Since we’ve been to Kenya back in 2012 and had a wonderful safari in Maasai Mara, my family was not expecting a different experience in Kruger. Because of my crazy obsession with Kruger, they had to agree for this trip. Our Kruger itinerary included 2 nights in the Kruger National Park and 2 nights in the Kruger Private Reserve to experience best of both worlds. Our road trip was filled with excitement, some amazing wildlife sightings and spectacular accommodations serving delicious food.
Day 1 – Fly from Mumbai to Johannesburg
We flew to Johannesburg via Mahe by Air Seychelles. Our flight landed at 12:30 pm and we got out of the airport only by 4 pm after clearing immigration, buying SIM cards and renting a car from Avis. We drove to our airport hotel and crashed.
Accommodation and Meal
We chose to stay at the Holiday Inn Johannesburg Airport Hotel as we usually like IHG hotels. It was cheap, had hotel comforts and a free parking. It was around 10 km from the airport and offered a free shuttle to and fro to the airport. Rooms were a bit compact, apart from that everything was good – nice clean rooms and bathrooms, view of the pool from the room and friendly service. I would say it offers a very good value if looking for a hotel near the airport just to sleep for a night. On our previous trip, we stayed at Mondior at Emperor Palace which was a spectacular hotel with an entertainment complex. It had a casino, food court, nightlife and had a Las Vegas feel and vibe to it.
For dinner, we ordered a food delivery from an Indian restaurant called Masala Indian Restaurant. I used an app called Appetite. The most famous app mrdfood didn’t work as it wouldn’t allow me to download the app due to a location block in spite of having a South Africa SIM card. It needed a change in Google account which was not possible. Another app which worked for us was Uber Eats.
Day 2 – Johannesburg to Hazyview via Panoramic Route
Time – 8 am to 8 pm
We followed this route:
Johannesburg Airport – Emalahleni/Witbank – Belfast – Dullstroom – Lydenburg (Mashingshing) – Long Tom pass – Sabie – Graskop – Three Rondavels – Graskop – Hazyview
We chose this route because of the places we wanted to see and the time we had. There are tons of different route possible. So make a list of places you want to visit and plan the route accordingly.
Long Tom Pass
At Lydenburg (Mashingshing) we drove via the Long Tom pass to Sabie. Long Tom pass was a bit longer but a scenic pass. We mainly chose this route as Misty Mountain Resort was on the way where I wanted to do a Toboggan ride. If short on time, can skip this pass and go straight via Ohrigstad to Three Rondavels.
Misty Mountain Resort – Toboggan ride (325 Km, 4 hrs from Johannesburg Airport)
- Timings – 9 am to 4:30 pm
- They had a special offer price of R 175 per person per ride at that time.
- They took us to the top by a safari vehicle, gave us basic instructions and off we went.
- It was super fun but scary with all the twist and turns. By the time, we started having fun, it was over in no time.
- Toboggan was on my bucket list for a long and I was happy to tick it off.
Sabie Falls (25 km, 25 min)
- It was a very short walk from the car park.
- It was a cute little waterfall.
- It’s worth stopping for a quick photo.
There are tons of waterfalls in this area which we didn’t get time to visit others like Lone Creek Falls and Mac Mac Falls.
Harrie’s Pancake, Graskop (28 Km, 25 min)
I’d heard about this place for years and had to stop by. There is one in Dullstroom too. We ordered 4 different types of pancakes:
- Creamy Spinach with Feta cheese which was nice.
- Butternut with Feta Cheese and Sweet Pepper sauce which I didn’t like and others found it about fine.
- Lemon meringue which was different and unique.
- Cinnamon and Sugar with Milk Tart Custard – This was the best out of all, one bite of it and we felt we were in heaven. It was that good. It totally lived up to its expectations.
From Graskop there are 3 options:
- Continue North to all the viewpoints and drive back through the same route.
- Continue North to all the viewpoints and drive back to Hazyview via Ohrigstad.
- Go via Ohrigstad to Three Rondavel and head south seeing various views points, eventually ending in Graskop
We were running out of time, so we skipped places en-route and made a mad dash to Bourke’s Luck Potholes. If you’ve time, check out Graskop Gorge Lift, Pinnacle Rocks, God’s Window, Wonder View, Lisbon Falls and Berlin Falls en-route. We saw these points on the last day.
Bourke’s Luck Potholes (35 km, 30 min)
- We reached at 3 pm and it closes at 5 pm.
- It’s within Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve.
- It took an hour to visit and it’s the most scenic spot of the Panoramic Route.
- Easy walk to various viewpoints.
Three Rondavels View Point (17 Km, 20 min)
- We reached around 4:50 pm and just had enough time to check it out.
- It just took a few minutes to go to the viewpoint from where you could see Three mountains.
- It is closed now
At 5 pm, everything closes and we drove around 100 km back to Hazyview which took us around 1.5 hours. In June, the sunset was at 5:15 pm and in half an hour it became pitch black. Last part of the drive was in the dark. It was scary and we barely could see any turns.
Note – If you wish to cover all the sights in this area, I would a recommend a 2-night stay instead of 1.
