Quite possibly your best options for seeing wildlife in the Kruger National Park will originate from Lower Sabie Restcamp. Wildlife in the Lower Sabie region are prolific so be sure to drive slowly, stay awake and keep your eyes scanning the bush for animals.
There are two routes visitors can take to reach Skukuza Restcamp. The first option is the tarred H4-1 road whilst the second is via the S30 or Salitjie Road, as it is commonly known.
The total distance for this drive is 42 kilometres but take note that this is a busy road and you will stop often for animals. Expect the journey to last about 3 hours.
As you depart Lower Sabie, turn right in a northwesterly direction to begin your journey to Skukuza Restcamp. A few hundred metres along the road, you will arrive at Sunset Dam.
It’s always a good idea to stop at Sunset Dam, as there are usually hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius), crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus), antelope species such as impala (Aepyceros melampus) and kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) and a plethora of birds such as the charismatic African jacana (Actophilornis africanus) that frequent the dam.
Departing Sunset Dam, continue along the tarred road. Sabi River accompanies you the entire way to Skukuza and along with the river, you will encounter the riverine bush and trees that frequent the river ecosystems in the Kruger National Park.
Trees commonly encountered along rivers on your Kruger safari, include the massive, Sycamore fig (Ficus sycomorus), Natal mahogany (Trichilia emetica), Tamboti (Spirostachys africana), Sausage trees (Kigelia africana) and Knobthorn (Senegalia nigrescens).
Sabi River begins its journey in the Drakensberg mountains and flows eastwards towards the Indian ocean. It crosses the breadth of the Kruger National Park cutting its way through the Lebombo mountains. It enters the Corumana Dam in Mozambique before finally joining the Komati River which flows into the Indian ocean.
Its name is derived from the Swazi word ‘sabisa’, meaning ‘be careful’! This is apparently because of the large population of Nile crocodiles found in the river.
Animals often encountered along rivers in the Kruger National Park include leopard (Panthera pardus), lions (Panthera leo), hippopotamus, elephant (Loxodonta africana), impala, vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus), baboons (Papio ursinus) and, along this stretch of road, keep your eyes open for the elusive nyala antelope (Tragelaphus angasii).
On your journey, you will also come across Nkuhlu Picnic Site. It’s a beautiful stop nestled underneath massive natal mahogany trees, along the banks of the Sabi River. Nkuhlu is the Tsonga name for the Natal mahogany. You are welcome to get out of your vehicle here and use the facilities on offer.
Facilities include a shop and toilet facilities. Often hippopotamus, elephants, buffalo (Syncerus caffer) and crocodile can be seen from the picnic site. Vervet monkeys also use the picnic site as a potential food source and often beg for food from human visitors. It is not encouraged to feed any wild animals in the Kruger National Park.
Leaving Nkuhlu, you have 28 kilometres to go before reaching Skukuza Restcamp. Then, 14 kilometres after Nkuhlu, you will arrive at a junction where turning right takes you over the Sabi River bridge. Keep left here and continue your drive with Sabi River remaining on your right hand side.
It is however a good idea to drive onto the bridge as it often delivers on good sightings and birders often get views of African finfoot (Podica senegalensis) from the bridge. Return to the H4-1 after checking out the bridge and continue the journey towards Skukuza.
Skukuza Restcamp is the Kruger National Park’s main camp and administrative hub. It is a big camp but surrounded by excellent opportunities to see Africa’s wildlife.
The total distance for this drive is 52 kilometres and expected drive time is between 3 and 4 hours.
Exiting Lower Sabie Restcamp, turn left in a southerly direction towards Crocodile Bridge. One kilometre from Lower Sabie, turn left and drive over the bridge that crosses Sabi River. Stop often on the bridge as it is a good place to see hippopotamus.
Another 1 kilometre further on, turn left onto the S128 dirt road to begin the northward journey towards Skukuza Restcamp. This area of the Kruger National Park is excellent for lion, rhino, elephant and buffalo as you drive through thornveld savanna. Sabi River is not accessible from this road and you only get to see the river further on, once on Salitjie.
After 13 kilometres, turn left onto the S30 (Salitjie Road) where you will once again join Sabi River after about 10 kilometres. This road is one of Kruger Park’s hidden gems and, if you have the time, definitely drive it. Animals are often encountered and even species such as sable antelope (Hippotragus niger) have been spotted in this area. Driving through dry riverbeds, keep your eyes open for leopard lying in big Sycamore fig and Natal Mahogany trees.
Keep your vehicle's windows open whilst driving. It allows you to notice an animal or bird’s alarm calling, if they spot a predator. A dead giveaway is vervet monkeys sitting in trees making a noise and all looking in the same direction… it might be that there’s a leopard on the prowl!
Stop your vehicle, switch off the engine, look and listen. You would generally look in the direction of the leopard. And did you know that the further away the leopard moves, the more relaxed it becomes?
Another sign that a leopard is close, is the smell of freshly popped popcorn! Can you believe it? A leopard scent marking gives off this unmistakable smell and indicates that a leopard is close. None of these signs would be noticeable if you were driving with your windows closed so do keep them open.
It also allows you to smell the bush, and one of the Kruger National Park’s favourites is the strong smell of cooked potatoes in the late afternoon, just before the sun sets. No, you’re not smelling the restaurant at the camp frying chips but rather smelling the potato bush (Phyllanthus reticulatus) - its smell is often stronger further away from the bush than close to it, meaning it’s often misidentified.
Do beware though, when approaching lion, leopard and baboons, if you are unfamiliar with these animals’ behavior and warning signs, it is advised that you close your windows, especially if they are lying down or walking in the road. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
When you arrive at a tarred road, the H1-2, turn right, away from Sabi River and drive for a further 5 kilometres before arriving at the H1-2 tarred road, the Kruger National Park’s great South-North main road. Turn left and, after 2 kilometres, turn right onto Maroela (Afrikaans for Marula) loop. It’s a dirt road and, as the name suggests, plenty of Marula trees are seen and it’s a good opportunity to spot leopard, elephant, buffalo, zebra and blue wildebeest.
After 7 kilometres, you join the H1-2 again and arrive at the first of two low level bridges. The first one crosses the Sand River and the second, the Sabi River. Driving over low level bridges gives you a good opportunity to get up close and personal with potential animals lying in the river beds. Elephant and buffalo are typical examples and in the water, lookout for crocodiles as low level bridges gives you an awesome close encounter with them.
After crossing Sabi River, it’s a short drive before you arrive at Skukuza Restcamp.
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