advertisement

Given the standards of the game-viewing and the public rest camps, this self-driving tour is definitely the best-value safari to be had on the continent: You will see everything you ever dreamed of, for a fraction of the third itinerary, above. You could shave off 2 days by flying direct from Jo'burg to Nelspruit, the nearest airport to southern Kruger.

Days 1 & 2: Mpumalanga Escarpment

A relaxed 4- to 5-hour drive from Gauteng brings you to the scenic escarpment, with its myriad viewpoints over the lowveld and magnificent Blyde River Canyon, where the Forever Blyde Canyon Resort makes for a wonderfully located and very affordable overnight base. If you arrive in time, stretch your legs on one of the short day trails that lead to the valley floor, and then spend the next day taking in the highlights of the Panorama Route, from God's Window and Bourke's Luck Potholes to the restored Victorian gold-rush town of Pilgrim's Rest.

Days 3 to 5: Southern Kruger

A short drive from Blyde River brings you to the southern Kruger, which is the most densely touristed part of the vast park, but also usually the best for game-viewing. Several rest camps are scattered in the south, of which Lower Sabie is a firm favorite, not only for its relaxed atmosphere, lovely riverine location, and good selection of budget-friendly accommodation options, but also as the epicenter of three of the finest game-viewing roads anywhere in the park. Three days here will give you an excellent chance to see all the Big 5: Elephant, buffalo, and, to a lesser extent, lion are almost guaranteed and might be seen driving in any direction; rhino are most common along the road to Crocodile Bridge; and leopards hang in the riparian undergrowth that follows the Sabi River toward Skukuza. If Lower Sabie is full, other good camps in the south include Skukuza and Berg-en-Dal.

Days 6 to 7: South-Central Kruger

It's worth dedicating 2 nights to the central plains around Satara, an area known for its dense lion population, high concentration of cheetahs, and seasonal herds of zebra and wildebeest. Satara is the most central base here, but it's also the second-largest rest camp in the park, with an undistinguished setting and rather impersonal atmosphere; there's a strong case for booking one of the wonderful tented units at Tamboti Camp (near Orpen Gate) instead. The best game-viewing in this area is usually along the main road connecting Satara to Tamboti, and the loop road running between Satara and the Nwanetsi picnic site.

Days 8 to 9: North-Central Kruger

Wildlife is less varied north of the Olifants River, but it's an excellent area for large elephant and buffalo herds, and it feels decidedly untrammeled by comparison to the south. Olifants Camp, on a cliff overlooking the river, has the most spectacular setting in the park, usually complete with browsing elephants and giraffe along the bank. Alternatively, the tiny primitive camp of Balule is ideal for those seeking a real bush experience (and the huts are the cheapest of anywhere in the park), while the more northerly Letaba Rest Camp overlooks the eponymous river and is known for its wonderful birdlife. The area around Letaba also hosts localized antelope such as roan, sable, and tsessebe.

Days 10 to 14: Northern Kruger or Private Game Reserve (Optional)

Those who reckon 7 nights of Kruger is enough of a good thing should head to the nearest airport (Hoedspruit or, farther south, Nelspruit) and fly to the reserves of subtropical KwaZulu-Natal (or, if you've had enough of wildlife, to Cape Town). But to say you've really experienced the Kruger, you should continue northward for 4 nights, divided evenly between the rest camps of Shingwedzi and Punda Maria. The former is a riverside camp surrounded by a small network of great game-viewing roads; it feels strikingly remote even by comparison to Olifants or Letaba. More remote still is the hillside camp of Punda Maria, which is the best base for day trips to the lush Pafuri area, where a host of unusual birds can be seen in the vicinity of the confluence of the Levuvhu and Limpopo rivers (the three-way border with Zimbabwe and Mozambique). The Thulamela Heritage Site protects the remains of a large stone city built in the 16th century after Great Zimbabwe was abandoned. On Day 14, we recommend an early start to get back to Gauteng in good time (or fly from Phalaborwa).

Alternatively: Days 10 to 14: KwaZulu-Natal

Days 10 to 12 -- Fly into Durban International Airport, hire a car, and take an easy drive north up the scenic N2 through rolling green fields of sugar cane and indigenous forests on a well-designed, well-marked toll road. Take the turn-off for Cape Vidal in the heart of the iSimangaliso (formerly St Lucia) Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where you have prebooked a rustic KZN Wildlife chalet a stone's throw from the beach, under the welcome shade of the casuarinas. Snorkel, dive, fish, or walk on the deserted beach and around Lake Bhangazi. Diverse wildlife in the highest vegetated dune and sand forests in the world include elephant, hippo, buffalo, and an array of birdlife.

Days 13 to 14 -- A short 90 minutes' drive west from Cape Vidal and the eastern shores lies the Hluluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, one of the oldest wildlife sanctuaries in Africa and site of the Zulu kings' ancient hunting grounds. Make reservations for the award-winning Hilltop camp there, or consider the purely self-catering Mpila Camp in the Umfolozi section -- a series of comfortable canvas tents, where you really are in the bush proper. If you are feeling adventurous and need to stretch your legs, book a Wilderness Trail, the best foot safari in southern Africa.

If, on the other hand, you've had enough of wildlife, fly direct from Kruger to Cape Town, booking into African Villa, The Fritz Hotel, Daddy Long Legs, Walden House, or Villa Zest -- all good value options -- and spend your last few days exploring Table Mountain National Park.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.