Accommodation and Meal
We stayed at Protea Hotel by Marriott Hazyview. I was looking for something reasonable and good rooms for a night stay. This fit the bill. We just stayed here for a few hours. Rooms were huge, even had a living space, good bathrooms and they also had some chocolates and food platter kept in our rooms.
For dinner I chose Kuka Cafe as it looked to have some decent veg options – We had pizza, sushi and veg curry served with rice, roti and papadum. Everything was delicious. For deserts, we ordered a homemade nougat parfait which was a homemade ice-cream filled with cherries, almonds, hazelnuts and berry compote. It was unique, delicate, tasty and a must try if you visit Kuka Cafe.
Day 3 – Hazyview to Satara via Lower Sabie
Time – 6:00 am to 5:30 pm
Tips for Kruger National Park
- Check Kruger Sightings on Twitter @LatestKruger to check recent sightings of Big 5. Also, always check the sighting board at the camps before heading out. Going on the same route increases chances of spotting wildcats ten folds.
- The speed limit is 50 km/h on tar roads and 40 km/h on gravel/sand roads.
- Always remain in the vehicle. For toilet stops, look for a designated rest area on the map.
- Check and keep track of gate opening and closing timings.
- Off-road driving is strictly prohibited.
- Do not feed or touch animals.
- Petrol and diesel are available at all major camps. Fuel stations within the Kruger National Park accept any VISA/MasterCard cards or cash as a form of payment.
- 24- Hour Emergency Call Centre No: (013) 735 4325, Kruger National Park Admin Offices: +27 (0)13 735 4000, Roadside assistance, toll-free number 0800 030 666
Drive to Phabeni Gate from Protea Hotel (20 km, 30 min)
- Pay the entrance fees – It is well-organized. They will ask you to fill a 2-page form and then you can either submit and pay at the office or join the car queue and pay there. You can choose one of them depending on where the queue is less. If you’re staying at a camp inside the park, then you need to collect a receipt and will have to pay at the respective camp. They accept cash or card and are very co-operative.
- Buy the map from the shop. It’s very useful in planning the route for the safari.
Phabeni Gate to Skukuza (40 km, 2 hrs)
- Instead of taking the tar S1 road, we took the S3 road to Skukuza. It tracks the Sabie River which is the border of the Kruger Park and it’s reported to be one of the best roads to see white rhinos.
- We didn’t see white rhinos but saw our first animal in Kruger – Impalas!! obviously!
- We also saw wildebeest crossed the road right in front of our car, bushbuck and zebras.
- The Skukuza area is also known for the Hyena population; the best time to see predators is early mornings or late afternoons.
Then instead of continuing directly to Satara we took a detour and drove all the way till Lower Sabie.
Skukuza to Lower Sabie (43 Km, 2 hrs)
- Route – H 4-1 to Lower Sabie
- The distance between the 2 camps is only 43 km, but you should allow 2-and-a-half hours for the drive, considering all the stops for animal sightings.
- This is a very scenic drive with beautiful riverine forest.
- There is a picnic spot at Nkuhlu, where snacks and refreshments can be purchased.
- Apparently, you can find more Leopard per square kilometre in this area than anywhere else in the world, so the chances of seeing these elusive creatures are better than average. We weren’t that lucky.
- We saw our first Big 5 – elephants obviously!! Then we spotted warthog, 2nd Big 5 – wild buffalo, a herd of 10 elephants which was one of the best sights for the day, a glimpse of waterbuck, endless impalas, our first sighting of giraffes, and hippos at the waterhole.
We stopped at Lower Sabie Rest Camp for lunch. There is Mugg & Bean which had an amazing panoramic view. We had scrumptious lunch of Nachos, Corn Fritters, and Tomato and Cheese Sandwich. The food was delicious but service was very slow. Please note they have different on the go menu and sit down menu. Sit down menu has much more options. After lunch, we continued our drive towards the Satara Rest Camp.
Water Holes near Lower Sabie:
- Sunset Dam (off the H4-1)
- Duke’s waterhole (S137) – Good Lion Spotting
- Nhlambanyathi (S28) there is a bird hide and a chance to get out of your car
- Nhlanganzwane Dam
Lower Sabie Predators:
- Lion, Leopard and Cheetah
- White and black Rhino and Hippo
- Tsessebe and Bushbuck
Lower Sabie to Satara (90 km, 4 hrs)
We left at 1 pm and were a bit late than our planned time of 12 noon.
Lower Sabie to Tshokwane (H10)
- One of Kruger Park’s most delightful drives for scenery and wildlife viewing.
- One of the best viewing points is Nkumbe.
- Orpen Dam also has a good lookout point.
- There are several good water holes on this road.
Tshokwane (H1-3) to Satara
- There is excellent Lion country between Satara and Tshokwane.
- The road south provides rich plant and animal life.
- Nkaya waterhole is one of the only permanent water sources on this road.
- The baobab tree is found just after the junction of the main Satara-Tshokwane Road (H1-3) and the N’waswitsontso River Road (S125). This tree is believed to be over 1000 years old.
- South of this spectacular tree is the interesting N’wanwitsontso Loop (S86). There is a good chance of seeing a Lion on this 4-kilometre detour.
