By Shae Doherty
I was lucky enough to experience both the Eastern Cape and Kruger Safaris in South Africa in June and you can read below the main differences below and also a review on some of the lodges I stayed at.
There’s no disputing it. Greater Kruger (consisting of Kruger National Park and its surrounding unfenced private game reserves like famous Sabi Sand, Timbavati, Klaserie and Balule) is THE ultimate safari destination in South Africa and you are pretty much guaranteed to see the big 5! However, South Africa is a big country and travelling distances are great. There may be times when you just won’t be able to fit in a visit to Greater Kruger. It’s the biggest wildlife conservancy in Africa at almost 2 million km² and it has more species than any other reserve: 507 birds, 336 trees, 147 mammals, 114 reptiles, 49 fish and 34 amphibians! It’s wild and natural with no artificial camps and enclosures. There are a few airports in Kruger as the national park is nearly as big as Wales alone. So it depends on which lodge you are staying at on where you will fly in, it takes approximately 30 mins – 1 hour from Johannesburg to fly to Kruger.
Savanna Private Game Reserve – Sabi Sands
This was one of the most amazing lodge Safari experiences I have ever been too. This is located in the Sabi sands region. When you stay at Savannah private game reserve you have a driver/guide and also a tracker when you have your morning and afternoon safaris, so you have two very experienced guides keeping an eye out for wildlife. It is amazing how they can see and hear wildlife from miles away, you only have the best guides at Savanna.
It is an all-inclusive lodge including all your alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Communal dining also, but every night is different where they dine so it’s always a surprise. To give you an example, I spent 3 nights there and for our first dinner it was in the main lodge, 2nd night was in an old train which they converted into a restaurant and the 3rd night was around the Boma, which is a traditional African starlit BBQ, a very unique experience and must on any South America safari! The food was incredible, with 3 course meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The accommodation is single fixed luxury tents or ‘glamping’ as I would call it. With a bath and indoor and outdoor shower. Very relaxing and private. I even came home after my afternoon safari to a bath filled with bubbles and a glass of port every night! Kruger has one of the highest populations of Leopard, so you have the best chance to see them here then anywhere else in Africa.
Eastern Cape Safaris
Just a short drive from the popular beaches and seaside towns of the Garden Route is South Africa’s Eastern Cape. It is private land that use to be a farming area and then turned into private lands/lodges and fenced between so the animals are restricted to stay within their area of the lodge. Some lodges also separate the predator’s to the other animals. They still have a large area to roam and you don’t feel they are locked in but they are not free to roam anywhere they like as in Kruger.
They’re fenced which makes a big difference. It’s a more controlled environment and there’s no natural migration of game. Most lodges can tell you exactly how many animals of each species they have at any given time. Some lodges also have enclosures where they keep some species for protection or conservation purposes. You often don’t feel the vast remoteness that you do in Greater Kruger – for example, you may need to drive on national roads to get from one part of the reserve to another, passing urban settlements along the way. One big plus of the this area it is a malaria free region so its one of the best places for a hassle free family safari and very easy access with only about 1.5 hour drive from Port Elizabeth major airport.
I have a few of the lodges in the area that I visited. Most of the places say that you can see the Big 5 (Lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and White/Black rhinoceros) but depending on what lodge you are at your changes of seeing Leopard are limited in Eastern Eape is limited as they kill too much of their other animals on the reserve. I have a list of some of the property’s around the area:
Woodbury Game reserve – Superior lodge. Big rooms, family run, a lot of character and heating in the rooms which is important especially in winter as it can get chilly at night. Bon fire every night and communal dining. Food was amazing. Choice of meat or seafood.
Kariega Game reserve – This is made up of few different lodges in the eastern cape depending on your budget and standard of accommodation that you prefer. Main lodge, Ukhozi Lodge, the homestead, setters drift and river lodge. With these lodges you will see the fences in the distance and they do separate the game from the predators, so it doesn’t have that free to roam feeling like you would get in the Kruger park but you can still see a high chance of seeing the big 4, leopard is there, but they do not have many so they are very hard to see.
Kraiega Main Lodge – Is luxury lofts on the hill on the edge of the 2 main rivers.
Kraiger river lodge – 10 Luxury and spacious air conditioned thatched suites. This is located right on the river. You take a 20 minute speedboat ride to get to the lodge. Canoeing is an option here. Located on the bushman’s river. It is also a 10 minute drive to the beach.
Settlers drift – This is brand new, 5 star unique tented safari. Very spacious with an extra outdoor shower and private deck with amazing views of the bush. No children under the age of 10.
Leeuwenbosch Country House – I stayed at this property. Our room in shearers lodge was spacious, comfortable and relaxing. The historical setting of the house, pre-dinner drinks in the cozy bar and shared dinners by the fire in the old dining place made for a great atmosphere. It is a 3 star property.
So in conclusion, Kruger is the best and most rewarding Safari destination in South Africa but if you don’t have the time and concerned about Malaria, Eastern Cape is a great alternative, as it works well in a South Africa itinerary as a stop along the garden route. It is only 30-1 hour drive from port Elizabeth airport and 4-5 hour’s drive to Johannesburg. Best time to go would be March/April or August/September which are the shoulder seasons, similar to weather in Australia. Winter is also good but they are very cold mornings but beautiful sunny days with no rain. In winter it is a very low risk of Malaria in Kruger also which is a plus.