Camping at Pretoriuskop

Image

In my opinion, Pretoriuskop is probably the most underrated camp in the entire Kruger National Park. This rest camp is the oldest camp in the park, and you can tell this as soon as you drive through its gates. It is absolutely brimming with history – there are so many stories to be told. I think if Harry Wolhuter’s “Indaba Tree” could speak, it would have the most fascinating tales to tell. Harry Wolhuter was a ranger in the Park for 44 years, and he is the star of one of the most legendary tales in the Kruger Park’s history – the story of how he survived a lion attack in 1904. The “Indaba Tree” is where he held meetings with staff, and this tree still stands proudly in Pretoriuskop Rest Camp.

One of my fondest memories of the Kruger Park is from a family holiday we had at Pretoriuskop about 7 years ago. I don’t remember exactly what time of year this was, but I’m assuming that it was during school holidays, because there was very little accommodation available. The only space we managed to reserve was at Pretoriuskop, in the little, original 2-bed rondawels (round huts). Although I think some of my family members were apprehensive to begin with, it turned out to be absolutely brilliant. As I’ve said before in another post, it was possibly the most “authentic” Kruger Park trip I’ve ever had. All the time, I just had the sense that this was what it must have been like staying in the Kruger Park in the early days. Those are days I wish I could have experienced.

But in June 2012, I embarked upon one of my solo trips to the Kruger, and this time I spent 2 nights camping at Skukuza, and 2 nights at Pretoriuskop.

Arriving at Pretoriuskop, my check-in was processed quite quickly, and I rushed off to find the ideal spot to camp. One of the great things about Pretoriuskop is that so much of the camping area is right along the fence, and it took me very little time to settle into a spot at the fence, in the north-western corner of the camp. I feel like there’s something for everyone at Pretoriuskop, though. There are some smaller spots right along the fence, and some much bigger spots away from the fence. There is plenty of shade and privacy, and I can promise that you’ll find just the kind of spot that you had in mind before arriving.

There are 2 camping areas at Pretoriuskop – one in the north-western corner of the camp, and another in the south-western corner. After finding such a perfect spot right in the north-western corner of the camp, I didn’t even bother to drive down to the other camping area to see if there was something better.

The soil was much softer in Pretoriuskop than it had been at Skukuza, and camp was set up quickly. Rumour had it that game viewing wasn’t too good around Pretoriuskop, but with such a great campsite, I wasn’t really concerned.

Power outlets are nicely set out, and never too far from where your campsite will be set up. This may have changed since June 2012, but back then there were none of the recycling/rubbish bins that you find in most camps nowadays – there were just normal “baboon-proof” black bins, but there were plenty of them around. Also, the nearest tap to me was a short walk away, but it seems that I was about as far away from a tap as anyone else.

If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I’m all-for campsites that are demarcated, as this prevents you from having neighbours that get too close. While the sites at Pretoriuskop are not marked out, as such, the braais (BBQ’s) are fixed in place, making it obvious how many campers should be in any given area.

To the game viewing: While it is true that game is possibly harder to spot around Pretoriuskop, due in part to the long grass associated with the area, there are a number of reasons that this shouldn’t put you off. First of all, there is plenty of wildlife around. While I didn’t see any lions, I could certainly hear them at night while I was in camp, and I’m sure that if I’d had a bit more time, I would have been able to track them down. Having said this, I still had some pretty good game viewing in the area, and had one of the best Rhino sightings of my life, near to the Shitlhave Dam.

Then, you cannot overlook the fact that Pretoriuskop is one of the most beautiful areas, and even if there was no wildlife around, the beauty of the surrounding scenery should be enough to attract you to the area. On my second day in camp, I took a long drive on the H2-2, S14 and S8, then crossing back over the H1-1 and doing the S10/S7/S3 loop, and I’ll tell you, the area is absolutely breathtaking.

If you’re not sold on the area yet, then consider this: Pretoriuskop rest camp is only 24km from Phabeni Gate. It’ll take you less than 1 hour to get there, and the S1 (Doispane Road) that goes from there, almost all the way up to Skukuza, has been one of the most prolific game viewing routes in the entire Park for many years. Lion, Leopard and Wild Dog sightings have become an almost-daily occurrence, and aside from Skukuza, Pretoriuskop Camp is in the best location for reaching this game-rich area.

Apart from the area, it’s no surprise to me that Pretoriuskop has become known as the “friendly camp”. From shop assistants to petrol attendants and reception employees, everybody greets you with a cheerful smile, and you’ll always feel welcome and at home.

Pretoriuskop has all of the facilities you could possibly need while camping in the Kruger Park, including a laundromat, communal cooking and washing-up facilities, a petrol station, a restaurant and well-stocked shop, game drives, and probably the best swimming pool in the whole Park.

