The Kruger National Park, Explored
The tolls aside, the N4 from Johannesburg to Crocodile Bridge Gate in Kruger National Park and onwards to Shishengeni Lodge is an uneventful five and half hours. The Hyundai Accent Sedan from Avis impressed with its extremely responsive clutch and comfortable interiors. Not sure we made 0-100 km in 10.2 seconds, but it was pretty zippy and had plenty gumption when it came to overtaking.
After endless prodding, we managed to connect the Bluetooth to the iphone hands-free to enjoy our own music, but sound quality was clunky with some interference and we had to re-pair the phone each time the engine started.
We recommend a stop at Milly’s directly on the N4, about two-and-a-half hours into your road trip, for Seattle Coffee, Caltex Petrol, and famous trout pies. They also offer accommodation and two restaurants. There is a deli and a convenience store so give yourself time to explore.
The journey down the escarpment into the Lowveld is a pleasure. By the time you pass the lush greens of Belfast and enter Nelspruit you already feel you are in the bush.
We have made the trip into the Sabi Sand reserve many times, but then handed the car keys to the valet and experienced the park entirely from the back of a luxury
NO HUGE DIFFERENCE
game drive vehicle. This time we had a new experience of Shishengeni – a private lodge within the Kruger National Park gates.
After parking the vehicle ourselves and taking our luggage to reception, we wondered which other things would separate this lodge from others that typically bill three times as much a night. The main lodge building at Shishengeni is set into the trees and on two levels. The individual suites, accessed by raised timber walkways, are very comfortable and spacious. They would benefit from better lighting and Wi-fi in the suites and not just the public areas.
We loved the outdoor shower and private deck from which we watched elephants and nyala. We had two guided game drives while we were there and felt well taken care of by Solomon Lubisi. He was born nearby, in the area outside Kruger Gate, and has the bush in his blood. He was excellent at finding game, including a leopard that leapt from its tree in front of us to hunt impala.
The first morning drive, after a 05h00 wakeup, followed the same route we took when we drove to the lodge ourselves, but we saw plenty before a coffee stop at the Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp and used toilets there.
The cuisine offering was really impressive. As the lodge was not at capacity when we visited, rather than set out a buffet, each table was brought a large platter with various options. The amount of food on offer aside, we found that the vegetables, in particular, were excellently cooked.
For the afternoon guided drive we took a different route and called in at Shawu, the intimate five-suite camp of Shishengeni, along the water, where hippos and crocs were lolling about.
Departing Shishengeni for Skukuza en route to Kruger Gate and onwards to Protea Hotel Kruger Gate, by Marriott, we programmed Google Maps. There is no mobile reception in parts of the park – nada – and only mobile data as you approach Skukuza. This makes downloading new maps when you hit a Road Closed, as we did, just short of your destination, a challenge.
A sedan like the Hyundai lacks height and a clearer view from the open-sided game vehicle. Photos taken through the windshield all have a reflective tinge and wing mirrors get in the place of images snapped from the side windows.
We most enjoyed parking at right-angles to the waterholes where we managed to snap Marabou Storks, and busy yellow weavers nesting nearby. If the government feels they need to change the name of the Kruger National Park, then Impala National Park will work well.
What a pleasure seeing great Impala herds at eye-level. It is a wonderful feeling. Less wonderful is being towered over by giant elephants or being surrounded by buffalo, which happened as we turned a corner.
The Protea Hotel Kruger Gate, by Marriott, is 60 seconds from the gate and a fantastic resort property set amid massive Jackalberry and Marula trees. There is a deck that watches over the Sabie River. The rooms are neat and wonderfully functional with walk-in showers, Wi-fi throughout the resort, and with views into the forested gardens.
We were awoken at dawn by Vervet monkeys running along the awning and a cacophony of bird song. The buffet lapa dinner, a feast around a fire pit fit for kings, must not be missed. The hotel can organise game drives and other park-based activities from R574 per person
Bring your own slippers, coffee plunger, binoculars, and a good guide book and extend your stay by a week with what you have saved.