The Kruger National Park is one of South Africa’s largest game reserves. It is home to a vast variety of wild animals including the Big Five; rhino, lion, elephant, leopard, and buffalo, many different antelope, giraffe, cheetah and birds. No trip to South Africa would be complete without a safari experience and the Kruger National Park is one of the best places to do that. The roads are in good condition making it accessible to any vehicle, there are plenty of animals guaranteeing some amazing sightings every day, and there are many different accommodation options if you’d like an extended stay in the park. However, safari experiences are often not very budget-friendly with park fees and accommodation prices being significantly more expensive than other parts of the country. So this blog post is about how to have a budget-friendly safari experience by doing a day trip to the Kruger National Park.
Where to base yourself
Graskop is about an hour’s drive from the Phabeni Gate of Kruger making it the perfect place to be based for a day trip. We stayed at the Wild Forest Inn in Graskop. To read all about it and what else you can get up to while in Graskop be sure to read these blog posts on The Panorama Route and The Blyde River Canyon.
Planning your day trip
Game viewing is best done first thing in the morning so you’re going to want to try and get to the gate in time for when it first opens. For us this entailed a 4 am wake up so we could hit the road at 4:30 am to get to the gate in time for 5:30 am. This time will obviously vary with the seasons. These are the current gate times but be sure to check the San Parks website for any updates or changes.
October-March: gate opens at 5:30
April-September: gate opens at 6:00
In order to maximise your time in Kruger National park I would recommend spending the whole day driving around the park and only leaving at gate closing time. These are the current gate times but be sure to check the San Parks website for any updates or changes.
November-February: gate closes at 18:30
March-April: gate closes at 18:00
May-July: gate closes at 17:30
August-October: gate closes at 18:00
Day Visitor Limit
The Kruger National Park has a threshold for the number of day visitors they allow in each day. This means that once they reach their daily limit of day visitors, they will stop allowing day visitors to enter the park. This is not really a concern out of school holidays and during the tourist low season. However during high season, school holidays, public holidays and long weekends this may be worth noting. If, like us, you’re unsure whether it’ll be an issue or not, phone ahead of time and ask the staff at the gate if they think it is worth booking ahead. If they advise that it is then you can follow the steps on the San Parks website.
We paid R100 per adult for South African citizens and residents. The other prices can be found at the San Parks website, however these prices do seem to be a bit out of date. You will need your ID or driver’s license to prove your citizenship or residency. Park entrance is free for those carrying a valid wild card.
Planning your route
If you’re planning to do this as a day trip from Graskop then Phabeni gate is the closest gate for you to enter the park through. Upon entering Phabeni gate take the S1 road to Skukuza. This is a brilliant stretch for good sightings and you’ll be doing it first thing in the morning which further increases your chances of spotting some nice game. Once you’ve arrived at Skukuza you can get out and stretch your legs for a bit, go to the toilet and maybe have a snack. We then continued on along the road towards Lower Sabie which is parallel to a river. You can stop at Nkuhlu for a picnic lunch with a lovely shady picnic spot overlooking the river. Finally turn around and drive back to Skukuza for your final loo break. From Skukuza you can take the H1-1 road all the way along to Numbi Gate where you’ll exit the park. There are some watering holes along this stretch where you can stop and watch the animals as they come for their evening drink. Be sure to watch the sky turn orange and the horizons change colour as the sun sets on the day and your day trip to the Kruger National Park. This is a circular route allowing you to see many different parts of the park rather than just going in and out along the same road. However, it is going to be really important that you keep an eye on the time so that you exit the park before the gates close (otherwise you may need to pay a hefty fine).
We absolutely loved our day trip to the Kruger National park and were treated to some incredible sightings of some beautiful animals. We saw countless giraffe, so many elephants super close up, lots of hippo eyes sticking up out of the watering holes, lots of beautiful yellow-billed hornbills, brightly coloured kingfishers, steenbok, waterbuck, bushbuck, warthogs and buffalo, slithering crocs, herds of brilliantly stripped zebra and even a white rhino spotted in the distance and watched through binoculars.
We had a wonderfully full day and really made the absolute most of our time in Kruger. I thought it was amazing that we were able to enjoy sunrise, sunset, and a full day of game viewing in such a short space of time. While a few days would be preferable to fully experience Kruger, a day trip was a perfect budget-friendly alternative. We drove towards the gate, watching as the African Sun set on yet another beautiful day. The golden light shone through the trees and we smiled, hearts full knowing that we’d made the very most of our day, spending 13 beautiful hours in the Kruger National Park.