are Africa’s “Big Five” animals.www.londolozi.com/en
MALA MALA – Sabi Sands
South Africa’s original luxury bush lodge. Operated by Mike Ratray, this group caters to well-heeled, jet-setting clients from around the world. Comfort, convenience, gourmet food, and excellent service are the hallmarks of MalaMala. A variety of accommodations to choose from. A Main Camp, the central lodge is exquisitely appointed with large fireplaces, hunting trophies, animal hides, and comfortable furniture, and a separate, intimate bar. Guests stay in the nearby cluster of thatched cottages, sporting "his" and "her" bathrooms, wall-to-wall carpeting, 24-hour room service, direct-dial telephones, and air conditioning (heat in the winter months). Swimming pool, exercise gymnasium. Almost certainly to be seen are Africa’s “Big Five” animals. http://www.malamala.com/camps.htm
SINGITA – Sabi Sands
Singita’s game viewing vehicles traverse the same territory as Londolozi and the two lodges work together to provide guests with unparalleled game viewing opportunities. While Londolozi set the standard for comfort and luxury in the bush, Singita has raised the standard. Intimacy is the hallmark of Singita's style - exquisitely appointed double suites, separated into exclusive camps set in shady woodland above the Sand River. Each expansive suite ensures absolute privacy and features its own en-suite bathroom, open-air shower, double-sided fireplace, air-conditioning, private leisure deck, and living area, with views across the river to the plains beyond. Excellent cuisine and wine cellar. Almost certainly to be seen are Africa’s “Big Five” animals. http://www.singita.com
MOTSWARI LODGE – Timbavati
Located in the heart of the Timbavati Nature Reserve, Motswari has 15 traditional roindavels (circular chalets), which have views either to a riverbed or into the bush. The lounge area overlooks a well-patronized waterhole for animals and the open-air boma is the central focus for evening meals and entertainment. Great food, wonderful staff. http://www.motswari.co.za
HONEY GUIDE – Manyeleti
We'd just come around a bend in the road when a leopard dashed across our path. "Alfred", the tracker, perched on the front of the land rover, pointed left -- into dense bush. The chase was on! We churned past termite mounds, dropped into gullies, bounced over stumps, and drove over saplings in pursuit of the handsome cat. Alfred was nearly thrown from his seat but he never lost the track. Finally, there she was, 20 feet away, sitting on her haunches, unperturbed - spotted, golden splendor. I ran out of film but I'll never forget the scene. HONEY GUIDE is a small, informal place in the Manyeleti Reserve. Comfortable, tented accommodation, hot shower, solar-powered electric's, with a private deck set in the cool shade of riverine forest. Splash pool, separate bar, boma, and a good chef with meals served in the boma -- guests and guides together. Caution: Animals wander through camp. Your ranger will escort you to your tent after dark. http://www.honeyguidecamp.com
UMLANI BUSH CAMP – Timbavati
A rustic lodge overlooking the Nshlaralumi river course in the Timbavati Nature Preserve, Umlani accommodates only 16 guests in ensuite reed and thatch rondavels. Early morning and evening is spent on a game drive. During the heat of the day with a cool box of refreshments at one of the hides, you can watch for birds swooping down to the water and mammals materializing out of the bush. Or just laze about in hammocks around the splash pool sipping iced drinks. At the end of your spotlighted night drive return to the welcoming comfort of UMLANI, a bush camp in the tradition of old Africa, with the romantic glow of paraffin lamps to light your way. http://www.umlani.com
NGALA SAFARI LODGE, Kruger National Park
Ngala Safari Lodge located within the Kruger National Park. “Ngala” means lion and the lodge is famous for its many lion prides. Your accommodation is in thatch-roofed chalets. Lovely classic safari camp with excellent meals, informed guides, and extraordinary animal viewing experiences. Game drives take place in the early morning and late afternoon into the evening. During the middle of the day, you can sit by a waterhole, relax by their pool or rest in their lounge area. www.andbeyond.com