Kruger National Park I: Private Game Reserves

I can hear no sound except the trees’ branches swaying in the wind and the birds awakening in the wild. With a cup of hot chocolate I am looking at the rising sun in the middle of nowhere. It’s a view I’ll never forget.

When people ask me about the Kruger National Park in South Africa, I am looking for words to describe this experience. Beautiful. Amazing. Exciting. Nature. Wildlife. But to really describe it in a proper way … I haven’t found the right words yet. The days spent in the private game reserves and in the public part of the National Park were something else, and I really mean it!

Sunrise breakfast in the wild

We start our safari drive at 5:30 am. The wind is still chilly and the light low. The wildlife is awakening slowly and our guide recognizes every movement, the tracker at the front of the car sees every single footstep of an animal on the ground. We can leave the paths to follow up on rhino tracks. We drive in between tree trunks and over bushes, right between big stones. 10 minutes, 20 minutes. After 30 minutes we can see it. The rhino is comfortably having its breakfast and is grazing between the bushes. We stop right in front of it, but it doesn’t even lift its head. It is used to the car’s shape. This is why it knows we are neither food nor enemy. And this is also why we are not allowed to stand up or lift arms or legs out of the car, it would change the shape of it and the animals would reevaluate it.



It is amazing to watch it slowly move around close by the car. We hold our breath as it comes closest and take pictures. At 6:30 we drive towards a wide field of trees and bushes, an area where it would be hard for animals to hide. Therefore it is safe for us to get out of the jeep and have a little breakfast. The views are breathtaking, the light is flawless and there is no sound at all. The only sound is our sipping of coffee, tea and hot chocolate and our steps on the sandy ground.


I find myself in the middle of nowhere with a cup of hot chocolate watching a fiery red ball rise at the horizon. The sun is coming up slowly, which gives me more time to gaze towards the wide fields of stones, burnt grass, miraculously formed trees and animals in the distance. I don’t know the names of the colors that surround me. They are beyond beautiful. The sun brings along the warmth that was absent during the night and attracts the animals to absorb the newly born light and day. It’s our breakfast in the wild.



Sundowner with sleepy lions

After a luxurious lunch and a massage by the lovely spa ladies, we have tea in the afternoon and start our sunset safari at 4:00 pm. Sometimes, you have to be very lucky to see animals at all. This afternoon it is one of those days, where we don’t even see impalas, a very common sort of antelopes that are basically everywhere in the park. Suddenly, our guide hits the pedal and starts racing through the paths. He’s got a surprise for us, he shouts excited through the wind. And there it is: a family of seven lions peacefully asleep right next to the path. About 3 meters away from our jeep, they cuddle, yawn and turn themselves around to have the best place in the sun. Each of them touch the lion next to them, no one is left alone. Except for the young male that is soon to leave the family and to start his own. He lifts his head and blinks lazily. We could have stayed there forever to watch these beauties get some rest, but we leave them alone after taking approximately 100 pictures.



Our guide starts racing again and this reveals to us that he has another idea. And there it is: in the river’s dry valley, there is an old enormous elephant. He graciously picks the grass below him and walks slowly towards the water. What a view!



After gazing at some giraffes from afar, we stop for the traditional sundowner. Our guide and tracker open the back of the jeep and reveal a little bar inside. Beer, wine, cider and soft drinks as well as snacks are offered. We watch the sun go down and witness the silence that only the wild of South Africa can offer. No one is talking, everybody is staring at the horizon that presents itself with the most beautiful colors. From red to yellow to blue and purple. There are no words to describe this beauty.


No words to describe the Kruger National Park

One thing is for sure: You just have to go there if you are in South Africa! There is no excuse for not visiting the Kruger National Park if you are there. You can choose between private game reserves and the public part of the park. What’s the difference? Wait for it … I’ll tell you more about our visit in the public part of the park in my next blog post.



The Timbavati Private Nature Reserve

Going to a private nature reserve always means a more luxurious way to visit the Kruger National Park. You can drive there yourself, the rest is up to the lodge’s crew. You will be pampered with deliciously cooked meals, snacks in between, professionally guided safari drives with a tracker. Private reserves do have one specific advantage in contrast to the public part: The jeeps are allowed to leave the paths and can drive literally everywhere they can. This way, you might see more animals on a private tour without any other tourists around you.



My recommendation: Simbavati River Lodge

Our stay at the Simbavati River Lodge was more than we had ever expected it to be! We were welcomed warmly, given advice and learned so much about the flora and fauna of Kruger National Park. We had the most amazing tent with a patio with direct view of the river. We even had a hippo crossing just right in front of us!



There are no fences around the lodge, so we had visitors during dinner as well: a hyena came by looking for food and a giant elephant ripped big chunks of grass off the ground. Just do what the staff tells you and never ever walk by yourself in the dark. They accompany you to your tent and make sure you get in safely. It was an amazing experience and we’d definitely go there again.

One more thing: I did not get paid to write about „Simbavati River Lodge“, it is a personal recommendation for a lodge in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve.

In my next blog entry you will find out more about the public part of Kruger National Park …

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