Also worth mentioning was that my campsite was about as far as one could be from the ablution facilities, and yet this was still only a 2 minute walk away, down a paved road. The ablutions were some of the best I’ve ever experienced in the Kruger. They were neat and clean, there was always hot water and there was plenty of space in the shower cubicles. You can’t really ask for more than that.

The only negative experience I had was that on my last evening in camp, I’d been out on a game drive and I arrived back in camp quite late to find that someone had pitched their tent in the spot I’d been parking my car – not more than a meter away from my tent. He had his own portable braai with him, and when another neighbour of mine came over and told this guy that he shouldn’t have set up there, as it wasn’t a campsite, he just said “Well, what can I do?”. It probably wouldn’t have been too bad, except that he was a very invasive neighbour, and didn’t ever leave me alone for more than 5 minutes. He also tried everything he could to attract Hyenas to the fence, using raw meat – which is not allowed under any circumstances, and there are plenty of signs around the camp telling you this.

I’m a pretty easy-going kind of guy, but had it not been my last evening in camp, I would have gone to reception to complain, and I have no doubt that they would have moved my new neighbour to a different spot. It wasn’t great having to park my car further down the road because my parking spot now had a tent in it, and lying in bed at night knowing that my new neighbour’s head wasn’t more than a meter away from mine was a pretty uncomfortable experience.

Apart from that, Pretoriuskop was nothing short of brilliant, and I give it a 9 out of ten. It’s nearly impossible to fault the old camp, and I highly recommend you try it out. I had a fantastic time there, and will certainly be back in future.

The morning I left was difficult, because I’d quickly formed a bond with this character-filled camp. I decided the best way to prolong my experience was to leave through Paul Kruger gate – some 60km away from Pretoriuskop. This turned out to be one of the best decisions I’d ever made. I headed up to Phabeni Gate, and then got onto the S3 which is a sand road that basically follows the Sabie River all the way up to Paul Kruger Gate.

I saw plenty of wildlife along the way, including some Buffalo and many Elephants. Not even 2km from Paul Kruger Gate, I dove through a dry river bed, and lying in the middle of the riverbed in the shade of an old tree was a Leopard. She wasn’t even 15 metres away from me. My heart just about stopped as I spotted her. I switched my car off and sat there for half an hour watching her – without another car coming by. Of all the wonderful Kruger Park experiences I’ve had, this was one of the best. I could almost not believe my luck – especially as I knew I was only a few minutes away from leaving the Park.

All-in-all, I had the time of my life. If you haven’t been to Pretoriuskop yet, head over to www.sanparks.co.za and make your booking now. Whether you’re a camping kind of person, or you’d prefer a little rondavel, a family cottage or one of the amazing guest houses (which I’ve stayed in too), I give you my word that you’ll love this camp.

If you’ve stayed at Pretoriuskop before, then I know I’m preaching to the converted, because I’m sure you love this camp too. If you have been there before, or if you have any questions/comments, please drop them below, or feel free to e-mail me.

Unfortunately, when I stayed at Pretoriuskop more than a year ago, I had no plans of starting a blog – so I didn’t take any photos of the campsite. But follow this link, and the images should give you a pretty good feel of what Pretoriuskop Rest Camp is like: http://www.krugerpark.co.za/Kruger_National_Park_Lodging_&_Camping_Guide-travel/pretoriuskop-camp_images.html

ExploreKNP

Twitter: @ExploreKNP

E-mail: exploreknp@gmail.com

Advertisements

Camping at Lower Sabie

Image

One of the best things, for me, about camping at Lower Sabie was how pleasantly surprised I was by this camp. Not to say that I wasn’t expecting it to be good – I just wasn’t expecting it to be as absolutely brilliant as it was. Lower Sabie lies on the banks of the mighty Sabie River, and thanks to the large supply of water, much wildlife is attracted to the area – which in turn attracts plenty of tourists to this camp. In fact, during peak seasons, Lower Sabie is often fully booked nearly a year in advance.

Situated only 11km from the border of Mozambique, Lower Sabie is popular for, amongst many things, its massive trees and well-shaded lawns. There’s not much better than relaxing in the shade on one of these lawns, or sitting on the large deck that overlooks the Sabie River, gazing out at this awesome creation, watching elephant, buffalo and hippo grazing alongside the river.

Because I only had 2 nights at Lower Sabie, I didn’t have too much time to sit around and relax – there was too much else to do! Too many other things to see! The couple that I camped next to at Lower Sabie had been there for 18 days, and I can completely understand this. In fact, I’m sure I could spend more time than that in this lovely rest camp. I actually read a blog about a couple who spent an entire month at Lower Sabie in 2011, if I’m not mistaken. That sounds like a proper holiday!

