Cheetah cub | Kruger-2-Kalahari

Greater Kruger National Park

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Safari suitability: 10/10

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Some the best game viewing in S. Africa with all of the big five, including black and white rhino.

Found in: South Africa
Companies: 23
Tour packages: 44
Total area: 2700 km² (1045 mi²)
Year established: 1898
Anti-malarial: Not required

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  • An hour’s flight from Johannesburg.

  • A luxury, photographic safari.

  • Praised for its habitat diversity.

  • Offers daily opportunities to spot all of the big five in their natural surroundings.

  • A home to many endangered species, including African wild dogs and pangolins.

About Greater Kruger National Park

The Greater Kruger National Park is part of what was orginally Sabie Game Reserve, proclaimed in 1898. The largest wildlife conservancy in Africa, Greater Kruger is a somewhat complex beast to understand. It is comprised of over 20 game and nature reserves that border Kruger National Park, many of which go by more than one name. Several of these are part of an entity of privately-owned reserves collectively known as the Associated Private Nature Reserves, or APNR.

Prior to the 1990s, many of the game and nature reserves were separated by fences, which also limited animal movement. In June 1993, fences were removed between Kruger and APNR. Today, animals are free to roam between all reserves and only the exterior borders of the park are fenced. As Greater Kruger National Park is contiguous with Kruger National Park, it also enjoys a wide array of flora and fauna, including the big five. This is one of the few destinations where black and white rhino can be seen.

Greater Kruger National Park vs. Kruger National Park

The near identical naming of the two parks can be confusing for those looking to book a safari. Their proximity and open borders make for similar wildlife view opportunities and weather patterns. What sets them apart is Kruger National Park is public park run by South African National Parks (SAN Parks) and Greater Kruger National Park is comprised of private reserves.

Here are some of the benefits of going on safari in Greater Kruger National Park:

Safari intimacy

As with most private game reserves, guest numbers are limited and monitored and are usually tied to accommodation. As a result, game drives are more intimate. It’s not uncommon to experience wildlife sightings without another vehicle present, which often is not the case in Kruger.

Safari freedom

Private reserves set their own rules, which is great news for photographers and anyone who wants some flexibility in their game drives. In Greater Kruger, those wishing to be at a specific location for first-light photography can start earlier, and vehicles are allowed off-road. Night drives and walking safaris are also common.

Safari exclusivity

The safari experience, in general, is of a high standard in Greater Kruger. Luxury accommodation with unparalleled wildlife viewing opportunities abound. Some of the most experienced, eagle-eyed safari guides are employed by the top lodges. They will blow your mind with their vast knowledge and inscrutable ability to locate wildlife.

As is usually the case, exclusivity comes with higher price tag. Safaris in Greater Kruger tend to be more expensive than those in Kruger, but Kruger does have its share of opulent digs. Kruger has a wider array of lodging options.  

Wildlife of Greater Kruger National Park

Greater Kruger offers some of the richest wildlife populations in South Africa and possibly in all of Africa. Spotting the big five, even the rhino, is often possible. Cheetah, wild dogs, giraffe, spotted hyena, jackal—side-striped and black-striped, springbok, zebra and even wildebeest can be found here. Bird lovers will also want to flock (pun intended) to Greater Kruger; it has over 500 species of birds.

Associate Private Nature Reserves

The Associated Private Nature Reserves is a co-operative organization established to coordinate the interests of its members and to act as a single body in interacting with government entities. It is roughly 1800 km² (700 miles²) size. Although the reserves are private, they were established in the vein of conservation and hunting is not permitted in APNR and in all Greater Kruger.

Reserves that form part of APNR include the following:

Balule Nature Reserve

Kapama Game Reserve

Klaserie Private Nature Reserve

Timbavati Game Reserve

Thornybush Game Reserve

Umbabat Game Reserve

Other notable game reserves not part of the conglomerate:

Manyaleti Private Game Reserve

Sabi Sands Game Reserve, which includes Mala Mala

Balule Nature Reserve

Size: 400 km²
Part of the APNR: Yes

Also known as Balulu Private Game Reserve, this reserve lies east of Klaserie Private Nature Reserve—it does not share a border with Kruger. Its location along the Olifants River make it an ideal place for hippos and birdlife, particularly eagles such as the martial eagle. Elephants, giraffe, buffalo, giraffe, hyena and wildebeest are common sightings here. For big cat sightings, cheetah and leopard are rare.

Balule Nature Reserve has anti-poaching personnel and is managed by a committee elected by its landowners. 

No self-drives are allowed in Balule. There are less than 10 lodges in this reserve.

Kapama Game Reserve

Size: 130 km²
Part of the APNR: Yes

Located south of Balule and west of Klaserie, Kapama Game Reserve (or Kapama Private Game Reserve) is a modest in size. There are presently less than five luxury resorts, each offering a structured, twice-daily game drive schedule. Private game drives are available at a premium and with advanced booking. Like most of the reserves in Greater Kruger, it has an environmental and cultural focus. Kapama’s anti-poaching unit uses trained bloodhounds to help track poachers. Its lodges have eliminated plastic straws and benefit from an on-site water plant, which allows them to supply guests fresh water in glass bottles. 