We were pressed for time and couldn’t stop at all the places. It was also late afternoon by now, which was not a good time to spot animals. However, we saw elephants and giraffes right by the road, kudus, more elephants, baboons and zebras.
Though we didn’t see any wild cats, it was a good day spent in the jungle. We reached our camp dot at 5:30 pm (gate closing time).
Accommodation and Meal
We check into Satara Rest Camp inside the Kruger National Park and paid the park fees at the reception. They accept credit card or cash. I was expecting very basic facilities but it landed up to be very nice, neat and clean rooms and bathrooms, rondavels gave a nice feel of staying in the jungle and had a super cool vibe with everyone cooking barbecue around.
We took pizzas from Tindlovu (the only restaurant at Satara), bought some supplies from their shop and settled in our room.
Day 4 – Satara – Morning, Evening and Night Safari
We made sure to get up early and be in the park at 6 am (opening time) as it is the best time to spot animals.
In the Satara area look out for animals
- Honey badger
- The popular route for the safari around Satara is to take S90, then S41 and back by S100 or vice versa.
- There are regular reports of leopards, lions, elephants and buffaloes along the S100.
- From Satara, drive out to the four-way stop and then turn left onto the H1-4. Follow this road north for 7 km and turn right onto the S90. After 13km you’ll see the right turn onto the S41/Gundzani Road and after another 17 km, you can turn right onto the S100. When you get back to the H1-3, turn right to get back to camp. The entire loop, from Satara and back again is 60 km.
- Attraction along the route – Gundzani Waterhole, 20 km from camp on the S100, and Nsemani Dam, 7 km from Satara on the H7, both hold large masses of water. And more water means more animals. You’ll find enough parking at both to sit back and watch the hippos laze.
We started our safari on this route from S100 and saw 3 cars stopped along the road. To our shock, we saw lions sitting right by the road. We were super excited about seeing our first wild cats sighting in the Kruger National Park and it broke our preconceived notion that we won’t be able to find animals without a guide. In the Kruger National Park, driving was very easy as roads are well signposted and usually there will be cars around if there is any Big 5 or wildcat spotted. On the other hand, we didn’t find anything to be super busy or overcrowded.
After admiring beautiful cats in our own pleasure time, we moved on in search of more.
We saw zebras very close by and even saw them crossing the road in front of our car. Needless to say, impalas and wildebeest were everywhere. A little further down the road, we spotted 2 wild buffaloes, one of each side of the road. In Kenya, wild buffaloes are abundant but in Kruger, it is not rare nor very easy to spot them. We did a quick look around Gundzani Waterhole and saw some birds. Between 10 am and 12 noon, we didn’t see much except tons of zebras and then headed back to the camp for an afternoon siesta.
Since we had a night safari booked for today, we did a short evening safari. We saw zebras, kudus and wild buffaloes. We drove to the beautiful Nsemani Dam and saw hippos lazing in the water and also saw some sleeping crocodiles.
We’d pre-booked a night safari and it is recommended to book it in advance to avoid any disappointment. The night safari started at 8 pm and lasted for around 2 hours. It was carried out in a 20 seated bus. Our guide handed out flashlights to the people sitting in the first and the last row. They had the job of flashing lights and search for animals. If it’s not your cup of tea, then avoid sitting in these rows. I chose to go on this guided night safari more for the experience and didn’t believe we could see any different animals or wild cats.
Fortunately, we had some amazing spotters in our group who spotted two types of owl and two hyenas who crossed the road right in front of our vehicle. Our guide drove to the same S100 road where we had seen 3 lions in the morning. Now, we saw a male and a female lion with their 8 cubs. It was a sight to behold. It was our first sighting of the male lion. We also saw zebras, giraffes, impalas and quite a few rabbits. At halfway point, our guide made a stop in the jungle, shut all the lights and it was like a wow scenery moment in the jungle with only stars and moon. We also saw a glimpse of a meerkat and honey badger. Ended this amazing safari with a bird eating its kill. This turned out to be our best safari in the Kruger National Park.
It was very difficult to click pictures in pitch black and most turned out to be too blurred.
Accommodation and Meal
Hotel – Satara Rest Camp
For dinner, instead of having the same pizza again, we bought some supplies from the store at the Camp and had a makeshift dinner. I must say, the store at the camp had everything from a bottle of water, sodas, instant noodles, all different types of bread and buns including a delicious garlic bread, vegetables to even having vegetables on a skewer for the barbecue. We made a veggie sandwich and Maggie for dinner.
Planning a trip to Kruger?
Check out all the other posts in Kruger series:
Kruger Trip Planning Essentials and a comparison between the Kruger National Park and the Kruger Private Reserve
Our Detailed Itinerary and Trip Report – Part 2 – Elephant Plains in the Kruger Private Reserve
Various Possible Routes to Elephant Plains
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored or a free trip – We have paid for all our Holiday expenses but I spend a lot of time researching for the best deals and at times do get a discount as I run a travel business as well. However, this post contains some (not all) affiliate links. Any purchase made through the links will help support this blog at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support!