I’m Kazim Ghafoor – a 27 year old doctor based in London. Welcome to my guide on the amazing Kruger National Park in northeastern South Africa.
I’ve always loved channelling my inner creativity through art. This used to be through oil painting but I transitioned to photography when I entered medical school. I had less time (and space) to continue painting.
Over time, my passion for travel photography and exploring faraway landscapes and exotic destinations grew stronger and stronger. This creative venture has given me balance alongside my medical career.
Six Special Weeks in South Africa
I decided to visit South Africa for the opportunity to work in a rural hospital. However, I also jumped at the opportunity to travel within the country. The chance to go on safari for the first time was too good to turn down!
Two of my close friends (one of whom is incidentally South African) joined me for six weeks in South Africa. Three of these weeks were spent with the amazing Tshemba Foundation where we worked at the Tintswalo Hospital, approximately one hours drive away from Kruger National Park.
We then spent a week in Kruger National Park before spending a week road-trippin’ down to Cape Town. We stopped off at amazing places like Blyde River Canyon, Drakensberg, Hogsback and Plettenberg Bay. Our final week was spent exploring the beautiful port city of Cape Town.
Safari through Kruger National Park
We tended to move every night/other night to a different camp within Kruger National Park. We started off travelling north to Bateleur Bushveld Camp. Then driving south to stay at Olifants, Satara, Tamboti and Skukuza.
Our camps were a variety of tented accommodation and self-catered huts. The bigger camps of Olifants, Satara and Skukuza had excellent facilities as well as superb restaurants (which was a pleasant surprise)!
Having our South African friend and her photography-extraordinaire father help us organise the safari was just invaluable. It was great to participate in a safari and book accommodation independently of a tour company.
The Incredibly Vast and Varied Landscapes of Kruger
The landscape of Kruger National Park is incredibly vast and varied. There is a range of beautiful flora and fauna throughout the park, with large grazing areas as well as regions with more densely-populated trees.
There is also a variety of rivers and lakes. It was pretty surreal cruising around the park. It was a huge adventure. At times it felt like a massive game of hide and seek where we were trying to spot some of the more elusive wildlife.
Big Five: Lion, Leopard, Rhino, Elephant & Buffalo
It was incredibly special and humbling to witness so many majestic animals up close. It’s like no other experience I’ve ever had before. We were fortunate to see all of the Big Five Game Animals: lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalos. We also managed to see wild dogs which can sometimes be elusive.
The only animal we didn’t see was the cheetah. Although we had realistic expectations given the very low numbers within Kruger National Park.
Favourite Place in Kruger National Park – S100 Road
One of my favourite places in Kruger National Park was the S100 road. It’s a quieter gravel road compared to the main tar roads in the park. S100 was a particular highlight because it was here where we had some phenomenal experiences witnessing lions and leopards up close.
I also have fond memories of having great (and amusing) conversations with my friends, as we waited patiently for some bigger cat sightings.
Favourite Memory in Kruger National Park – Leopards
Hands down, my favourite memory was watching a leopard parade around a tree with a dead monitor lizard in his mouth, before deciding to lie down in the shade. We spent about an hour in awe of this majestic animal and we were literally five metres away from him.
I remember the shocked silence in the car as we couldn’t believe our luck. We stayed completely still as we remained mesmerised by the magnificent power and elegance of this stunningly beautiful creature. Leopard sightings can be rare which made our sighting of a leopard with a prey even sweeter.
Photography Tips for Kruger National Park
The hardest animals to photograph in Kruger were probably the wild dogs, leopards and rhinos due to their elusive nature. This is sadly down to illegal poaching, hunting and persecution which has dwindled their numbers.
I am hopeful that ongoing education and fundraising will help with anti-poaching efforts throughout the African continent. We, as visitors, can certainly help by financially supporting relevant anti-poaching units.
In terms of photography equipment, I definitely recommend investing in a zoom lens before you go on safari. It’ll be the single most useful tool to take some great photos. I used a 70-300mm f4-5.6 lens and there’s definitely scope to invest in a larger zoom.
I’d also recommend going out early in the morning for sunrise as well as venturing late in the afternoon before sunset. But beware – the camp gates close at sunset so don’t get trapped! In the early morning/late afternoon, the light is much softer and animal sightings increase.
Lastly, I think there is always a danger of just wanting to tick animals off a list. I would advise being patient and enjoy witnessing animal interactions whilst trying to capture that in your photography. Some of my favourite memories were from watching groups of elephants interacting.
Impressive Facilities of Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is an impressive place in regards to facilities and infrastructure. There are a large number of tar roads that are in excellent condition. Furthermore, there is a plethora of rest camps ranging from the more basic camping camps to the more luxurious catered huts.
We did encounter a lot of tourists during our visit, particularly around the larger camps of Skukuza and Satara. It was certainly much quieter the further north we went. Although our more enjoyable animal experiences were further south, around the Olifants River and the Lower Sabie.
What you Need to Know Before you Go
If you haven’t done a safari before, I think Kruger National Park is an excellent beginner safari due to the facilities and frequency of tourists.
Do your research before you travel. Check out the SAN parks website for all the information you need and to book accommodation.
If you only have a few days, I would recommend situating yourselves in the southern region of Lower Sabie and travelling up towards Olifants. The scenery here is beautiful and you should get some great animal sightings.