Back to my experience. I’d driven to Lower Sabie from Berg en Dal, which is a good 70km away. I’d left Berg en Dal fairly early that morning and taken a slow drive up the S25, along the Crocodile River. Although it had been a thoroughly enjoyable drive, by the time I got to Lower Sabie, I was ready to stretch my legs and get my camp set up.

The lady at reception was very friendly and professional. Lower Sabie handled my check-in much better than Berg en Dal had, and I was driving around the campsites in no time at all, searching for the perfect spot. I read an entertaining post by Rachel Lang (bushboundgirl.com) about finding the right spot to camp in, and I can totally relate. There are so many factors to consider: shade, view, the type of ground, your potential neighbours, proximity to ablutions, etc. Each spot has its own advantages and disadvantages, and this can turn your setup into a tricky exercise!

Fortunately I had my work cut out for me at Lower Sabie, as there were only 4 campsites available. The spot I originally wanted had no braai and the next spot I came across was right on the perimeter of the camping area, and offered very little privacy. Spots 3 and 4 were opposite each other, and as I arrived, someone pulled into one of them, so I took the other one. The nice thing about camping at Lower Sabie is that the campsites are demarcated, and there’s a bit of space in between all of the sites. I was very happy with my little piece of Lower Sabie, and thanks to relatively soft ground, I had my entire campsite set up in about 20 minutes. Here’s a typical Lower Sabie campsite:

Image

All of the campsites have power, and as far as I could tell, you’d never really need a particularly long extension lead to reach the nearest power outlet. You will, however, need the blue “caravan” adaptor. You can buy them at the shops in the Park, but I’d recommend trying to get one outside of the park where they’ll certainly be cheaper! Also, there’s a tap between every few campsites, as well as rubbish and recycling bins, and you’ll never have to walk more than a few metres to reach them. There are kitchen facilities with the usual cooking and cleaning facilities traditionally found in the Park, as well as boiling water on tap, which is an addition to the kitchen facilities that I’m grateful for.

It was now lunch time and I’d been busy all day, so I decided to go and sit on the deck that overlooks the Sabie River and order a toasted sandwich. Although it was fairly pricey, it was a good, well-prepared meal.

After lunch I decided to go past reception to see if there was space for me on the night drive for that evening, and once again, Lower Sabie did not disappoint. The cost of the night drive at Lower Sabie was R262.20, and while this is not necessarily cheap for a South African, it was worth every single Cent!

I spent most of the afternoon driving around the general Lower Sabie area in the Park, and was back in time to have a quick dinner and a shower before the night drive. I’d read about the “old” and “new” ablutions at Lower Sabie on the SANParks forums, and decided I’d give the new ones a go this evening. While the new ablutions are a great facility, they’re also very popular because of this, and there was no hot water for me that evening. From then on, I only made use of the older ablution block, and it was perfectly adequate. Although not as nice as the newer ones, or even the ablutions at camps like Skukuza and Pretoriuskop, the older ablutions were always clean and quiet, and I never had to have a cold shower.

Image

On the left are the “old” ablutions, and the “new” ones are on the right.

The night drive that evening was nothing short of spectacular. We met our guide, Dingaan, in the parking lot at 18:15, and once he’d ensured that all of our indemnity forms were in order, we set off into a dark and mysterious Kruger National Park. There’s not much quite as exciting as spotting a glowing pair of eyes staring back at you in the darkness, and then investigating to see what you’d found. To cut a very long story short, we saw Lion, Hyena, Buffalo, Crocodile, Hippo, Porcupine, Elephant, a Side-Striped Jackal, African Civet, a Martial Eagle, a Honey Badger, Giraffe and a lot of the more common game as well. One of the highlights of the night drive was when we stopped in an area in the middle of nowhere, about as far from camp as we ever got that evening. We were watching an African Civet enjoying its dinner, but after it scampered off into the darkness, Dingaan cut all of the power in the game viewing vehicle, and we were swallowed by the darkness. There was only the tiniest sliver of the moon visible, and our guide told us to just sit in silence, enjoying the darkness. It was the most unbelievable thing. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced darkness quite as dark as that, or silence quite as silent as that. I think I could easily have sat there for hours. But we only had 3 hours available to us, and we had a long drive back to camp.

Although it became very cold on the last hour of the drive, there were blankets in the game drive vehicle, and combined with the adrenaline of being out in the park in the darkness, we were all warm enough. All said and done, it was R262.20 well spent, and when I got back to my tent, I just sat outside for a while, trying to process it all. It’s probably better to read “Day 3 of my Kruger Adventure” (http://wp.me/p3AsCq-5F), for a full account of this, but I was overwhelmed by the vastness and magnificence of this bit of creation.

I was up early the next morning to take a long drive up North, via some of my favourite spots in the park, but I also got to spend a good bit of time inside Lower Sabie that afternoon. I walked around most of the camp just to see what it’s like, and I’d say that no matter what kind of accommodation you choose, you’ll have a thoroughly great time.

