2 Day Kruger Safari – A Pirates Itinerary

Chandan Africa, South Africa, Travel Planning 2 Comments

Kruger National Park in 2 days! Is that right? The good news is Yes! we did it. In this post I will be writing in details about my research on getting there, choosing the right accommodation, safari options, our amazing 2 day Kruger safari experience and most importantly safety. We sincerely hope that since we did the planning you don’t have to

Can it be achieved in a 2 day Kruger Safari

Covering over 2 million hectares of biodiversity, Kruger National Park is one of the most sought after safari destination in Africa. This’s one of those places that I wanted to visit since my childhood and I lived my dream during our 2 day Kruger safari. We decided to make it the first place we visit in South Africa. Out of our 2-week itinerary, we decided to spend our first 3 nights here. Taking into account how massive KNP is, it was really a challenge for us to accommodate everything in a 2 day Kruger Safari. I’d to spend almost 3 weeks on planning the best possible safari, discussing tons of information through trip advisor posts, scanning the internet for every possible information I could gather. I am happy I did it because all these efforts finally helped me to create the itinerary I wanted. The good news is, Kruger can be covered in 2 full days. The bad news is, it might take a lot of time to plan the optimum travel plan. Not to mention, you might require some luck with the weather god and a little bit more with the big five. I read literally hundreds of posts by tourists, some of whom saw the big five in a single day and some unlucky in a week. So the most important piece of advice is to leave these worries behind and just enjoy the days while you are there. It’s best to remember there’s always a second time. Let me give you an example of this. Almost all the official sites on KNP mention the dry winter months from May to September as the best time to visit Kruger with September topping the list. We went in November, had no rain and watched all the big five. See that was easy!

How to get there

The closest airport catering to most of the international flights is OR Tambo International Airport Johannesburg. Emirates, Qatar Airways etc. flies directly to Jo’burg. From Johannesburg, you can drive or fly to Kruger. It takes about 5-6 hours to drive. Initially, we planned to drive but ended up flying. Two reasons for this –

  1. We had limited time in our itinerary
  2. We guessed we would be really tired after our 9-hour flight not to mention the jet lag.in the end, it turned out to be a good decision.

We flew to Mpumalanga International Airport which is in the southern part. Now as I said earlier KNP is huge. There are three main airports to access Kruger.

  1. Phalaborwa Airport – Northern Kruger
  2. Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport – Central Kruger
  3. Mpumalanga International Airport (KMI) – Southern Kruger.

Your accommodation will directly depend on the airport you choose to fly in. Since we flew to Mpumalanga, we chose our accommodation in the southern part of the park close to Paul Kruger gate.

Park geography

For entrance to the park, there are 9 gates spanning the northern, central and southern part. Two northern, two central and five southern gates. You can get the details with a simple web search. Since we choose Mpumalanga airport to arrive so we booked our accommodation close to Paul Kruger Entrance gate which is one of 5 southern gates.

Basically, Kruger National Park is divided into two sections – Public and Private. Public Kruger is where you rent a car and self-drive yourself around the park. You stay in basic but comfortable self-catering accommodation which is managed by the park authority. There are few all -inclusive lodges in public Kruger too. I will talk about accommodation in detail shortly. If you do not prefer to self-drive than you can also book guided game drives at the camps, along with guided walks too. If you have little to no experience of wildlife and if you are planning a 2 day Kruger safari then I would strongly recommend having a trained guide at least for the first drive. For public Kruger some of the camps suggested to me during my research were – Lower Sabie for the gorgeous location (right on a massive river) and excellent Big 5 viewing, Satara for the great big cat viewing, Shingwedzi for a quiet and peaceful stay and Olifants for its breathtaking view.

Private (Greater) Kruger consists of Klaserie, Timbavati, Balule and Sabi Sands reserve. They surround public Kruger via unfenced borders, allowing free movement of wildlife. All these reserves are huge in area and boasts of high-end luxury lodges that practically guarantees big five sightings. You can find as many details you want on the web about these reserves.

Accommodation

Now here comes the real big confusion on where to stay and what kind of accommodation to choose for the best experience. I researched a lot on which part of the park to stay, but all my research took me just round and round and round. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that people usually have both good and bad experiences in every part they stay and there is nothing like the best part in terms of game viewing. To get to watch a good game is maybe 80% luck always, especially if you are planning a 2 day Kruger safari. Having said that it also depends on the safari guide or rangers. The rangers do talk to each other to hear the ‘bush gossip’ and share sightings via radios. Once our guide drove all the way from one end of the park to another over information of a lion couple sighting and eventually, we found them and that too mating. However, if you are still hell bent on finding the right lodge for best wildlife interaction then instead of focusing on which part of the park to stay, you should focus more on the “Traversing area”. Basically, it means the area that a lodge can drive you around for game viewing. The bigger the traversing area, the better chances you have. So this is an important aspect to look at.

