It goes without saying that there is nothing more thrilling than being out on a game drive in Kruger and spotting a lion and its kill, or a herd of elephant making their way – perfectly in line – toward a river bed. What many people forget is that, at numerous waterholes, rivers and dams throughout the park, it’s also possible to sit quietly and watch as the animals come to you, rather than the other way around.
Here, we’ll list some of our favourite spots, to sit quietly and watch, in the Greater Kruger Park, including some that are floodlit, offering incredible sightings of nocturnal animals as they go about the business of quenching their thirst. (And scoping out who else is quenching their thirst, and whether they’ll make a good dinner, if you’re a lion!)
There have been moves in the last few years to remove the manmade waterholes in Kruger so as not to disturb the area’s natural ecosystem (which is what makes Kruger so wonderful). Also remember that the waterholes can range from abundantly full – during summer, the rainy season – to completely dry – during winter. Before heading off excitedly to a waterhole, check with guides at camp to find out what’s happening, where.
Girvana, Southern Kruger
Situated on the S12 north-west of Satara, Girvana waterhole has offered up great wildlife sightings, including cats like lions and cheetah. Park your car, turn off the ignition, and don’t forget to scan the surrounding bush to see the shy guys waiting in the wings.
Duke’s Waterhole, Southern Kruger
Right in the south of the park, take the S28 from Crocodile Bridge and turn off onto the S137. Watch out for white rhino, who are often seen along this road. Duke Road, on the left, leads to Duke’s Waterhole. This area is known for cheetah sightings.
Sable Waterhole, Central Kruger
This dam is called the Sable Dam because it is one of the few places that the shy – and incredibly beautiful, with their spectacular horns – Sable Antelope are spotted. Situated on the S51 not far from the Phalaborwa Gate, there’s a sleepover hide here too, for if you’re keen for an entirely immersive bush experience!
Mingerhout Dam, Northern Kruger
Along the S4 – Letaba River Road – which winds its way along the Letaba River, is Mingerhout Dam. This waterhole doesn’t (usually) dry up in winter, so it is the perfect spot during the dry winter months. Herds of animals gather here to drink and there are usually hippos and crocodiles below the dam wall.
Along The River
The Kruger Park covers almost 20 000 km2. In other words, it’s huge, and incorporates many different biomes and a number of rivers and dams. There are many fabulous lookout points on the rivers and it’s well worth stopping your car, turning off your engine and spending some time watching the comings and goings.
Hippo Pools, Crocodile Bridge, Southern Kruger
At the end of the S27 on the banks of the Crocodile River in the south of Kruger, Hippo Pools is known for its – surprise! – hippo sightings. There is a get-out point here and the guard can show you the remnants of San art on the rocks, as a bonus cultural injection in your wildlife experience.
N’wanetsi Picnic Spot, South-eastern Kruger
Perched up on a koppie overlooking the Sweni River, the views of the surrounding bush and mountains toward Mozambique is spectacular. If you’re lucky, you can watch game in the river bed below as you eat your picnic lunch.
Olifants River Bridge, Central Kruger
Slap-bang in the middle of the Kruger Park – the Olifants River not only divides the park into north and south, but is also the border between the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces – the 300 m-long bridge high above the Olifants River provides a spectacular ‘birds-eye’ view of the river below. And the animals drinking, bathing and frolicking there.
Olifants Camp, Central Kruger
Speaking of the Olifants River, mention needs to be made of Olifants Camp, perched high up on a hill with sweeping views over the river. Here, you can sit on your veranda (aim for bungalows 1 to 14 and 106 to 111 for river views) with a pair of binoculars and watch hippos wallow, crocs bask and an array of animals come to drink.
If you’re not in a river-facing bungalow, fear not, the camp’s restaurant has a great viewing deck over the river below. Also, under 10 km from camp is N’wamanzi Lookout which has equally incredible views down to the river.
Let There Be Light
A number of campsites have floodlit waterholes. Bundle up warmly, put some hot chocolate in a flask and take a seat. This is a show like no other you’ve ever experienced as the nocturnal creatures come down to drink (and sometimes hunt) to the soundtrack of the African night under a starry sky. Truly magical.
Floodlit waterholes are found at Orpen, Satara and Talamati, amongst others.
A number of private, luxury camps in Greater Kruger are built with their main areas and/or chalets overlooking waterholes. It’s hard to beat sitting on the deck drinking your morning tea while a herd of elephant take their morning shower in the waterhole in front of you!
Arathusa, Sabi Sands
Built on a large waterhole, the main deck and some of the suites at Arathusa offer views across the water. Eat your breakfast on the breakfast deck right on the water and watch as the animals come down to drink and hippos float about lazily.
Gomo Gomo, Klaserie
Here, too, the breakfast and lunch area overlook the waterhole and there’s the perfect deck on which to spend afternoons. Take your binoculars and marvel at the bird- and wildlife.
Camp Shawu, South-eastern Kruger
Built on the shore of Mpanamana Dam, this camp is named after Shawu, the elephant bull who roamed these hills for 60 years. He was one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ and had the largest tusks recorded in South Africa. Take a swim in the pool on the deck overlooking the dam and then take a seat and watch Shawu’s descendants drink and frolic in the dam.
If you want to get some insight into what goes on at the waterholes, check out the Sanparks Webcams at Orpen and Satara.