Some family of mine had been at Lower Sabie a few months before me and had said that there was quite a bit of construction happening in camp, which was a bit of a negative factor. While this is true to an extent, I was pretty-well completely unaffected by any construction noise at my campsite, and I’m sure the construction will be finished soon – so I wouldn’t let that put you off. Also, it obviously stops in the evening, and I can guarantee that while you’re lying in bed, you’ll hear nothing other than the sounds of the bush and the roaring Sabie River off in the distance. Unless you have a neighbour like I did, whose snoring would give any construction site a run for its money! But that can happen wherever you camp, and is likely to affect you worse at a camp where the sites aren’t demarcated, and your neighbour parks his caravan right on top of your tent!

At Lower Sabie, I also had the friendliest neighbours I’ve ever had in a campsite! For the most part, campers were either young families or retired couples. But all of them strolled past and had a quick chat with me to see how things were going, and what I’d spotted in the Park that day. On my last evening in Lower Sabie, two of my neighbours even put in a consolidated effort to ensure that I had a big enough bonfire for my last evening in the Kruger Park! You can read about that in my Day 4 account of this year’s Kruger Adventure (http://wp.me/p3AsCq-66).

Lower Sabie Rest Camp offers just about every sort of facility or amenity you could want from a rest camp in the Kruger National Park – from a swimming pool to a well stocked shop, a good restaurant, first aid, a petrol station, a laundromat and even DSTV in the guest houses, if that’s your cup of tea. I even caught a bit of the cricket on TV while I was having lunch on the deck that overlooks the river. Accommodation available includes campsites, huts, bungalows, safari tents (which come highly recommended) and guest houses, and most of the accommodation is wheelchair-accessible too.

Pros of Camping at Lower Sabie:

-Lower Sabie Rest Camp is ideally located for prime game-viewing;

-Campsites are clean, well maintained and demarcated;

-Any amenity you might need is available;

-The staff are friendly, courteous and professional;

-The ablutions are clean and well maintained, and sufficient to cater to the camp, even if it’s at full capacity;

-My experience was that all of the other campers were friendly and talkative, without being invasive – and they looked to help out wherever they could.

Cons of Camping at Lower Sabie:

-There are no campsites available along the fence;

-Getting a booking at Lower Sabie can be very tricky, due to the high demand on this camp;

-There was a bit of construction going on in the camp, but I’m sure this will be finished soon. Construction is good, in any case – it means that facilities are being maintained and upgraded, which is important.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 Image

Above: A few different views of the campsites at Lower Sabie.

Overall, I give Lower Sabie a 9 out of 10. If they offered campsites at the fence, I wouldn’t hesitate in giving them the full 10 out of 10! My experience was that Lower Sabie is trying hard, and there’s not really much that it could improve on! It’s a stunning camp, full of character. It has an atmosphere about it that you’ll experience as soon as you drive through the entrance gates. It’s hard to explain, but it’s there and you’ll know what I’m talking about once you arrive.

As I’ve said, Lower Sabie is ideally situated for some of the best game viewing that the Park has to offer, and is within driving distance for day-trips down to Skukuza, or up to Tshokwane Picnic Site, via Mlondozi Dam & Picnic Site, as well as the magnificent Nkumbe lookout point. If you’re not into landmarks, there’s also a huge amount of ground that you can cover between the H4-1, H4-2, H3 and the Crocodile River, which would be relatively quiet and make for a brilliant game drive.

There’s not much else that I can say for Lower Sabie. I give it two thumbs up, and will return there without hesitation in future. I loved staying in this character-filled, old camp and will certainly vouch for it. Make your reservation now – space is hard to come by in this camp, and now I know why! You’ll go there, you’ll fall in love with it, and you won’t want to leave. On my last evening there, I caught my mind calculating how much it would cost to live there permanently! We can only dream!

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and please feel free to either leave your comment below, or drop me an email sometime. I’d love to hear about your experience at Lower Sabie.

Kind Regards,

ExploreKNP

Twitter: @ExploreKNP

E-mail: exploreknp@gmail.com

Image

Camping at Berg en Dal

Image

The name “Berg en Dal” means “Mountain and Dale”, and is the perfect name for this camp which is set amongst the rolling hills found in the South-Western corner of the Kruger Park. The camp was opened in 1984, making it one of the newer rest camps in the Park. Its architecture is somewhat different to other rest camps in the Kruger, sporting face brick walls and none of the traditional “rondawels” that one might associate with the Kruger Park. Whether you prefer this or not is up to your own preference, but I personally enjoy  accommodation at Berg en Dal is also lovely. Just slightly different.

