Skip to Content

Archived News

Kruger Magic

Date: 2006-11-23

What makes the world famous Kruger National Park special? The park’s media relations officer Raymond Travers tries to answer this question as he shows the different attractions that have made this “palette of Eden” the yearly quest of more than a million visitors per year.

He looked straight at the camera. His eyes focused on something, seemingly thousands of kilometres away. A few blades of grass, freshly cropped from the surrounding Mopanieveld, hung from his lips like Andy Capp’s cigarette.

This was, of course, a buffalo (Syncerus Caffer). One of the notorious Big Five and a resident of the world famous Kruger National Park, the buffalo casually grazed next to the main road between Mopani and Letaba rest camps in an area that many call the true “park”.

But what creates the “magic” that people talk about when visiting Kruger? What continues to lure more than a million tourists every year to this symbol of South African pride?

Many authors have tried to pin down this pure attraction in one phrase or sentence. The first warden of the park, Lt Col James Stevenson-Hamilton, spoke about “A palette of Eden” in his book of the same name.

Legendary ranger Harry Wolhuter, in his book “Memories of a Game Ranger” wrote that he was privileged “to see it grow from what might be termed nothing, to what it is today – the finest Wild Life Sanctuary in the World.

The excellent coffee table book, “Greater Kruger: The Big Picture”, has perhaps another way of looking at it. It reads: “People have always felt a mysterious attraction to the greater Kruger area. Long before it had a name, the region was a stomping ground for ancient tribes who left intricate artwork and metal relics of their existence.”

And more recently, former head ranger Bruce Brydon wrote: “If there is one thing all South Africans surely know, it is that the Kruger National Park is one of their country’s greatest treasures, but what they might not know is just how great that treasure actually is in both physical size and international importance. There can be no doubt that without Kruger not only South Africa but also the world would be immeasurably poorer.” in his book “A game ranger remembers.”

The latest edition of “A Dictionary of Kruger National Park Place Names” by Kloppers (a former General Manager: Nature Conservation in the KNP) and Bornman (local historian and author) postulate: “There is probably no comparable area in the Republic of South Africa about which so many different people and authorities have written and for such a variety of reasons, as the Kruger National Park.”

But the work of Jane Carruthers in her book “The Kruger National Park: A Social and Political History” seems to expand on this theme even more. It reads: “The Kruger National Park is one of South Africa’s most famous symbols, both nationally and internationally. Indeed, for many people, South Africa is epitomized by two concepts: Its former political philosophy of apartheid; and the Kruger National Park.”

Currently, scientists and tourism officials have coined the phrase “a sense of place” to describe the magic of Kruger. This phrase has emanated from various research programmes aimed at defining why people keep flocking to Kruger.

For many of these flocks, it is a yearly pilgrimage. One particular regular visitor, a magistrate, traditionally kisses a rock strategically placed at Malelane Entrance Gate every time he enters the park. Yet others pray a blessing on their trip and yet others sit silently, possibly hoping for that “special” sighting that makes the trip worth all the effort.

South African environmental actuality programme 50/50 (SABC TV2, 17:00) even includes a regular feature called “Veldfokus” to which people can send their special experiences (photographic or video) to be judged as the best of the evening and to usually win good prizes. The annual winner receives a 4x4 vehicle and many speak about this as a lure to Kruger to “get that incredible moment” so that they can win the ultimate prize, even although the programme’s executive producer does not limit entries to only those photographed or filmed in Kruger.

But is it necessarily the game sightings that are constantly seen in Kruger that keeps the Central Reservations Switchboard (012 428 9111) constantly ringing? Not surprisingly, the two million hectare park has one of the highest biodiversity ratings in the world with 147 mammal species, over 500 bird species, close to 340 tree species and a plethora of reptiles, grasses, insects and just about everything else that make up the list of different species of the park.

Do they perhaps come for the exquisite land forms and landscape sceneries that can be found just about everywhere within the boundaries? The foothills of the Lebombo Mountains in the South East, an unusually shaped massif called Ship Mountain near Pretoriuskop, the open plains of Satara, the lalapalm fringed wetlands surrounding Satara Rest Camp, the iron-filled koppies of Phalaborwa or the baobab beauty of the Pafuri are just some of the incredible scenery types that often entice tourists to stop and stare.

Many people will, however, point at a row of serene rondawels in one of Kruger’s 24 camps and say “it is this; please don’t take this away from me”. They will probably add that all they want is to be able to braai while enjoying the peace and quiet of the place that has become the nation’s favourite bush experience. With each person, it seems to be incredibly personal which camps they choose to stay in during a visit to

Kruger. It has often been said that if you take 10 regular Kruger visitors and ask them the question “which is the best camp in Kruger?”, you’ll get 10 different answers.

And let any issue dare threaten Kruger and there is an instant outburst of sentiment from the South African public that sends a clear message “Leave our Kruger alone!” No where is this more apparent than on the public forum on the SANParks website. In fact, it is perhaps uncanny that many issues receive a mention before they are officially announced. This SANParks management not only welcomes but acknowledges as healthy two way communication between itself and a fair representation of its client base.

Kruger has thus got a very loyal group of people that visit regularly to see everything from arrow-marked babblers (Turdoides jardineii) to zinc rock formations and enjoy the piece and quiet of sitting on a veranda of their rondawel while braaiing their favourite food. But, if you think about it analytically, there are many places that you can see great scenery, watch interesting animals and relax under the stars in bungalows. So what is that special piece of the Kruger that gives South Africa’s most famous national park the edge?

Perhaps a potpourri of all of the above, mixed with an interesting cocktail of personal flavour and a pinch of that totally unique South African pride spice?

But the buffalo shakes his impressive horns vigorously from side to side, snorts in contempt for all our postulated theories and bends his heavy head towards yet another clump of grass. Perhaps buried deep in his DNA is a simple answer to our puzzling theories and questions … who knows?

Information box:

Seven (7) luxury concessions;
Twelve main camps (each with petrol station, shop and restaurant);
Five (5) bushveld camps (each with a reception area, but none of the above)
Seven (7) smaller camps (range from back-to-basics camping like Maroela, Balule and the new Tzendse to bush lodges like Boulders and Tamboti tented camp);
Ten entrance gates (including the new Giriyondo Tourist Port of Entry)

Five day Lebombo Eco Overland Trail for 4x4 vehicles
Four day Olifants River Back Pack Trail
Three day Wilderness Trails (seven options)
One day Adventure Trails for 4x4 vehicles (four options)
One day Mountain Bike Trails (at Olifants Camp)
Morning Walks (most camps)
Game Drives (Sunrise and sunset drives at most camps and some gates)
Bush Braais (most main camps)
Astronomy Drive (Olifants Camp)

Contact Central Reservations – 012 428 9111

For more information:

This article was written for African Safari Magazine and is published here with their permission.