Notes for readers:
- Diary entries are written in first person as they were composed in real time.
- The “we” refers to me and a lifelong friend, Razz Rasberry, who has always wanted to see African wildlife.
- I refer to the arrival day and overnight in Johannesburg before flying to the park as “Day 0”.
Day 0 – Overnight in Johannesburg before flying on to South Africa’s Kruger National Park
Getting to South Africa’s Kruger National Park necessitates flying first to Johannesburg. The options from there are either driving a rental car four hours or flying one hour on a South African Express Airways RJ to Skukuza Airport (SZK, in the park) or to Mpumalanga Airport (MQP, a 45 minute drive from the park).
Daily flights operating between JNB (Johannesburg) and the two Kruger airports only leave morning and early afternoon. Travelers bound for the Kruger must arrive before late afternoon when the park gates close, the reason behind the limited flight options. Similarly, driving means starting the four hour journey by noon from JNB Airport in.order to reach the Kruger before the gates close.
All of which means whatever international flight I choose must arrive JNB early morning if I want to get to the Kruger the same day. If the overseas flight arrives JNB after late morning, then I have to overnight in Johannesburg and fly or drive to the Kruger early the following morning.
That’s what we did this 2020 trip because the Delta flight didn’t touch down until 4:00 PM. We have rooms tonight [day 0] at the City Lodge JNB Airport, which is built over the airport parking garage and which we simply walked to in 8 minutes after clearing immigration and customs.
Despite the need to overnight in Johannesburg, I think Delta’s nonstop Atlanta to Johannesburg is a way more convenient means of reaching Johannesburg than flying to Europe and then flying south to Jo’burg. Both routes cost about the same, but going through Europe requires an all-day wait to connect to Johannesburg while severely jet-lagged. The upside to that option is that most flights from Europe do arrive JNB early morning and therefore connect well to the short flights to the Kruger.
There are lots of good airport area hotel options for the one night in Jo’burg, but only the fancy and very expensive Intercontinental and the very nice and reasonable City Lodge Johannesburg Airport Hotel can be walked to. The other hotels near the airport require taking a shuttle or taxi, which kills time and is not convenient.
Sure, the City Lodge charges a slight premium over an off-airport hotel, but Razz and I can walk back to the airport in less than 10 minutes to catch our flight to Skukuza at the South African Express Airways counters. You can see from the photo above that my City Lodge room is modern and comfortable.
A full buffet breakfast is included in the City Lodge price, too. The photo just above is of Razz in the City Lodge restaurant for dinner after we checked it. We enjoyed really good roasted chicken (mine was cooked in local peri-peri spices, and Razz ordered the tangy bbq) with pap (the South African version of grits), potatoes, and local beer, capped by the absolute best Malva pudding I’ve ever had.
Tomorrow morning we fly on to Skukuza. We get up at 500am to eat breakfast at 600am in order to walk back to the airport at 700am to check in and get through security for our 900am flight to Skukuza (Kruger National Park), which arrives 1000am. We are jazzed!
Day 1 – Almost to South Africa’s Kruger National Park
Slept from 830p until 245a, which is par for the course. I often wake up in the wee hours my first couple of nights in South Africa. The six or seven hour change (depending on time of year) eastbound from Raleigh always kills me, whereas I adjust immediately making the 12 hour time change going west to Singapore. Go figure.
Razz also had trouble sleeping, but we were prompt for breakfast at 6:00 AM. And what a spectacular buffet it was, as seen in the above photo. Soon after, we left the City Lodge Airport Hotel and walked to the domestic terminal for our flight to Skukuza.
Following check-in with South African Airlink (above), we made our way through the security screen conga line. Then to the Priority Pass lounge nearest our gate (below), where we relaxed for an hour before boarding time. We could have had a second breakfast there. Instead, I enjoyed a Tab, Coca-cola’s original brand for diet cola, still available in South Africa.
The flight boarded from gate E13 on time, using a bus to transport travelers to the ERJ on the tarmac (see two photos below). Today’s flight is a short 40 minutes, and I write this as we descend into Skukuza Airport. Final tasks there will be formal check-in to the Kruger National Park at the park’s airport desk and then to pick up our Avis car.
More when our odyssey into the African wilderness finally gets under way.
Day 1 – Arriving Kruger National Park
It’s always a thrill to land at charming and beautiful Skukuza Airport. Our SA Airlink ERJ arrived just before 11:00 PM from Johannesburg. Seated in 1A gave me the advantage of being first off. I made a beeline for the Kruger Park check-in desk just inside the small Skukuza airport terminal building and obtained the confirmation and paperwork required to be in the Park for 11 days and 10 nights (photo immediately below).
Then to the tiny Avis-Budget car rental desk to pick up the great Toyota Avanza (5-speed manual, compact SUV). I wish this Toyota model was sold in the USA. Once our stuff was crammed into the car, Razz and I drove to the shop (grocery store) at nearby Skukuza Camp to load up on supplies and groceries. Things like ice, beer, soft drinks, huge bottles of water, more beer, kudu biltong (South African jerky), peanuts and raisins, ice, and lots more items.
The first real game drive came on the 46 km drive from Skuluza Camp to Lower Sabie Camp, where we are spending our first night (of ten nights total). I had booked a two bedroom, two bath Family Cottage on the perimeter, which means directly on the fence with great views of the Sabie River (two photos below).
Returning to Lower Sabie camp after our late afternoon game drive, Razz and I stopped for a sundowner brew and dinner on the restaurant pavilion overlooking the Sabie River with gorgeous views. It was hard to leave after our meal.
Camp gates open tomorrow at 5:30 AM, so we’ll be in the queue by 5:15. Early morning is the best time for seeing wildlife, especially the big predators.
We head north tomorrow to Letaba Camp. At 50 KPH, it’s a 5 hour trip, assuring one long game drive.
Day 1 – Excellent gameviewing 1st day in the Kruger National Park
Razz, a newbie to the Kruger, lucked out on our first day of gameviewing (really just a half day, since we landed a Skukuza just after eleven this morning). We saw these critters in the African wilderness between noon and 5:45 PM:
- Impala (hundreds)
- Hippo (many)
- Giraffe (a bunch)
- Elephant (many)
- Mongoose (three different species)
- Vervet Monkey
- Baboon (many, including an entire troupe foraging right outside our back door)
- Cape Buffalo
Too many bird species to list, including my favorite South African feathered flyer, the Lilac-breasted Roller.
Not to mention scores of insect species, including several varieties of praying mantis.
On our late afternoon game drive on the east side of Lower Sabie Camp, an elephant bull on the road made us and two other cars back up half a mile before it moved off to consume a tree (note reverse lights on lead car nearest the pachyderm). It was an exciting and idyllic experience.