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Private Game Reserves or Private Concessions for your Kruger safari?

Kruger & Escarpment self-drive, Simbavati

I am aware that choosing a Kruger safari can be a confusing issue. Many people want to visit the Kruger Park and then find themselves bewildered by the choices. Do they stay at a rest camp or opt one of the Kruger private lodges. Which are private concessions within the Kruger National Park? Or do they go for one of the private game reserves which are adjacent to the park. Such as the Sabi Sands lodges or Timbavati?

There are so many options for your Kruger Safari. So this is where a specialist tour operator that knows the various areas & camps can really prove their worth. (But then I would think that, wouldn’t I?)

So what’s the difference between the different types of Kruger Safaris ?

Do you opt to stay at one of the Kruger private lodges within the park itself? Or in the lodges in the Sabi Sands or Timbavati private game reserves? Having just been on a Kruger safari with MY family & stayed at both, I thought it would be worth demonstrating the differences using actual examples.

booking a trip

Private Game Reserve experience:

First we stayed at Simbavati River Lodge. A private game lodge in the Timbavati Game Reserve which has open borders with the Kruger National Park. This means that the wildlife is free to wander in & out between the Kruger Park & the reserve. Thus allowing for natural animal movement.

The Simbavati River Lodge is a great little lodge. Well priced with friendly staff and great food. Being well in the middle of the Timbavati, it offers great game viewing. On our short 2 night stay we saw a LOT! Several sightings of lion, buffalo, elephant of course, white rhino. Even a leopard up in a tree carefully preserving its impala kill from the waiting hyenas below. However the ‘piece de resistance’ was the pack of wild dog on the move clearly looking for their next meal.

Game drive experience in the Kruger Private Game Reserve

For all of these sightings, we went off road. The 4 x 4 vehicle left the gravel track and headed into the bush to get closer to the sightings. Being in an open vehicle everyone got a  great opportunity to take photos. Because we could go off road, we had more flexibility to position the vehicle. So people on both sides of the vehicle could see the action.

Furthermore as you may know, the private lodges in South Africa strictly limit the number of vehicles at a sighting. Only 2 or 3 at any time. So you never feel that you are crowding the wildlife.

Finally all the lodges in the immediate area work together (using radio contact) to communicate their sightings. This means that visitors get to see a lot more. As you have several ears & eyes in the bush looking for the wildlife.

All in all an excellent short stay in the bush !

As we left, I did wonder how our Kruger safari at one of the Kruger private lodges could top that? It didn’t exactly beat it, but it did provide a wonderful contrast and that’s always enjoyable on a holiday. Especially if this is your first time on safari in South Africa, and you want to see as much as possible.

Kruger private game reserves versus private private concessions

Kruger National Park safari experience:

We next headed to Rhino Post Safari Lodge. Which is one of the Kruger luxury lodges in the southern part of the Kruger National Park itself. About 30 mins drive north of Skukuza. Private concessions are allowed to conduct game drives on their own concessions. And also on the public roads of the Park. BUT they have to abide by the rules of the park – with some notable exceptions. They are allowed to stay out in the Park after the self-drive visitors have to be out. Or back in their rest camp grounds (which ranges from 5.30 pm to 6.30 pm depending on season.) They are allowed to stop for sun-downer drinks and get out of the vehicle. And. within their concessions, they can go off road for prime sightings. (Though this is highly regulated and so does not happen very often at all.)

Rhino Post

Rhino Post was another super little camp with only 8 rooms. 4 on each side of the main lodge which overlooked a dry riverbed. Well-appointed rooms with ball and claw bath, outdoor shower and private deck. The food was excellent in their stylish dining room. Recommended!

With the exception of Singita Lebombo & Singita Sweni, and The Outpost in the far north of the Kruger, which tend to stay in their own concessions for game-viewing, staying at one of the Kruger private lodges is not an exclusive experience. Most of the private concessions will use the public roads for game-viewing because that’s where the game is! So on your game drive in an open vehicle you will definitely see people driving around in their own vehicles. And if there is something good to see, quickly a number of cars will be there – as if by magic.

So what’s the attraction? It sounds like the game lodges in the Timbavati and Sabi Sands will always have the edge?

Kruger Park’s History

The answer lies in the history of the Kruger National Park. Established in the 1920’s when the private game reserves were still private ranches and farms. The Kruger is massive and has a wide variety of terrain. Which in turn attracts different wildlife to its diverse areas. The southern and central Kruger is blessed with broad beautiful rivers which are the lifeblood of the Park. These rivers are essential for the wildlife as the winter dry season continues. When the park was created, they were able to build roads which run alongside these rivers for kilometres and kilometres. (As opposed to the patchwork of private farms which comprise the private reserves. Where everyone builds their own network of roads and tracks.)

So Kruger safaris can be very good indeed with large herds of elephant and buffalo grazing by the rivers and plentiful game. Unlike the private game reserves which tend to be bushier, the eastern Kruger has large open tracts of land. Such open spaces are ideal for cheetah which are extremely rare to see.

Kruger private game reserves versus private private concessions

Game drive experience at a Kruger Concession

Yes it’s not exclusive as there are so many vehicles. But there is a wicked delight in finding one of the few black rhino still in the wild, (only 450 left in the world!). As the sun was setting and seeing that the poor self-drive visitors only had time to glance at it before heading back to their restcamps as the gates were closing at 5.30pm. Leaving us to enjoy this magnificent creature at our leisure.

The park became serenely quiet after 5.30pm. Only two vehicles from Rhino Post were left (except the odd park ranger vehicle). We stopped in enjoy our sun-downers and admire the view and then began our night drive.

The Rhino Post vehicles were also on radio communication. And so when we happened along a magnificent lion strolling along the road roaring in a blood-chilling manner right by the vehicle, we were able to let the other vehicle know about it. Stunning!

Packs of Wild Dog amongst the vehicles

The following morning we were treated to another memorable and lengthy sighting of a large pack of wild dog hunting using one of the park’s side roads. Sightings of wild dog like this are immensely rare. And we had seen two packs within 2 days – almost unheard of…

We stopped for morning coffee at a glorious picnic spot in a remote area of the park overlooking an immense hippo filled lake. I also have to confess that I rather liked the camaraderie amongst the park’s visitors. People wind down their windows to tell you what they had just seen on a particular road. The “bush telegraph” works well – communicating the good sightings.

I hope that this personal view of the differences between the lodges in the private game reserves and the Kruger private concessions helps? Of course the ideal would be to have 2-3 nights in both types of camp. Then you get the best of both worlds!

Contact us if you want assistance planning your Kruger Safaris….


“Private Kruger Concessions versus Private Kruger Game Reserves” was written by Cedarberg Kate

Cedarberg Africa is a specialist tour operator for Southern and East Africa. We focus on upmarket tailormade safaris for discerning and busy people. We make our money on the difference between our wholesale rates and the rates that are available to you, so that means that effectively all our years of experience and expertise comes free of charge. We’d love to chat to you about a possible trip, offering our personal experience, weighing up different options, to book a safari that is just right for you.

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