Lots of our guests fly to the Kruger National Park and its adjacent private game reserves for their Kruger safari and fly straight out again. Unless you are seriously short on time, I think that’s a real shame, as the countryside around Kruger National Park, such as the Blyde River Canyon, is stunning.
1) The Panorama Route
The Panorama route is the name of the drive alongside the Blyde River Canyon. Though longer than the direct route, it is much much more attractive and well worth taking either as a scenic day drive or as your way to get from your country house hotel to your Kruger safari lodge. This area of sculpted peaks and deep ravines, tumbling streams and green valleys provides a marked contrast to the sub-tropical bushveld of the Kruger. The panorama drive alongside the Blyde River Canyon, a majestic red sandstone gorge with sheer cliffs plunging into waters below, is magnificent. Gentle walking trails connect a series of delicate waterfalls. Nearby is Pilgrim’s Rest, a restored mining village that was the epi-centre of the 19th century gold rush, and the town’s many preserved houses and museums bring alive this fascinating history of false hopes and dashed dreams.
2) Relax & Lie In
After the very early mornings of a Kruger safari, it is good to be able to lie in for some real R&R. A number of the lodges such as Cybele Forest Lodge or Olivers have stunning spa facilities so you don’t even need to leave the lodge to enjoy yourselves . This is particularly needed if you are spending time at two different safari lodges. We recommend breaking up your Kruger safari experience with 2 nights at a country lodge in between.
3) Enjoy some activity
A Kruger safari in a private game lodge or in the Kruger park itself inevitably involves lots of sitting in game vehicles and lots of eating of good food. The Blyde River Canyon area provides the perfect antedote with plenty of soft adventure activities on offer such as like ziplining, white water rafting, kloofing, hiking around Blyde River Canyon or perhaps some more gentle rambles to visit pretty waterfalls around Sabie.
And two practical reasons:
4) Flight Connections
If you are connecting to another destination within the region such as Botswana, Victoria Falls or Mozambique, you often have to stay overnight in Johannesburg as the flights depart in the morning between 11 and 12 noon. You can avoid this overnight city stop if you catch the early morning flight from Kruger Mpumalanga Airport (or KMIA for short) up to Johannesburg.
You cannot stay at a game reserve and catch this flight as there is not enough time to get to the airport (the reserve gates don’t open until 6am) but you can spend a night or two at a country lodge.
Similarly if you want to fly direct from the Kruger Airport to Victoria Falls (which departs mid morning), you would have to miss your final game drive if you were staying at a game lodge, whereas you can have a leisurely breakfast at a country house hotel before the short 30-40 minute drive to the airport.
5) Driving back to Johannesburg
Finally if you want to drive back to Johannesburg rather than flying (more cost effective if you are a family) then the drive from one of the private game lodges will take you at least 6 hours and often more like 7 hours. Not pleasant with kids! However the drive from one of the country lodges is a much more reasonable 4 hours depending on which one you choose, and at least half of that drive is very scenic.