About Kruger National Park
Image by Colin Taylor
Quick facts about Kruger National Park
19,485² (7,523 sq mi)
May 1926 (predecessor 1898)
1.93 million (March 2018)
Learn more about Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is one of the largest national parks in Africa, with a landmass area broadly equivalent to any of Wales, Israel, Belize or New Jersey. It is situated in the very northeast of South Africa and straddles the eastern limits of the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga. The entire eastern edge of the park is also the international border with Mozambique, while the northern perimeter is the international border with Zimbabwe. At Crooks’ Corner in the far north of the park, you can effectively stand on the convergence of all three countries.
The Limpopo River marks the northern border and the Crocodile River acts as a natural southern boundary. The Sabie, Letaba, Olifants and Luvuvhu Rivers are the other major waterways flowing through the park, while the Shingwedzi becomes a large river during wet season (Nov-Mar). There are many hundreds of smaller streams and drainage lines throughout the park that are mostly seasonal and converge with the larger rivers.
All of the major rivers flow from the higher plains in the west towards the east and the Indian Ocean. This can be a little surprising given much of the eastern flank of Kruger rises up towards the Limpopo Mountain range, most of which is over the border in Mozambique. This ridge is at its highest between the Luvuvhu and Letaba Rivers, explaining why there are no major rivers in the large expanse of land between these.
Kruger itself is a remarkably flat expanse of land, with an average altitude of 200m above sea level. The southwest near Berg-en-Dal Camp becomes more varied in altitude and the highest point in the park can be found here – Khandzalive at 840m.
The park is approximately 360km north-to-south and up to 90km wide, although the average width is closer to 65km. The road network within Kruger now encompasses some 3,500km of tarred or gravel roads. Although this is incredibly extensive, driving every single road would reveal just 3-4% of the entirety of the park, such is the vastness of this wilderness.
Kruger National Park enjoys a subtropical climate, although there is variation within the huge expanse of the park - the areas in the far north could be described as tropical in climate. Droughts or floods occasionally occur as extreme weather events, and can have devastating impacts.
The summer months (Nov-Mar) are also rainy season which makes the park hot and humid. The winter months are cooler and drier. Kruger is undoubtedly a year-round destination with great game viewing throughout the year; it rarely rains throughout an entire day, even at the height of the rainy season.
The months of September and October probably offer the very best combination of dry weather (which forces animals to visit water sources) and cooler temperatures (hot temperatures reduce animal activity during the day), but you should not limit your visit to these times.
Significantly greater numbers of migratory birds visit the park between November and March to benefit from the increased waters and to avoid northern hemisphere winters. Lambing season tends to start around December time and the coolest time of year is the winter months of June and July. In summary, every time of year has its strong benefits!
The history of Kruger is as rich and varied as its abundant wildlife. The land, referred to as the Lowveld, has been inhabited by humans for thousands of years, with more than 300 archaeological sites identified across the park. Evidence of pre-European settlement can be seen at several sites, with the Thulamela ruins representing a trading post that dealt with the east Africa coast until the sixteenth century.
Tsonga people still resided in the area in the late nineteenth century, with kraals present along the Sabie and Letaba Rivers before the establishment of any formal park area. Workers on the Pretoria-Lorenço Marques railway and other poachers massively over-hunted the wildlife of the area, driving some individuals to promote the idea that a protected area should be instigated by the South African Republic’s / Transvaal Republic’s government.
The birth of the reserve
In 1895, representative RK Loveday tabled a motion to the South African Republic government that a game reserve between the Crocodile and Sabie Rivers be created. The motion was supported and the government of President Paul Kruger declared the new area an officially protected Game Reserve. It is worth noting that the initial concept was merely to allow the recovery of wildlife numbers before re-opening the area to hunting; suggestions of actually preserving a habitat simply for its beauty and wildlife would have been met with incredulity by the vast majority of European-heritage people at the time.
In time, the protected area became known as Sabie Game Reserve and Stevenson-Hamilton was made its first warden in 1902. He went on to be the driving force for the creation of a genuine National Park, providing permanent protection for its wildlife and habitats.
Singwitsi Reserve, named for the Shingwedzi River in the north of modern Kruger, was proclaimed in 1903. Over the following decades, local populations were relocated from the two parks and the farmlands in between. In 1926, these parks and farms were combined to create Kruger National Park, after the former president and in spite of his general disregard for the project in the late 1890s.
Prior to the creation of Kruger National Park, the only access point to the public was at the Sabie Bridge rail station, and the rail bridge over the Sabie River is still very visible from the Skukuza rest camp today. Bush walks were available to tourists who then continued along the train-line, towards the coast.
The first tourists
During 1926, three tourist cars entered the park on newly built roads near Pretoriuskop. This had become 850 cars by 1929 and the reputation of Kruger, and its incredible wildlife, was forged.
The 1930s saw a significant increase in the road network constructed within the park, linking the main southern rest camps of Skukuza and Lower Sabie, plus Letaba and Shingwedzi in the north. The threat of malaria held tourist numbers back during this period, and the outbreak of World War II limited supplies and caused the closure of parts of the park during the winter months. Following the war, Stevenson-Hamilton retired after 44-years as warden of Kruger and its Sabie Game Reserve predecessor, and visitor numbers scaled new heights, with nearly 59,000 coming to the park in 1946.
Projects to fence the entire border of the park commenced in 1959 and ran throughout the 1960s. This was to prevent animals wandering into neighbouring farmlands, as well as to hinder ivory poachers. 1961 saw the reintroduction of white rhino to the park with the relocation of several animals from Natal.
The last of the locals inhabiting land within the park were forcibly removed from the Pafuri region in 1969. This created a subsequent legal battle that was only concluded in the 1990s when the land north of the Luvuvhu River was returned to the Makuleke people, in return for its continued use as national park lands but with shared economic benefits.
In 1971, black rhino were reintroduced to Kruger; they had been locally extinct since 1946. Wilderness trails were also opened during the 1970s, proving extremely popular and promoting the creation of several more over the coming years.
Poaching, particularly of ivory, became a major problem during the early 1980s, driving intensive anti-poaching measures which proved largely successful. The 1980s and 90s also heralded a modernisation of the park’s facilities, with multiple new camps opened and improvements made at many of the existing camps. New roads improved the visitor connectivity within the park too.
Modern changes and challenges
The dropping of fences and agreements with bordering landowners increased the protected Greater Kruger area considerably during the 1990s. In 2002, Kruger National Park, Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe and Parque National du Limpopo in Mozambique were incorporated into the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, with fences removed to aid the migration of animals across greater tracts of protected land.
More recent years have seen continued development within the park, not always without controversy. With visitor numbers reaching the millions, conference facilities changing the nature of some of the camps, and the dreadful rhino poaching crisis again devastating the once steady populations of this incredible animal within the park, it is clear to see the impact of humans on this wonderful place.
Throughout the complex, and sometimes challenging, history of Kruger National Park, one constant has remained: visitors from around the world dream of coming to this incredible wilderness to experience its amazing wildlife.
Technological developments, even including the KrugerExplorer App, bring the accessibility of the park into the 21st century. We hope this will continue to raise awareness and knowledge, creating the next generation of stewards for the continuing protection of Kruger National Park, and its wildlife, for many more centuries to come.