I have stayed at Berg en Dal on quite a number of occasions in the past. My parents used to take us there as children, partly because of the convenience of Berg en Dal’s location (situated just 12Km from Malelane Gate, which is just off the N4 highway), and partly because it really is a great camp that settles perfectly into its beautiful surrounds. More recently, I’ve stayed in the Rhino Guest House twice which is also fantastic and caters for larger groups. These days, however, my passion is camping. No matter how much money I have, or what I can afford, I would still pick camping over any other form of accommodation in the Kruger.  For me, there is no better way to experience the bush. Generally speaking, fellow campers are very friendly and love to strike up a conversation with you. You can pitch your tent or park your caravan right next to the fence if you’d like to, and with nothing more than a couple of millimetres of canvas separating you from the outside world, camping really is like having a front-row seat at the Kruger National Park. I love lying in my tent listening to the roar of a Lion or the cry of a Jackal off in the distance. I love sitting by the fire at night hoping to spot a Hyena scavenging along the fence. It’s the best way to experience the Kruger Park in my opinion, and I aim to experience as much of the Park in this way as possible. So far, I’ve camped twice at Skukuza, as well as at Pretoriuskop, Lower Sabie and now Berg en Dal.

To my knowledge, there are 12 camps in the Kruger Park that offer camping as a form of accommodation, and I’m slowly working my way through all of them. If you’ve not read the intro to my ExploreKNP blog yet, open this link (https://exploreknp.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/welcome-to-exploreknp/) in a new tab, and read it once you’re done here, to gain a better understanding of what my mission is all about.

After taking 2 solo trips to the Kruger Park, and having camped at Skukuza and Pretoriuskop prior to this year’s trip, I was keen to try out the campsites at Berg en Dal and Lower Sabie. The reason for this was because I’ve heard that the campsites at Berg en Dal are some of the best in the Kruger Park, and although I’d heard that camping at Lower Sabie was not so great, I know from experience that it’s a fantastic camp in a brilliant location, and so I made my booking. At about 7:30am on the 10th of June 2013, I drove through Malelane Gate for the start of my Kruger Adventure.

Having heard many good things about camping at Berg en Dal and knowing that this rest camp had won the prestigious “Rest Camp of the Year” award on a number of occasions in the last few years, combined with my early entry into the Kruger Park, and with that, the promise of a campsite along the fence, my expectations were high. About half an hour after entering the Park, I drove through the gates of Berg en Dal rest camp, and straight to reception. Upon checking in, I was given a full-colour map of the rest camp which was really nice in comparison to the black and white ones I’ve received in the past, as ablutions, kitchen facilities and other amenities are easy to spot as they are colour-coded, and clearly set-out.

My only issue at reception was that the lady who assisted me accidently charged double the amount to my card that she should have for conservation fees, and didn’t know how to reverse the transaction. Granted, it was partly my fault for not checking the amount when I entered my PIN, but who could blame me? I was too distracted by the excitement of being in my favourite place in the entire world! The receptionist then tried to sell me a night drive instead of refunding me. I turned this down because I was planning to do this in a few days’ time at Lower Sabie. She then said I could fill out a refund form, but that my money would only be paid back to me in a month’s time. When I said to her that there must be a better way, she phoned the shop manager who came over to reception and tried to help. He couldn’t work out how to refund the transaction, but said he had an instruction booklet at the shop, which he then went to fetch. After following the instructions, my money was transferred back into my account immediately and the problem was resolved. Unfortunately, it took about 20 minutes to resolve, but I guess it wasn’t really a big issue – just a little frustrating at the time.

Anyway, although I’ve never camped at Berg en Dal before, I already had a pretty good idea of what the layout of the campsite was like and where I should try to camp from having read a couple of threads on the SANParks forums, and from a Berg en Dal map I downloaded. Camping at Berg en Dal is divided into 3 circles, and I knew I needed to find a space at circle number 3 if I wanted a spot along the fence. Arriving at circle number 3, however, I found that it was absolutely packed, and that there was no way I’d be camping along the fence. So I drove around until I found what looked to be a nice spot at circle number 1, and I parked my car to reserve the space. From here I set out on foot to see if I hadn’t missed something, or if there wasn’t perhaps a group of campers in a better location that looked like they might be packing up. After having covered every inch of circles 1, 2 and 3, I was satisfied that I had already found the best spot available under the circumstances, and began setting up camp.

Although the sand at the campsites was about as solid as sand can be, my tent and gazebo were up in no time at all, I had a good parking spot for my car, there was already one of the traditional green benches at my braai (BBQ), and although I hadn’t found a spot at the fence, I was facing a large stretch of veld (long grass) within the camp, which was beautiful none-the-less. I was also near enough to the ablutions and kitchen without being too near to any human traffic making their way to these facilities. At this point in time, I also had no neighbours. Not that I mind neighbours at all, but a bit of privacy is always good. I was happy. My home for the next 2 nights was set up, and I had a feeling that I was going to enjoy Berg en Dal.