Klaserie Private Nature Reserve

Size: 600 km²
Part of the APNR: Yes

Also known as Klaserie Game Reserve or just The Klaserie, it is one of the larger reserves in Greater Kruger and the largest reserve of the APNR. It was established in 1969 and became a nature reserve in 1972. The reserve is managed by an executive committee comprised of and elected by its landowners. Klaserie is involved in several conservation initiatives such as The Southern Ground Hornbill Project, the Rhino Project and the Elephant Project. There are currently less than 10 luxury camps in this reserve. 

Manyaleti Private Game Reserve

Size: 230 km²
Part of the APNR: No

Sort of tucked right in the middle of Greater Kruger, Manyaleti means ‘place of the stars’ in the local language of Shangaan. Founded in 1963, it has only three lodges, providing guests with a more intimate safari experience. Neighboring reserves, Timbavati to the north and Sabi Sands to the south, receive more guests but also have more water, which can make for easier wildlife spotting. The reserve is owned and managed by the local Mnsi tribe.

Sabi Sands Game Reserve

Size: 650 km²
Part of the APNR: No

Sabi Sands is the largest private reserve in Greater Kruger. It is also the most well-known reserve and, with just under 25 lodges, has the most lodges. It was part of the original Sabie Reserve, which was the predecessor of Kruger National Park. Landowners officially formed Sabi Sand Reserve in 1948. Although this reserve has many lodges, as compared to other reserves in Greater Kruger, day visits are not allowed. Only guests of Sabi Sands can do game drives in the reserves. Sabi Sands is a great place to spot the big five and it is particularly renown for its leopard sightings.


Size: 130 km²
Part of the APNR: No

MalaMala is located within Sabi Sands Game Reserve. In existence since 1927, the reserve has welcomed many photojournalists and filmmakers who feel drawn to the land’s unique natural beauty that remained untamed over the years. Tjololo, a famous male leopard that became a star of the National Geographic documentary, lived in the reserve.

MalaMala features many different habitat types, which are an allure in themselves and range from open savannah to granite outcrops. Thirteen kilometers (eight miles) of the perennial Sand River also flows through the reserve and has been named as one of the most distinct landscape features.

Although many visitors feel attracted to the park for the regular sightings of the big five, other—just as fascinating and important species—call MalaMala home, too. Threatened animals such as cheetah, pangolin and African wild dogs are being protected within the reserve. A variety of birdlife is yet another highlight—bird lovers can hope to be rewarded with sightings of some rare species such as martial eagle and ground hornbill.

Timbavati Game Reserve

Size: 530 km²
Part of the APNR: Yes

Nestled between Kruger and Klaserie lies Timbavati. Lucky guests may encounter one of Timbavati’s white lions. These gorgeous felines are born with snow-white coats and piercing blue eyes—the result of a genetic color mutation. They are indigenous to the Timbavati Reserves. In addition to the big five, Timbavati touts the big six for the birders: lappet-faced vulture, martial eagle, saddle-billed stork, kori bustard, ground hornbill and Pel’s fishing owl. There are presently 15 lodges in Timbavati and only two vehicles per wildlife sighting are allowed. 

Thornybush Game Reserve

Size: 140 km²
Part of the APNR: Yes

Thornybush is named for the thickets and thorned bushes which grow in the area. A few years ago, landowners removed 27 km (10 miles) of fence that separated it from Timbavati and, consequently, Kruger National Park. Since the removal guests have been privy to larger numbers of wildlife, especially grazers such as elephant, buffalo and antelope. Like all the reserves in Greater Kruger, Thornybush has the big five. It’s also possible to see other big animals including cheetah, wild dogs, giraffe and hyena. Guests wishing to interact with local communities can see, and often contribute to, one of the many projects the reserve is involved with by booking a transformative safari. Solo travelers are welcome in this reserve. Thornybush touts custom packages for its solo guests which allow them to pick and choose which activities they join and which they enjoy alone. And, aside from the months of August and October, and major holidays, no single supplements are charged. There are 12 lodges in this reserve.

Umbabat Private Nature Reserve

Size: 180 km²
Part of the APNR: Yes

Umbabat is situated north of Timbavati and east of Kruger National Park. It has only two lodges: Motswari Game Lodge and Geiger’s Camp. The reserve is involved in many conservation research initiatives, including a counter-poaching unit. Guests can follow updates on projects such as elephant research, leopard research, lion research and vulture research on their official website.

When to visit Greater Kruger National Park

The best time for wildlife viewing is the dry season (June to September). From August to September many animals congergate around water sources making it a popular time to visit. 

Park activities in Greater Kruger

A wide range of activities is offered, including walking safaris, 4x4 safaris and night safaris. Skilled rangers, who closely collaborate with the trackers from the Shangaan tribe, accompany visitors on their outdoor activities and vouch for an optimal game viewing experience.

The park’s accommodation is famed for its traditional, yet luxurious, facilities that aim to take the traveler back in time and provide one with a glimpse of the first safaris.

Great Kruger map
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