Now choosing an accommodation is a hard and confusing task in itself. There are hundreds of them both inside and outside the park gates. The prices vary from cheap to super luxury and it all depends on your budget and preferences. As a rule of thumb, we always prefer a resort that offers a good view at an affordable price which is somewhere between cheap and super luxury. And we found one matching our interests, about 5kms out of Paul Kruger gate, right on the bank of Sabie river, with an excellent view and decent price. I am not mentioning the name of our lodge here as I don’t want this post to sound like business. But if you are interested in the details then there is always the comments section.

Our safari lodge Sabie river bush lodge during 2 day Kruger safari
Our cozy stay overlooking the Sabie river

Accommodations vary greatly between public and private Kruger. In public Kruger, you have to stay in basic but comfortable “self-catering” accommodation. The accommodation varies from bungalows to chalets, safari tents etc. The facilities are basic. Some will have laundry facilities and some won’t. Booking for these can be done only via the park website. A recent development is the inclusion of some luxury lodges also in the list, the details of which are available on the site. We visited some of the chalets just to have an idea. There are grocery and curio stores at the main camps. An important tip is to stock up before you enter the park as the groceries are limited.

Skukuza chalets during our 2 day Kruger safari
Stuti visiting the Skukuza camp chalets during our safari

For Private Kruger the accommodations vary from decent to super luxury. The rates can vary from around R1800 to R14000+ per person per night. All the lodges are all-inclusive which means it includes –

– Breakfast daily

– Lunch daily

– Dinner daily

– Teas/coffees

– Morning safari daily

– Afternoon safari daily

– Optional bush walk, daily (not all the lodges offer this).

A higher end option can also get your beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic included), along with laundry and sometimes transfers. Higher prices usually reflect higher levels of luxury.

The third option is to stay in a private lodge outside the Kruger gates and book a daily safari from the lodge itself or from the numerous vendors that provide single day safaris. We actually chose this option for our trip. The gates open usually between 5.30-6am and closes 5.30-6pm, so I would recommend staying in a lodge close to a gate so that you can save some time on travel. Generally, during my research I saw that further, a lodge is from the gates lower is the price. From our lodge, it was a 15minute drive to Paul Kruger gate.

Safari

There are 3 main safari types –

  1. Self-drive in public Kruger – I would not recommend this for a 2-day itinerary
  2. Guided safari in public Kruger – highly recommended
  3. Guided safari in Private Kruger in an all-inclusive package – if you are staying in one of the lodges there.

For self-drive you can rent a car in the camps along with a map and wander around in the wild. We rented a car from Mpumalanga airport itself but did not use it for safari. We used guided tours instead as we had no time to lose. During our safari, I experienced few more things that proved that the decision to use a guided safari was indeed a good one.

In private Kruger the game drives are conducted twice daily – the times differ depending on the season – morning safari starts just before sunrise and returns at around 9- 9:30 am. The evening ones depart an hour or two before sunset, and return at around 7 pm – but again, depending on the seasons and also on what you see out in the bush. The drives are conducted in specialized open topped 4×4 jeeps, and are equipped with a qualified and experienced team consisting of a game ranger and a tracker, there to find and educate you about the wildlife you encounter. Usually, the reviews for these safaris are pretty good. And it should be, considering the fact that you are paying a good price. The pricing of a lodge does not always reflect the expertise level of the guides, as you might presume. Generally, all lodges have the same qualifications requirements for the guides. It’s the personal choice of the guides on where they prefer to work.

One important question that came into my mind while planning was – is there a difference in safaris while staying in public Kruger compared to a private game reserve. I was actually referring to a real vs artificial scenario. This question also links to the concept of traversing area mentioned above. I posted this question to trip advisor forum too. An honest reply I want to quote here – “there are definitely some reserves that are much smaller and can easily look artificial as you are close to fences with hundreds of safari jeeps zooming by. But Sabi sands, Klaserie, Balule or Timbavati reserves are big enough so it should not be a spoiling factor.

Word of caution for the self-drive safaris

Stick to the paved roads if you are self-driving and beware of unusual animal behaviors especially if you drive too close to. Kruger park rules forbid self-drivers from off-roading. However, rules are not strict and we saw too many cars out in the wild. Off-roading gives you a better chance to view games from a close range, but at the same time if you are not aware of animal behaviors this can be dangerous. We experienced this first hand as we were charged twice by elephants. The first was a mommy who was possessive of her baby. Our guide told us it was a mock charge. Usually, elephants display a mock charge before the real. It’s kind of “I am giving you the last chance to run for your life” warning. The 2nd was real. It was a bull elephant in musth trying to establish supremacy in his area. It chased two cars while we watched from a distance. Then it charged at us. I was confident that our guide knew the tricks to manage this kind of situation but Stuti freaked out. Finally, it was reverse gear on full gas. I recorded the whole episode in patches and you will find it here.

