Southern (Malelane) gate 428km (265 miles) NE of Johannesburg; northern (Pafuri) gate 581km (360 miles) NE of Johannesburg
Proclaimed by South African president Paul Kruger in 1898, this jewel in the South African National Parks crown stretches 381km (236 miles) from the banks of the Crocodile River in the south to the Limpopo River in the north, and covers almost 2.5 million hectares (6.2 million acres).
Even more impressive than its size, however, is the diversity of life the Kruger sustains: Sixteen eco-zones (each with its own geology, rainfall, altitude, and landscape) are home to more than 500 bird species and 147 mammal species, including an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 lions, 1,000 leopards, 6,200 white and 350 black rhinos, 12,500 elephants, and 25,000 buffaloes. Cheetah, African wild dog, spotted hyena, zebra, giraffe, hippo, crocodile, warthog, and some 21 antelope species also roam Kruger's open plains and waterways. The rich flora varies from tropical to subtropical; almost 2,000 plant species have been identified, including some 450 tree and shrub species and 235 grasses. The opportunity to see wildlife is superb -- many people report seeing four of the Big 5 (the most elusive being the leopard) in a day, and some are lucky enough to see them all. Don't count on this; rather, set out to enjoy the open roads, undulating landscape, and countless species you will encounter along the way.
Kruger also has a number of archaeological sites, the most interesting being the Thulamela Heritage Site, a 16th-century stone-walled village overlooking the Luvuvhu River in the north. Others include the Stone Age village at Masorini, and more than 170 documented prehistoric rock painting sites, the most accessible being found at the Crocodile Bridge hippo pool, in the private concession leased to Jock Safari Camp, and along the Bushman and Wolhuter trails. Historical sites relating to early European explorers and Kruger's beginnings are also dotted throughout the park.
In 2002, eco-diplomacy reached new heights with the signing of a treaty in Xai-Xai, Mozambique, and the removal of some 30km (18 1/2 miles) of fences between the Kruger and Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou National Park and Mozambique's Limpopo National Park -- the first step in the creation of the new 37.5-million-hectare (92.5-million-acre) Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, or GLTP, the biggest conservation area on the continent. Almost 4,000 animals of various species have been translocated from the KNP to the LNP since 2002, and others have made their own way there (the last count revealed that Limpopo National Park now boasts 630 elephants).
Excitement over the Kruger's incorporation into transfrontier conservation initiatives has to some extent been tempered by concerns over the current disputes before the country's Land Claims Commission, charged with returning land appropriated from its original owners under apartheid governance. Thus far, two of these claims have been settled in a manner that has had all-round benefits. The first land claim to be awarded was that of the Makuleke clan, which received ownership of the Pafuri area, now known as Makuleke Contractual Park. Two lodges have been built on the property, The Outpost and the Pafuri Tented Camp, as well as a wilderness school called Eco Training. The second land claim, in which a stretch of land to the south of Numbi Gate has been awarded to the Mdluli clan, has also become a win-win situation. It now operates as a concession called Mdluli Game Reserve, and is the site of a tented camp and field guide training academy run by a safari company called Untamed Africa (www.untamed.co.za) -- again proving that sustainable land development can benefit both local communities and nature conservation.