Kruger National Park and Nearby Private Reserves
The Kruger National Park — an extraordinary Big Five park the size of Wales — is almost synonymous with an African wildlife safari. Although the Kruger is probably South Africa’s most famous national park, it is far from the only one, and the surrounding private reserves offer the same concentration of wildlife viewing opportunities without the crowds of other visitors. Solitude and exclusivity are just two of the reserves’ benefits over national parks; they often have additional strengths, such as stronger partnerships with local communities, permission for night drives and nature walks, and support for experimental conservation initiatives.
The Singita group really has set the bar for quality safari stays in South Africa. They have several properties in the country: on a private concession inside the Kruger National Park, and at Sabi Sands, a privately owned game reserve adjoining the Kruger. Singita Sabi Sands has been owned and protected by the Bailes family since 1926, and you can opt to stay either at Singita Ebony Lodge, or at Singita Boulders Lodge. The reserve is renowned for its high concentration of big game, and in particular for the frequency of leopard sightings, something you may struggle to get elsewhere.
Phinda: KwaZulu Natal’s Premier Private Reserve
The Phinda Private Reserve is situated in KwaZulu Natal, between the Mkuze Game Reserve and the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park. Phinda means “return to the wild”— an apt moniker for a reserve which stretches vast distances across sand forest and thornveld, mountain bush and palm savannah. There are no fences here to restrict the abundant wildlife or spoil your views of the landscape, and you can easily combine your land based adventures with diving beneath the waves of the nearby Indian Ocean.
A game drive in Phinda is the perfect introduction to KwaZulu Natal’s native wildlife. All the Big Five are here, and the presence of southern white rhino is particularly exciting. In addition to the Big Five you can also expect to see cheetah, Burchell’s zebra, giraffe, and blue wildebeest. Combine safari drives with elements of the ranger training curriculum and selected conservation activities or for a truly eye opening experience, track the endangered black rhino on foot. For an extraordinarily close elephant encounter, join one of the reserve’s conservation teams as they dart herd members from a helicopter to change their radio collar. This is vital work for monitoring the elephants’ whereabouts and implementing the immunocontraceptive programme. It is possible to touch the sleeping elephant, an absolutely magical moment.
You can stay in the heart of the sand forest at Forest Lodge, a remarkable collection of glass villas where it really does feel as if you are sleeping outdoors. You can swim in the rim flow pool, treat yourself to an in-room massage, and get wonderfully close to the game on twice daily drives and safari walks. In season, it’s also possible to watch turtle nesting during a night drive, or to enjoy a scuba dive, making this the ideal location to combine the wonders of the woodlands and the coast.
Join a local community visit to meet the wonderful people of KwaZulu Natal. Tourism linked foundations have had a hugely beneficial impact on rural development, and guests are welcome to visit healthcare, education, and water projects. Tours of the Mbhedula Craft Market or the Dongwelethu Poultry Project also give you a fascinating insight into everyday life.
Malaria-Free Madikwe Game Reserve: A Success Story of Wildlife Reintroduction
30 years ago, the Madikwe Game Reserve was poor farmland, devoid of any wildlife at all. The South African government decided to convert it into a national park, taking advantage of the area’s malaria-free status, but they started with absolutely nothing.
During “Operation Phoenix”, breeding herds of antelope, elephant, rhino, and buffalo were brought to Madikwe to repopulate the reserve. Big cats, wild dog, and spotted hyena followed; Madikwe received the largest ever translocation of animals. Today the park’s population exceeds 10,000 mammals, belonging to 60 different species. This ecosystem has truly risen from the ashes.
There is now also a magnificent selection of lodges within the reserve, including the renowned Royal Madikwe. The property is a leader in ecotourism, and 20% of all its profits are invested directly into local health and education projects. Staying at Royal Madikwe, you become part of Madikwe’s story, whether you are walking in the bush, dancing and drumming with the Zulu, or looking up at the stars.
Other Private Reserves
The Leobo Private Reserve is thickly forested, a rich oasis of green. The award winning Leobo Lodge includes a private villa with its own observatory, with two different kinds of telescope for observing the planets and even the surface of the sun. By day, it’s an action packed adventure. Try mountain rope climbing, quad biking or fly by helicopter to a secluded picnic spot. And the lodge is booked for only one group at a time, meaning you’ll have this wild playground all to yourself!
At luxurious and remote Tswalu Kalahari you can explore the seemingly endless grasslands on horseback, on foot, and by 4x4. In fact, this is South Africa’s largest private game reserve. Wild dog, cheetah, and black-maned lion roam the reserve, and you can also watch playful meerkat jumping in and out of their burrows. Both Tswalu and Leobo are perfect for an unforgettable family adventure, with activities tailored to all ages.