Very few places on earth can marry natural beauty, abundant wildlife and refined gastronomy as spectacularly as South Africa. Most make a beeline for Cape Town between October and March for the sun-drenched vineyards, far-reaching coastlines and the vibrant rainbow culture, but year-round, South Africa provides fantastic game viewing with ample sightings of the Big Five, the whale migration, and the black-footed penguin- and no place does wildlife better than South Africa’s north-eastern region.
After a recent trip to South Africa, our marketing expert, Shona, highlights the game parks she visited as she hugged the borders round Swaziland and Mozambique, to the multitude of nature reserves in the north east:
Greater Kruger National Park
Driving 6 hours north from South Africa's capital, Johannesburg, I arrived ready to spend a week in safaris bliss in the famous game reserve that I had heard so much about. A wildlife sanctuary like no other, Kruger National Park stretches nearly 2 million hectares along the Mozambican border, nestled in the north east corner of South Africa. Promising sightings of the Big Five, the diversity and sheer number of exciting animals is unparalleled. What makes Kruger truly special is the access it provides its visitors. With a well-made and well-maintained network of roads to explore, Kruger is perfect for both self driving holidays and guided wildlife adventures.
As most of the national park’s accommodation is catered towards campers and self-catering families, I would suggest exploring the central areas of the park during the day and resting in first-class luxury of the private game reserve, Sabi Sand, at night. With a myriad of opulent lodges, you can choose to stay in Singita Boulder, a celebration of tranquillity and space set along the banks of the Sand River, and Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, which has been sculpted into a slope of the earth to provide a masterpiece of earthy suites and decor. As there are no boundaries or fencing between Kruger National Park and Sabi Sand, you can sit around the boma fire-pits and watch the herds of elephants peacefully wandering through the lodges at night.
Tembe Elephant Park
Moving south around the border of Swaziland, I ventured into Tembe Elephant Park, a 300sq km reserve that is home to the legendary Ivory Route, the last free roaming route between Mozambique and Zululand. Though the reserve has lion, leopard, rhino and buffalo, it is the elephants that are the stars of the show. Having the largest elephants on the continent, Tembe Elephant Park celebrates its tuskers (an elephant whose tusks exceed 45.45kgs) and in particular, the 60-year-old bull elephant named Isilo. With his name meaning ‘King’ in Zulu, he truly is a sight to behold with an estimated total tusk weight of 120kgs- which are in excess of 2.5 metres long.
As I watched these giant creatures wallow in the muddy streams of the watering hole and heard them trumpet in warning at the game vehicle, I felt that Tembe Elephant Park certainly lived up to its name. A place where the great tuskers still tramp their way through ancient pathways in the northernmost parts of South Africa, Tembe Elephant Park offers visitors the opportunity to step back 200 years into unspoilt pre-colonial Africa.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park
Having had my fill of bush safaris, the last leg of my trip was spent in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s first World Heritage Site. The 332,000 hectare park contains three major lake systems, 700 years of local fishing traditions, and 25,000 year-old coastal dunes. With endless beaches that stretch 220 kilometres, iSimangaliso is known in its small, well-informed circles, as having South Africa’s best scuba diving. To get the full effect of this beach-haven, I stayed in both the most northern sector and in the heart of the park - but my favourite hideaway was Thonga Beach Lodge.
As an area that promotes discovery and activity, I went kayaking and swimming, snorkelled through nearby reefs, and generally just fell in love with the pristine and unspoilt coast. Though I was no longer in the bush, this trip was still a safari as I saw magnificent breaching humpback whales, large schools of exotic fish, vervet monkeys and much more. Unfortunately, I arrived out of season, but go over the festive months, between December and February, and you will get to see turtles laying eggs on the beach and watch the little hatchlings escape their nests, floundering their way to the water.