Kruger Park: Then and Now

Sundar RamanSpot the elephant - Sundar Raman 

Everyone loves Kruger

The iconic Kruger National Park needs no introduction, as the largest game reserve in South Africa; it is considered one of the world’s best-loved game parks.  With two million hectares of undulating land stretching over 352 kilometres, it is the ultimate game-watching destination and attracts over 1.4 million visitors a year. Kruger is home to a huge variety of species; African Lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard and Black and White rhinoceros collectively form the Big Five, a name coined by big-game hunters and refers to the animals most difficult to hunt on foot. Ironically hunting and depleted wildlife was a key driver in the decision to form the Kruger National Park.

Chris EasonAfrican lion - Chris Eason  Andrea FlavioniElephants crossing - Andrea Flavioni 

Kruger; the days gone by

But what are the origins of Kruger National Park, and how has it evolved from a much-loved South African family holiday destination to the hotspot destination that it is today? With everything on offer from six star lodges, celebs and international jet set visitors, to the best budget options under the sun as well as an array of adventure activities on offer, the evolution of Kruger is remarkable. Recently I set out to discover its history and what makes it the iconic destination that it is.

Evidence of early human settlement is found in the Kruger dating back as far as the early stone age almost 2.5 million years ago; artefacts are still found today on most hilltops in the Limpopo and Luvubhu floodplains and along the Makhadzi Spruit. With its lush pastures, the game dense area attracted the San people and Nguni speaking people. The first known modern explorer to visit the area was Francois de Cuiper, in 1725 he led a Dutch East India company expedition from the Cape Colony, their adventure was short lived, they were attacked en-route by local tribes-people.

With stories spreading of the animal-rich destination, explorers Louis Trichardt and Hans van Rensberg led the first successful Voortrekker expedition to the Kruger; their oxen-pulled wagons cut a slow path through the bush as they made their way through the Lowveld. Along the way they cut wagon routes making the journey to and from the Kruger much more accessible. Today the park has a 2,500 km network of tarred and dirt roads.

In 1873 with discoveries of gold at the nearby Pilgrims Rest, fortunes seekers rushed to the area determined to make their riches. Together with the agricultural transformation and industrialisation of the greater Transvaal province, the impact on wildlife was substantial. Paul Kruger, President of the Transvaal Republic, proclaimed the Sabie Game Reserve in 1898. This would later form part of the Kruger National Park and Sabi Sand Reserve.

In 1913 a motion was put forward calling for the Sabie and Singwidzi Game Reserves to be nationalised. A national park, to be named after Paul Kruger, was in the national interest, to preserve the landscape and its wildlife.

Chris EasonOld railway bridge, Sabie - Chris Eason 

Kruger's first tourists

Ten years later, the first large group of tourists started visiting the Sabie Game Reserve as part of the South African Railway’s “Round in Nine” tours, the tour highlight was an stop at Sabie Bridge (now Skukuza), where the new tourist would take a short bush walk with armed ranges, this was considered revolutionary at the time. News of this spread like wildfire, with the popularity of the tour fuelling support for the campaign to form the park, fast forward thirteen years and the Kruger National Park was created.

A mere four years later and the first three tourist cars entered the park, by 1929 tourism was booming with 850 cars visiting in one year alone, remarkable given the road conditions. South African families were mesmerised by the Kruger, the national icon became the go-to holiday destination. Over the years Kruger has grown in popularity with international visitors, in particular those seeking the ‘ultimate experience’ holiday, it is now regarded as a destination in itself.

Harvey BarrisonCape Buffalo - Harvey Barrison 

A wildlife wonderland 

Today while the historic Kruger offers a wildlife experience that ranks with the best in Africa, it offers multiple attractions that see visitors returning year on year. It is home to an impressive number of species including 147 mammals, 114 reptiles and 507 birds.

Bernard Du PontYellow billed Kite - Bernard Du Pont 

Whether you dream of sleeping in a tree house, playing golf in the wild, Kruger offers it all (and more).

FlowcommSkukuza golf course - Flowcomm 

Our favourite things to do in Kruger:

Steve SlaterElephant at sunset - Steve Slater 

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