Image

I drove down to the shop to buy some bread rolls for lunch. I buy all of the necessary groceries before entering the Park, but I always buy rolls inside the park so that they’re fresh. They’ve been fresh at Skukuza and Pretoriuskop in the past, but unfortunately I may as well have bought my rolls 3 days beforehand with the rest of my groceries, because the ones I bought at Berg en Dal this year were already quite stale. It didn’t bug me – I’m quite an easy-going guy, but I thought it probably is worth mentioning.

I headed back to my tent and had lunch. After lunch I decided to go for a drive. On my way back, driving up the tar section of the S110, I noticed a huge cloud of smoke above Berg en Dal. Arriving at the camp, I found that they were burning fire-breaks around the perimeter of the camp. I was instantly grateful for not having found a campsite along the fence. While I understand that firebreaks are absolutely necessary and must be burned at some point – especially in the dry winter months, it was very unpleasant even though I wasn’t too close to the fence. The camp was full of smoke, and ash fell all over the campsite. I made a cup of coffee, put it down on the table for a couple of minutes, and when I looked again, there was ash floating in it. As I say – necessary, but unpleasant. I certainly won’t hold that against Berg en Dal – it could have happened at any camp. But unfortunately it did happen at Berg en Dal and did spoil the experience to some extent.

The other thing that I arrived back to was new neighbours. Once again, I don’t mind neighbours at all, but these guys had over-stepped the boundary a little. There were 4 of them, and part of their elaborate setup (their sleeping quarters) was not more than about 60cm away from my tent. A little too close for comfort, some might say. They came over before I’d even stopped my car and apologised, saying that there were no other nice campsites available. Perhaps not “nice” ones, but there were many other campsites around that would have done a much more adequate job of accommodating their 4X4 trailer complete with large roof-top tent, caravan, gazebo, dining area and 2 SUV’s. In their favour, though, was that they were thoroughly nice people, and it was their first trip to the Kruger Park. I certainly wasn’t going to spoil that, and I decided to let them be. Aside from them staying up and chatting very late on both nights, and one of their cell phones ringing at full-volume, probably not more than 1 meter away from me at 3:30 am on one occasion, they were actually quite pleasant to have around and I enjoyed telling Chris (the most apologetic of the bunch) all about the Kruger National Park. He certainly took any opportunity he could to ask me questions, and I did my best to answer them.

Aside from the fire-break being burned around camp, and the too-close-for-comfort neighbours, I generally had quite a good time at Berg en Dal. On my second night there, I had a Serval come and visit me in the veld that my tent looked out onto, and there was an abundance of bird life in camp. The ablution facilities, while satisfactory, were not nearly as nice as in other camps, but each circle of campsites had its own ablutions and so I never had to queue for a shower, or suffer under a stream of cold water. The liquid hand soap dispenser was empty and didn’t get refilled while I was there which was a bit inconvenient, but not a major problem. The kitchen facilities were some of the best I’ve ever seen in the Kruger Park, and the boiling water on tap is really convenient for coffee and hot water bottles.

All of the campsites have electricity, but you’ll most likely need to bring a very long extension cord to reach the nearest outlet. Campsites don’t have their own power points, but rather central power points which feed up to 4 campsites. So depending on where and how you set up, you may struggle to reach the power points. At these central power points, there’s also a tap as well as a rubbish bin and a recycling bin. There are plenty of trees in the campsite, so it’s very unlikely that you’ll struggle to find shade. One of the few negative points is that the campsites are not demarcated, and as such, you might find that your neighbours pitch their tent or park their caravan slightly too close to you, as did happen to me. The other disadvantage of this is that some people set up excessively large campsites, taking up more space than would be allowed if the sites were demarcated. Berg en Dal offers 72 campsites. I wouldn’t really say that there are any sites to avoid, and the advantage of such big camping grounds is that just about everyone’s needs are catered for. What I mean by this is that I noticed that older people, or people with young children tended to camp nearer to the ablution/kitchen facilities, while there are also some very private, secluded and quiet sites like the one I got, as well as sites along the fence, and then there were also sites right along the main road offering very little privacy. I’m not sure why, but these very exposed sites seemed to be very popular, and I can’t imagine why. But one thing I have noticed is that you find a very large variety of different people in campsites – each one with their own preferences, and their own reasons for having those preferences. Some might even think I’m crazy for wanting a spot at the fence!

The other thing about Berg en Dal is that when I checked in, I was given a notice warning me about Baboons in the camp. I did encounter a Baboon at my tent, and while it was an entertaining experience in retrospect, if a Baboon feels threatened, it can be extremely dangerous, so this is definitely something to take note of.

