Do you want to plan a trip to the Kruger National Park but don’t know how to do a self-drive? Then continue reading as it is much easier than you think!
The first thing you need to know about a self-drive to the Kruger National Park is that you don’t need a 4X4 vehicle.
Unlike many parks in Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, and even parts of Namibia, Kruger can be explored behind the wheel of a normal road car as many roads are tarred and in excellent condition. Even the gravel roads don’t need an off-road vehicle. Therefore, you can easily rent a small car; no need to go for the most expensive SUV to tour Kruger.
How to arrive by air to the Kruger National Park?
There are three airports near the Kruger National Park. It all depends on which gate you decide to enter with, which one will be the most convenient for you.
Hoedspruit (Eastgate) airport is ideal for accessing the central and northern parts of the park. In contrast, Nelspruit (Kruger Mpumalanga International airport) and Skukuza airports are suitable for accessing the southern parts of the park.
The flight from Johannesburg (OR Tambo airport) to Hoedspruit or Nelspruit takes about 55 minutes. There are also regular flights from Cape Town International airport to Hoedspruit, with CemAir, which takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes.
The most convenient airport of them all is Skukuza airport because it is situated inside the park (no worries about arriving late) and is only 3.8km away from Skukuza main camp.
How to arrive by car in the Kruger National Park?
Self-drive is an excellent way to explore Kruger at your leisure. It is straightforward and convenient to rent a car in South Africa from any airport (a smaller town or big cities) and continue the journey there.
The roads from Johannesburg to the main camps in Kruger are well indicated. You will be driving all the way (primarily) by motorway (N12 and N4) until you get close to the Kruger National Park.
These are mainly toll roads, so keep in mind there are several pay-points (toll gates) along the route (credit cards, garage cards and cash accepted at toll roads). The roads are in pretty good condition, so you can sit back and relax while you enjoy a scenic road trip through some of the most breathtaking parts of South Africa.
The section through Schoemanskloof is exceptionally beautiful!
How to get a tour operator/guide for Kruger?
Kruger is the ideal destination for self-drive. However, there are many options available if you would like to join a tour operator.
We can highly recommend the following two tour operators:
Warren Deysel, is a specialist tour operator in the Kruger National Park. His company’s name is Kruger Direct Safaris. They offer custom-made safaris including on foot expeditions in Kruger. You can follow his Instagram page @kruger_direct_safaris, or contact him directly on 079 496 8808, or email him at email@example.com
John Finch, is a specialist tour operator who has extensive knowledge not only of South Africa, but also of the rest of Africa (i.e. Swaziland, Botswana, Zimbabwe and many more countries). Besides offering amazing tours to Kruger, he also offers exciting tours to Cape Town and the wine region in South Africa. He has a great Instagram page @johnfinch.travel for those who would like to follow his amazing adventures. John specialises in photographic tours and is situated in Hout Bay, Western Cape. You are welcome to visit his website for additional information.
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Some advantages of using a tour operator include:
- They stay in contact with other rangers from nearby camps or vehicles to track the animals.
- They offer custom designed tours; some have morning, afternoon, or even full-day game drives.
- They have unimaginable knowledge about the bush
- they use high, custom, open safari vehicles which give you a better view of the animals, particularly if you are an avid photographer.
- They get up really close to the animals.
Note, guided tours go beyond the scope of this article.
Read our article “Guided Tours in South Africa: Is it worth it?”, where we conducted an in-depth-interview with a local tour guide.
Where to do a pit-stop along the route to Kruger? Milly’s Trout farm is a must
A trip to the Kruger National Park is not complete without a stop at Milly’s. On route to Kruger, it has become a tradition for many South Africans to stop at Milly’s for a homemade meal before continuing with the journey.
This café and restaurant are well known for their freshly baked pastries, home-brewed coffees and locally made trout pies. If you have time, buy a packet of fish food, and enjoy watching enormous carp fish swimming in the dam right next to the restaurant.
If you still have time to spare, just after Machado Dorp, take the N4 and visit the picturesque Emgwenya waterfall. You can continue this route to Malelane or Kruger gate without returning to the previous way.
This route joins up again near Mbombela.
How to access entrance gates to the Kruger National Park?
The southern access gates of Kruger National park
There are five access gates in the south of Kruger.
Paul Kruger gate: the main gate of the south. The route to this gate takes you on a journey through the White River and Hazyview. Although it is a busy gate, the road there is safe and in good condition.
There is a lovely Protea hotel a few hundred meters outside the gate if you prefer more luxurious accommodation close to the park. We have featured this hotel a few times on our Instagram page. This gate is also ideal for visiting Skukuza as it is only 13 km away. This is particularly convenient if you’re concerned about reaching the gate before closing.
Phabeni: This gate is our favourite because instead of driving 30 km on the R536 through a rural area, you can immediately enter Kruger from Hazyview (to Skukuza) to start your game drive right away. Skukuza is 40 km away from Phabeni gate. This route in Kruger to Skukuza (via Phabeni) takes around one and a half hours (due to the speed limit). You must remember that you can only drive 50 km p.h. on tar roads and 40 km p.h on gravel roads.
Malelane gate: We primarily use the Malelane gate because it allows us to be in Kruger within four hours from Johannesburg instead of driving another hour to reach the Kruger (primary gate) or Phabeni gates. In our experience, this is often the best game drive en route to camps.
Crocodile bridge: this gate is small and intimate. The road to this gate is very safe and well maintained. Crocodile Bridge gate is ideal for guests staying in Lower Sabie and Crocodile bridge camps. We don’t access this gate often, but we understand from friends that this gate is often congested in season, causing long time delays. This was, however, not our experience the last time we accessed it.
Numbi gate: This gate should be avoided during the best of times. It is regularly in the news for incidents of hijacking and crime. If you’re staying in Pretoriuskop, rather access the park through Phabeni or Skukuza gates.i
How to get to other gates to enter Kruger?
There are two access gates to the central parts of Kruger
Orpen and Phalaborwa gate.
The northern gate to Kruger
There is one access gate to the northern part of Kruger.
Punda Maria gate provides perfect access for the northern camps such as Shingwedzi and Punda Maria camps. This route consists of many rural towns but is safe for driving. We found the road quite good and without any problems. From Johannesburg, the longest part of the route is on the N1 motorway until you reach Makhado, from which you deviate from the highway and take a minor road, the R524, for another 140 km. Although this part of the road includes some rural areas is safe and in good condition.