The park was opened to visitors in 1927. A few cars visited that year and they all headed for Numbi Gate and Pretoriuskop, the first rest camp. Black-and-white prints in the reception give you an idea what a trip to the park used to be like: no luxuries, shops or petrol stations; in fact not much but cold water tanks and camp sites. Today you'll get a smile and free glass of chilled fruit juice at reception.
I was hoping to get accommodation in one of the new tents but couldn't get in at all, so we spent an extra night at Crocodile Bridge. Croc Bridge is located on a loop of the Olifants River, the park's southern boundary, and turned out to be among the very best. It's just that the sight and noise of sugar-cane farming across the Crocodile kind of breaks the mood.
Associate editor Nigel Dennis says in his "Where to Watch Game in the Kruger National Park" that Croc Bridge "is probably one of the most underrated in the entire park. As well as having a high density of general game, there is an excellent chance of seeing all of the Big Five in this area."
Normally, old Kruger hands will tell you, the best way to see game is to sit and wait at water holes in the early mornings and late afternoons. This year the problem was copious, very late summer rains. Well into winter there was still green, dense and high grass and bush cover, as well as water everywhere. You had to work extra hard to find game, though we still managed to see the Big Five. We also spent more time than usual enjoying the little things. One time we stopped a car behind us to allow two stick insects to cross the road ... then the car squeezed past and promptly crushed them.
New visitors to the park are customarily frantic to see the big and hairy animals, and in doing so miss much of what Kruger has. Most often they end up chasing away the very animals they are trying to see.
It will be different in a normal, dry winter year, but the only productive water hole in this area was Gesantfombi Dam just two kilometres from camp on the H4-2. Otherwise, the tarred H4 north and dirt S25 east were by far the best game-viewing routes. Elephant, white rhino and buffalo were particularly apparent. For cheetah, among the best places are the open plains along the Nhola Road (S28)... but forget Nhlanganzwane Dam which proved a long drive to see not very much at all.
Hippo Pools a short way west of camp on the Crocodile River gives the chance to get out your car and take a walk down to the pools with an armed guard. The rock art there, alas, was all but washed clean by the 2000 floods. Given that the paintings might have been there for 2 000, or 20 000 years, you can get an idea of the magnitude of that recent deluge.