Five top South African game reserves to see if you’ve already visited Kruger
South Africa's incredible national parks and wildlife reserves draw hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. If you've already ticked Kruger National Park off your bucket list, here are five other recommendations from Ella Kiddell at The Classic Safari Company.
Kruger is one of Africa’s largest national parks, and there’s no denying that it offers a spectacular safari experience.
The park is home to a vast array of wildlife (including the Big Five), and its popularity is indisputable. However, if you’re looking to get off the beaten track, avoid self-drivers, and discover the true serenity of a safari experience, there are some other options that you should definitely consider visiting.
Here are five top South African game reserves to experience once you’ve seen Kruger.
1. Madikwe Game Reserve (North West Province)
One of the main draw cards of Madikwe is its malaria-free status, making it a great destination for multigenerational family safaris. Lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalos all call this park home, so seeing the Big Five is easily achievable (which will keep younger safari goers interested and engaged).
The possibility of seeing the highly endangered African wild dog is also exceptionally likely here with three hunting packs roaming the park. The result can be extraordinary hunting scenes, fantastic photographic opportunities and a big tick for people who have already experienced larger predator sightings elsewhere.
2. Tswalu Kalahari (Northern Cape)
Tswalu Kalahari’s green-desert landscape of semi-arid grassland and open savannahs provides a stark environmental contrast to Kruger. Rubbing shoulders with familiar plains game are rare desert-adapted species, plus the critically endangered desert black rhino, roan and sable antelope and the magnificent Kalahari lions — notable for their sheer size and magnificent black manes.
Two habituated colonies of meerkats provide comical interactions and even seasoned Africa-philes can record some ‘firsts’, sighting aardvark, aardwolf, bat-eared foxes and even the elusive pangolin. Perhaps most importantly, the reserve hosts a maximum of just thirty guests at any one time, so you won’t see hordes of vehicles trundling across the landscape and you’ll achieve that rare sense of total seclusion.
3. Phinda Private Game Reserve (KwaZulu-Natal)
When it comes to diversity, Phinda Game Reserve is hard to beat. Thanks to its coastal position and unique rainfall pattern it features seven distinct ecosystems, giving rise to an astonishing array of bird and wildlife. Here you can spot the Big Five, cheetah and the scarce black rhino, then head to Sodwana Bay, a popular breeding ground for highly endangered sea turtle, and dive the Indian Ocean’s spectacular coral reefs.
4. Kwandwe Private Game Reserve (Eastern Cape)
Once the site of an ostrich farm which degraded the land and left it a near dustbowl, Kwandwe now stands as a triumph in conservation. Undertaking a tremendous task, the owners removed more than two thousand miles of fencing, decrepit buildings and redundant farming machinery. Endemic herbivorous mammals (elephants, Cape buffalo, giraffe and black rhino) were slowly reintroduced, then lions, cheetah and leopards, and finally zebra, eland, gemsbok, springbok and oryx to complete the food chain.
Today, guests of the reserve’s four small lodges can undertake fabulous game drives and specialist experiences, including walking safaris and rhino darting and notching. The open plains and panoramic vistas of Kwandwe contrast nicely with Kruger’s densely treed landscape.
5. Grootbos Private Nature Reserve (Western Cape)
Nestled quietly between mountains and ocean in the southernmost region of South Africa, Grootbos Private Nature Reserve is a stunningly beautiful eco-paradise. Here, the great Atlantic and Indian oceans converge and the marine ecosystem is one of the most prolific and diverse in the world. Although not a safari destination in the traditional sense, Grootbos boasts the ‘Marine Big 5’ — whales, sharks, dolphins, seals and penguins — as well as ancient and enchanting gnarled Milkwood forests and more than three times the floral species of the Amazon Jungle. There are over 9,000 species of flowering fynbos plants present, 70% of which are found nowhere else on earth.
Just two hours’ drive from Cape Town, a visit here works perfectly as a restorative city escape and complements any traditional big game safari, providing a well-rounded insight into South Africa’s vastly diverse flora and fauna.