With all of that taken care of, I can say that while Berg en Dal as a whole is a pleasant rest camp, it doesn’t really have the same sort of atmosphere that some of the other camps do, and I missed this while I was there. If you don’t know what “atmosphere” I’m going on about, then it’s nothing to worry about – you’ll love Berg en Dal none-the-less. But if you’re a bit of a Kruger veteran, then I’d still recommend giving Berg en Dal a go, just knowing not to expect the same sort of feel that you might associate with other camps.

Berg en Dal’s restaurant looks nice, although I didn’t try it out, and is in a beautiful location overlooking the Matjulu Dam that lies adjacent to the camp. This dam, and the Rhino trail that you can follow around camp are 2 of the highlights of Berg en Dal. The shop was a lot like most other shops in the Kruger Park, and aside from the bread roles being stale, I found the shop to be perfectly adequate. Another thing worth mentioning is the camp’s picnic/day visitor area. To reach it, you drive out of camp on the tar section of the S110, and turn left a short way down the road. It’s a thoroughly nice spot – there’s a central parking area with toilets and a place where you can hire a Skottel braai (gas BBQ’s), and each of the picnic spots are a short walk away, offering a bit of privacy and a breathtaking view.

This probably seems like quite a mixed review, and I guess it is, in a sense. The biggest problem I had at Berg en Dal, I suppose, is that I had extremely high expectations based on what I’d heard from other people, and unfortunately my expectations were not really met. The point I’m making is that although Berg en Dal was really nice, it was definitely not any better than any other camp I’ve ever stayed in. In fact, I’d probably prefer to stay at elsewhere in future. Having said that, I must stress that Berg en Dal was still very good, and if I was told it was the only place I could camp at for the rest of my life, I guess I probably wouldn’t be disappointed.

It’s just that with the very high calibre of accommodation that other camps in the Park offer, I would say that Berg en Dal is probably as good as most, but not better – which is unfortunately what I was expecting, because of what I’d read and heard, coupled with the fact that Berg en Dal has won “Rest Camp of the Year” so many times recently. It is interesting to note that Olifants Rest Camp won the award this time around. I’m not sure if this is because Berg en Dal has lowered their standards somewhat, or because Olifants has raised theirs, but the fact does remain. It is also unfortunate that the fire-breaks were burned while I was there, and that I had a too-close-for comfort-neighbour, but neither of these things are Berg en Dal’s fault with the exception that perhaps they could demarcate their campsites.

To conclude, Berg en Dal is, in my opinion, better than camping anywhere outside of the Kruger Park, but it wouldn’t be my first choice inside the Park. This is partly because of my own preferences, and partly because of a number of minor things not being quite up to scratch.

Would I stay there again? Yes, certainly – but only if I knew I’d be pressed for time in arriving at the Kruger Park and needed a camp close to an entrance gate, or if I couldn’t get a reservation in another camp.

Would I recommend that you camp at Berg en Dal? Definitely. Just because it didn’t quite manage to meet the level of excellence I’ve experienced in other camps does not mean it wasn’t brilliant anyway. Also, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be there while they’re burning fire breaks, and you probably won’t have an overly-intrusive neighbour either. If these two factors had not been present during my stay there, I would probably have completely overlooked the other shortcomings I experienced.

I would give Berg en Dal 7.5 out of 10. It was very good, but not quite as good as Skukuza (8/10) or Pretoriuskop and Lower Sabie (9/10). Of course, you have to remember that this is just the way that I experienced these camps, and you might well experience them slightly differently. Hopefully this post just gives you an idea of what it’s like. If you’ve camped at Berg en Dal before, I’d love for you to drop a comment below. Also, if you’ve camped at Malelane Camp before, I’d love to hear about it, as my next couple of trips to the Park will be further north, starting with Satara this September, but I really want to know what Malelane is like. Feel free to drop me an e-mail on exploreknp@gmail.com. Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I wish you much happy camping in the Kruger!

Below are a number of photos I took, standing at my campsite at circle number one. This should give you a pretty good idea of what the campsites at Berg en Dal are like.

Image

Image

Image

Camping at Skukuza

For those who have not done so yet, it’s probably a good idea for you to read the introduction to ExploreKNP (https://exploreknp.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/welcome-to-exploreknp/) before you continue reading – just so that you’ve got some idea what this blog is all about.

Camping at Skukuza

The first time I took a solo trip up to the Kruger National Park was in November 2011. This was a great time to visit the park, because it was relatively quiet. The weather was generally pretty mild, which is unusual for that time of the year, and it rained quite a lot. When I’m camping, there’s not much that I enjoy more than lying in my tent at night, listening to the rain. I have to say that I’d gladly substitute the sound of rain with that of the distant roaring of lions, though.

Although I’ve not heard the best reviews about camping at Skukuza, I decided to go with it anyway. The reason for this was that I like to go prepared, and with this being the first time I’d camped on my own, Skukuza was a good option because it has a mechanic, a petrol station, a doctor, a couple of restaurants, a big shop that stocks just about everything, and an ATM, amongst other things. With a bit of experience under my belt, I can tell you that these amenities aren’t necessary at all.