Our 2 day Kruger safari experience

Finally, it’s time to write about our 2 day Kruger Safari experience. I pre-booked a single day safari online before arriving to avoid last minute hassles.

Day 1

Day 1 of our 2 day Kruger safari, the guide was on time and we started at around 5.30am with another couple. The morning was chilly with some cold November wind. Right after entry we were welcomed by a big herd of Impalas. We didn’t stop for the Impalas as they are abundant in Kruger. You will see them practically everywhere. There was one moment towards the end of the day when we were like “Not one more Impala”.

Impalas locking horns at Kruger National Park
Impalas locking horns to welcome us
After driving few kilometers on the asphalt, our guide decided to go off road. After about 20 minutes of bouncing on the dirt tracks our guide revved down the engine to hear some bush talk. First, we didn’t see anything but pretty soon the bushes nearby started shaking. We heard twigs and dry branches cracking and then emerged the elephant herd. It was a herd of about 10 elephants with 3 calves headed by the matriarch.
Elephant herd in Kruger National park
Just missed the classic Beatles pose

Mommy elephant with her calf in Kruger National Park
Mommy Ele possessive of her baby
Our guide was explaining to us about the matriarch. While we were busy listening to him and clicking pictures I noticed that his eyes were focused completely on the matriarch. And pretty soon we came to know why. At first, they were just a normal herd unmindful of the presence of a jeep, full of tourists. Out of nowhere, the matriarch roared. She started swinging her giant head from side to side with loud trumpets. She started taking few forward steps. For someone like me who have never seen anything like this, it simply meant an imminent attack. But our guide was just smiling with his eyes still focused on the giant. Then he whispered the best words I could ever image in a situation like that – “it’s a MOCK charge”. He explained to us that most of the elephant charges are mock charges. They’re usually done to make a threat or to evaluate if something can be considered as a threat or not. Just imagine a 5-ton beast asking you to back off! The guides from their experience could make out the difference between a mock charge and an actual one. As he kept on explaining the details, I was stuck with just one thought – what if I was self-driving and this happened?
Elephant mock charge in Kruger National park
Mock charge by Matriarch captured in GoPro. Sorry for the low resolution
After about an hour of goofing around, the radio buzzed. Rangers were sharing the details of a lion pride sighting. We set course instantly and pressed on the gas. We drove for about 5 miles. Luckily we were the 3rd vehicle to arrive at the kill zone. But to our dismay, the pride just started moving into the bush after finishing off their overnight kill. We managed to catch the last glimpses of a majestic pride happily burping out to the bushes. I was so devastated, I could only capture their tails through my 70-300mm. But the bushes always have a surprise for you. As we were about to return back, an amazing story started unfolding before us. So much happened in the next one hour that by the time we returned there were about 10 jeeps cramped on top of each other to watch the story. I could not help but write this story in another post – story of the lion kill.

After the morning tour, our guide drove us to a rest camp. We had a quick brunch and hot tea here and set sail in 30 minutes. Next in line was a rhino mommy with her calf. We saw our first 2 horned rhinos. India has one-horned rhinos, slightly smaller in size compared to its African counterpart. And this was a white rhino. There are two rhino species in Kruger – black and white. Don’t get fooled by the color. They both look grey. It is the overall size and shape of their mouth that differentiates the two. Actually, white rhino resulted from mistranslation as per my google search.

white rhino with calf during our 2 day Kruger safari
A white rhino walking with her calf
Impalas act as fillers between two sightings. They are just everywhere in different versions. Apart from the big five, there are so many other interesting species in the bushes that will amaze you. The list has no end. Have you ever heard of the dung beetle? The last one I saw was in the movie, Ice Age. During our safari, our guide braked right in the middle of nowhere and asked – “do you see it”. We scanned far and near but there was nothing. Then he pointed down to this little roller dung beetle rolling on a big ball of dung. What a hobby!
A dung beetle during our 2 day Kruger safari
Zoomed on a dung beetle
Around 2pm our guides radio chattered again. A lion couple sighting reported from a nearby hillock. We dashed again only to find disappointment. It was as if the top predators were avoiding us today. We saw many waterbucks. Our guide told us that predators do not find the water bucks tasty enough to prey because of their inherent stink. Lucky bucks I must say.

