The journey between Gauteng and Kruger -- a comfortable 5-hour drive with no major detours -- includes some of South Africa's most dramatically beautiful drives, and the surrounds become scenic within 2 hours of leaving Johannesburg. The three routes described below take you from the highveld plateau before dropping, usually quite spectacularly, to the lowveld, much of which is taken up by Kruger National Park and the surrounding private game reserves. The best way to savor the journey is to stay at one of the many places that lie between 2 and 4 hours away from Gauteng and make the most of the Escarpment's dramatic scenery before setting off for big-game country.
The first, most popular route takes you via the Escarpment towns of Sabie and Graskop (Pilgrim's Rest is an optional but recommended side trip) before traversing the Escarpment rim along what is called the Panorama Route -- a spectacular half-day drive. This journey will definitely warrant an overnight stay, preferably two; you are then ideally positioned to enter one of Kruger's southern or central gates. The second approach is via Machadodorp on the N4, the main artery connecting Gauteng with Nelspruit, the capital of Mpumalanga -- this is ideal if you need to enter one of Kruger's southern gates and don't have time to do much sightseeing or overnight along the way.
A lesser-known way to get to central Kruger, but in parts even more scenic, particularly from June to August, is to follow in the footsteps of the Voortrekkers on the Great North Road (N1) as far as Polokwane (ex-Pietersburg), then branch off eastward via the Letaba/Magoebaskloof area, a lush mountainous area also known as "land of the silver mist" and "garden of the Rain Queen." This route will necessitate an overnight stay; the most luxurious option is to reserve a room at the Coach House (tel. 015/306-8000; www.coachhouse.co.za), which lies on a 560-hectare (1,383-acre) working fruit-and-nut farm and offers old-fashioned decor, excellent amenities (including a full spa), and a great location with superb views; it's situated in Agatha, just outside Tzaneen. Rates, including a generous breakfast, are R2,000 double, R2,200 suite. Even better views are to be had from the friendly Magoebaskloof Hotel, off the R71, Magoebaskloof Pass (tel. 015/276-5400; www.magoebaskloof.co.za), which reopened after a devastating fire in 2004; it has been rebuilt with fewer rooms and a slightly more contemporary look, but retains its good value at R1,040 double, including breakfast. If you'd prefer to forgo a hotel stay for a more up-close immersion in the wild, book one of the two stilted forest cabins at Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge (tel. 015/276-1131; www.krm.co.za), and ask for dinner to be delivered to your deck.