What most people say about Skukuza is that it’s a very busy, noisy camp – and this is what puts them off. While this is true, to a degree, I really don’t think it should put you off. My experience was that while it is quite lively, it generally creates a fairly pleasant “vibe” or atmosphere. The main complex certainly is quite busy, but only with tourists who are absolutely loving being in the park, and having the time of their lives. I don’t blame them for being a bit excitable.

So here’s my experience:

I arrived at around 1pm on Monday afternoon. I had a fairly late start, leaving Pretoria at about 7am. On the way I stopped at Milly’s along the N4 for a Seattle Coffee Co. cappuccino, and then again in White River to meet up with a friend of mine. I entered the Park through Paul Kruger Gate, and headed straight along the H11 to Skukuza. Experience has taught me that this is too late to arrive if you want a campsite next to the fence, and the following year I left home at 4am, and only stopped briefly in White River for a takeaway coffee.

That said, I still got a campsite that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was near enough to the ablutions and communal kitchen to be convenient to me, but far enough away that I wasn’t disturbed by people visiting these facilities. The ablutions were well maintained, and more than sufficient to cater to the entire campsite. The kitchens were fine, although the stoves definitely needed replacing, but I prefer to cook on the braai (BBQ) anyway. I only use the stoves for brewing coffee in a Moka Pot.

The campsites in Skukuza are far enough away from the shop and main complex that you won’t be disturbed by day-visitors, and once again, close enough to walk to if need be. While there’s not much grass around, the sites are mostly very level (apart from some of the spots along the fence), and surrounded by enough trees and bushes to give you a bit of privacy, and give you the feeling of being out in the bush. The down-side, however, was that even in the rainy season, the ground was rock hard! So hard, in fact, that the following year when I spent a couple of nights in Skukuza in the dry winter season, I saw a few campers actually drilling holes in the ground to hammer their pegs into.

Each campsite has it’s own braai (BBQ), tap and power point, and rubbish & recycling bins. The braai is cleaned and the bins are emptied daily. It must be noted that the power points require a blue “caravan” adapter. On my first trip, I was unaware of this, and the well-stocked Skukuza shop certainly came in handy. On my second night in Skukuza, it was pouring with rain, and there was no way that I was going to be able to cook on a fire, so I paid a visit to the Selati Station Grill House (http://www.sanparks.co.za/parks/kruger/tourism/selatirest.php), which is definitely worth a visit! My experience was decent, well-priced food and good service, coupled with being able to enjoy a meal at the original Sabie Bridge Station, alongside the actual train that ran through the park, bringing the public to the Sabie Game Reserve (as the park was known before 1926).

To cut a long story short, I spent 3 nights camping at Skukuza in 2011, and thoroughly enjoyed myself – so much so, that I went back for 2 more nights in June 2012. Most of the staff were very friendly & helpful, fellow campers are polite and considerate, and Skukuza, although busy, is a wonderful camp. It is situated in a good spot along the Sabie River, and there is plenty of wildlife around. While there, I saw 4 of the big 5 (only missing out on Leopard) and plenty of other animals.

There are lots of good game-viewing routes to follow. I took a drive along the H1-2 up to Tshokwane Picnic Site, then across to Lower Sabie Restcamp for lunch, stopping at the phenomenal Nkumbe Lookout Point along the way, and then back down the other side of the Sabie River on the H4-1 to Skukuza, stopping at the Nkhulu Picnic Site to stretch my legs. On this drive I saw, amongst other things, Lion, Rhino, Buffalo and Elephant.

Skukuza is also near-enough to the S1 Doispane Road, which has been a brilliant road for spotting game – with visitors seeing plenty of Lion, Wild Dog and Leopard in recent times. When staying at Skukuza, you could take a drive down the H3 to the Stevenson-Hamilton grave. James Stevenson-Hamilton was appointed the first warden of the game reserve in 1902, and much of what the Park has become today is due to Stevenson-Hamilton’s great efforts and hard work. I took this drive in 2011 and was rewarded with a really good Hyena sighting. It’s also worth visiting Lake Panic on the H11 when staying at Skukuza.

To summarize briefly, Skukuza is a lovely camp. It offers all of the facilities you could possibly need, but also promises peace and quiet, and a true African Kruger Park bush experience. It’s located in a magnificent part of the park, and is near to the Paul Kruger Gate, as well being close enough to a number of other camps and points of interest. Arrive early and you should have a good selection of campsites to choose from, but remember to bring a heavy hammer and some strong pegs to deal with the hard ground.

Please contact me with any questions or experiences of Skukuza Restcamp, or feel free to post a comment below.

Kind Regards,

ExploreKNP

exploreknp@gmail.com

Twitter: @ExploreKNP