It was late afternoon. We’re on the verge of ending the day’s safari disappointed at not finding the apex predators. But as I said before the bushes never ceases to surprise you. As we were driving through the winding bush roads our guide stopped abruptly. I could see that he was trying to hear the bush gossip. Few minutes of silence and then emerged the giant bull elephant from the bushes. One look at this guy and our guide started reversing until we reached a safe distance. There was a strong pungent smell all around. This bull elephant was in Musth. Musth is a phase in bull elephants characterized by highly aggressive behavior and is related to rise in reproductive hormones by almost 60%. During musth a bull elephant is very aggressive and sexually active. A strong smelly fluid loaded with hormones runs down their cheeks. So this is how our guide knew the exact reason to back off. He told us, during this phase, the bulls try to establish dominance in their area and every moving thing in their eyesight is a challenge or threat to their dominance. So their simple strategy is crush crush!
As we watched from a distance the elephant slowly entered the bushes. A car was coming from the opposite side. But on seeing us they stopped too. Good, they did because in an instant the elephant emerged again and started charging at the car, which reversed on full speed and we never saw it again.

Bull elephant charging a car in Kruger National park
Tryst with the bull elephant charging at cars
We waited for about 20minutes until the giant started to disappear in the bush again, before speeding our way out. Luckily I recorded these series of events in my DLSR although in patches but enough to tell the story.

So this is how we ended the first day of our 2 day Kruger safari. Saw almost all of them except the lion and leopard. We returned to our cozy resort by around 3 pm. Parked ourselves in two sun loungers by the Sabi river and started our Castle competition.

River side sun deck at Sabie river bush lodge
After safari chill out at the river-side sun deck with castles

Day 2

For the 2nd day of our 2 day Kruger safari, we actually booked a different tour. We asked the locals in our resort about the best ranger they could recommend, to maximize our chances of completing the big five. We got a different guide and we’re so glad we made this switch. There was a French couple this time sharing the safari jeep with us and lucky, they had similar goals. The apex predators were elusive to them too. So we decided on our goal for the day. No stops for Impalas, Rhinos, Elephants or Buffalos. We scouted the bushes for first 2-3 hours without any luck. Then the sweet chatter happened. Radio information of a lion couple sighting and off we dashed. We drove for about 10 miles. We were so anxious during this time considering our bad luck the day before. Finally, we reached the spot and what a sight. We found the lion couple and that too mating.

Mating lion couple during our 2 day Kruger safari
A young lion couple mating. I could only manage a shot from the back
From the look it was a young couple and our guide explained that they were probably a runaway couple from their pride. A lion as young as this would not get the chance in a pride. There would be older and bigger competition in line. So the young lioness fell in love with this handsome hunk and together they eloped for a happy future. Makes a good story huh! Might not be true technically but what’s the harm in keeping it that way.
Young lioness in Kruger national park
the lioness staring right into my lens

young lion after mating in Kruger national park
the king seems to be resting after his mating bout
We were the 3rd car to reach the stop and in the next half hour the area was jam packed with about 15 jeeps. I could not help but notice the crowd following these animals. Probably the lions are also used to the jeeps and people following them because they continued their mating rituals irrespective of the crowd gathering. We spent about an hour here.

Another radio chatter and this time a leopard sighting. We erupted in cheer although silently. Another half an hour drive and this time we reached a spot packed with cars. Our guide literally had to climb a mini hillock to park. We followed in the direction of the pointed lenses but could not see anything. Our guide saw it first, but we could not see it even after repeated attempts. Technically this is called Camouflage. Finally, I pulled out my 70-300mm and started scanning with my camera and that’s when I saw the most elusive big 5, about 200 yards away, camouflaged in the yellow bushes. The guide told us that the leopard was on the prowl and may spend hours in the same spot waiting for the right moment to pounce. There was a buck nearby, maybe the lunch.

leopard on prowl during our 2 day Kruger safari
The Leopard on prowl
We waited for about half an hour in the hope that it will make a move but it did not. At one point when our patience ran out, we even declared it as a dummy doll planted for tourists and teased our ranger just for fun. But I could see the minor body movements through my fully zoomed lens. Finally, after taking few shots and tired of waiting, we moved on. On our way back we passed over a bridge with a number of hippos and crocodile sunbathing below.
sunbathing crocodile in kruger national park
A sunbathing croc in Kruger
We were happy that our 2 day Kruger Safari ended on a high note with all the big five in our kitty. Pretty soon we were back in our lodge to another game of Castles, waiting for the resident hippo to pass by as the sun set.

Hope you had fun going through our 2 day Kruger safari. Do let us know about it through your comments. Do subscribe for the next adventures to land right in our inbox.

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