Hoedspruit is becoming the new gateway to the Kruger National Park, the largest national park in South Africa, and there are a plethora of reasons why.The undeniable feature of the region is the awe-inspiring Blyde River Canyon, which dominates the horizon.
The large expanses of natural landscapes filled with wildlife extend beyond Kruger to the neighboring private game reserves of ThornyBush, Timbavati, Guernsey, and Klaserie that are easily accessible in the Kruger region. The addition of animal rehabilitation centers into a safari trip in the lowveld does not even require entering the Kruger.
The Way To Save On Accommodation Around Kruger
When it’s busy around the Kruger prices soar! The park may be one of the best in the world for safari and it draws in the crowds. So, instead of having to book months in advance for basic in park accommodation or shelling out a fortune for a private safari camp we set our sights on a concession outside the park. For our safari around Kruger National Park we stayed in Hoedspruit. Hoedspruit is well serviced, safe, clean, has much to offer outside the park, and the Orpen gate to Kruger is easy to access.
Getting To Hoedspruit
The drive to Hoedspruit and the surrounding area takes about five – six hours with stops from Johannesburg. We’d advise getting an early morning start if driving from Joburg and take in some good sights of the Drakensberg as you pass through. Also, one should definitely stop at Millies off the N4; it is a venerable institution and has a great restaurant serving up fresh river trout.
Once we had descended from the Drakensberg and entered the lowveld, we immediately began to see wildlife. At first, it was just some warthogs along the road, but then it turned into a full roadblock of baboons sitting across the road. However, once we had passed through Hoedspruit and continued on through the region filled with private game reserves we began to see all nature of animals. Zebras, elephants, buffalo, wildebeest, impala, giraffes, and all matter of birds were seen just as we made our way to the lodge. It was our first experience in Africa and we were beyond thrilled!
Cheetah Paw Eco Lodge
Our first stop on our endeavor into Africa certainly did not disappoint. Our arrival alone lived up to the hype. We chose to stay on one of the private game reserves around Kruger and we were treated to a terrific bush experience. Our hosts, Doris and Juergen, at the Cheetah Paw Eco lodge we’re an absolute delight. Offering us everything you could want out of hosts; warm, helpful, and interesting! Our entry into Cheetah Paw started off with a relaxed main lodge and a cold drink on arrival.
Cheetah Paw itself has a pool, a large viewing deck, free WiFi, a TV in the main lodge (if you still like watching the news these days), and a bar. However, our favorite part of the lodge would have to be the boma. A boma is an enclosure, that was used heavily in some of the African Great Lakes regions back in the day.
Now it is the perfect place to have a traditional South African braai. A braai in the boma around a campfire is one of the quintessential moments to have in the bush. For those non-South African’s out there a braai is essentially a cook out done over hot coals and the main dishes to be served are boerewors (sausage), steak, and pap (maize). The proper way to finish a day is to have a “sundowner” from the back deck as you watch the sunset over the Drakensberg.
The rooms at Cheetah Paw Eco Lodge are tented chalets offering everything you could need. The allure of staying in the bush is anything, but sitting in a traditional hotel room. We made it criteria to find accommodation that would allow for an immersive experience.
The word tent is definitely not exciting, but as the “glamping” trend continues staying in tented accommodation is increasingly luxurious even on the affordable end. Which is exactly what we found at Cheetah Paw. Our tent had everything we could need with a massive comfy bed, two seating areas, his and her sinks, outdoor and indoors shower, and a view looking right out on to a watering hole. That’s why we gave a big pass on a hotel near Kruger National Park, we came to see nature.
Private Game Reserves
Private game reserves offer advantages that cannot be found in Kruger National Park. Guests are afforded lower occupancy rates, competitive pricing(sometimes), greater freedom, and a more personalized experience. They also allow for a longer safari experience with more variety and less time sitting in a car staring at the bush hoping for an elusive cheetah or bushbuck.
Private game reserves determine their own rules and have a smaller number of visitors, allowing them to seek out the wildlife in the bush. Going down an old dirt road or through the bush for a while to catch a glimpse of wildlife is no problem here. The guides in these reserves also have a much better idea of where to find the animals so tracking down rhinos or leopards might be no problem, and you’ll likely see the Big Five on any given day. No guarantees – it is wildlife after all!
Guernsey Private Nature Reserve
Our base at Cheetah Paw was within the Guernsey Private Nature Reserve. The Guernsey Reserve does not have the big five, which means you can take a walkabout by yourself without fear of predators. However, you should always stick to the roads since there are a number of venomous snakes in the bush. One other note of caution is to consult with your hosts before doing so, the neighboring reserves do have the big five and a fence isn’t always the best way of containing a wild animal.
There are a number of rehabilitation centers in the Hoedspruit area that specialize in the conservation of the animals that once lived in abundance. We visited two rehabilitation centers and enjoyed both immensely. They offer visitors a chance to learn more in depth about certain breeds and see them up close. All the while the visitor’s entrance fees go towards saving the wildlife they come to see.
The HESC, or Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center, specializes in the rehabilitation and breeding of Cheetahs. Which is Tasha’s favorite animal! They also have a pack of African dogs, some rescued rhinos, and various other animals in need of a home.
The second rehabilitation center we visited was the Moholoholo Rehabilitation center. They take in all manner of animals, but our favorites were a large number of birds of prey they have and the infamous honey badger.
If you’re looking for some spectacular views and a wonderful photography experience then look no further than the Panorama Route. Along the route, you traverse the third largest canyon in the world and the largest wooded canyon. Does the Grand Canyon have trees? Nope! A full day tour of the Panorama route typically includes the Three Rondavels, Burkes Luck Potholes, God’s Window, the Pinnacle and Lisbon Falls.
The most convenient gate into Kruger National Park from Hoedspruit is the Orpen gate. From here your journey into Kruger begins. Read More on our guide to Kruger National Park!
Essential Items To Bring To Kruger National Park
Packing the right safari clothes is always a good idea, but it’s never essential be
- It depends on the season, but the right safari clothes are crucial. You can read this post here on what we like to wear on safari.
- Binoculars: If you want to be able to spot and identify wildlife and birds then a good pair of binoculars is a must.
- A great packable down jacket is never a bad idea!
- Here is our Africa packing list. As well as a post that details what to wear on safari!
Overland Tour in Africa
Traveling Africa on your own can be daunting to many travelers. However, there is no need to fear with overland tour companies who will show the ropes and a great time. You can check out some of them here to compare the different companies and possibly score a discount.
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem in Africa so it’s best not to contribute to the problem of buying plastic water bottles everywhere. The tap water in Tanzania is generally not safe to drink, but a water purifier, like the Grayl waterbottle, works well!
However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about our favorite water bottle for travel in our post.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm.
For more professional photographs we use our Fuji XT-3, and LOVE IT.
A good hat is both stylish and functional. In peak dry season there is little to provide shade, UV rays are intense and can easily burn the unsuspecting traveler. Check out our full break down of the best safari hats here!
Lightweight pants that are made from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when traveling around Africa as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos (malaria).
We recommend neutral-colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors. What’s great is they’re useful beyond Africa as they are a travel staple and we pack a pair everywhere we travel.
You’ll want a safari shirt while on safari. They are lightweight and keep the bugs away. Plus they look ideal in photos and blend into the environment around you!
Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. We recommend picking up a Lonely Planet to get you through the wireless nights. Are you going on safari? We always carry our Robert’s Southern Africa Bird Book and a good mammal guide.