Kruger National Park for Valentine’s 2020

Combine a conference in Johannesburg with Black Friday, add a Valentine’s Day, and the result for wildlife-starved Capetonians is a Kruger Park weekend!

SanParks put a limited number of Kruger National camps on special offer and seeing that we had never been to Tamboti Tented Camp, we decided to go for it. The conference ended at 15h00 on Thursday afternoon, so we opted to drive from Johannesburg to Hazyview (4 hours, 350km) and overnight there for a quick dash to Phabeni Gate (10km away) the following morning.

Our accommodation didn’t have air conditioning, and we chose an especially hot weekend in February, so sleep was hard to come by.  We decided to leave at 4h30 and rather experience a Kruger dawn outside Phabeni gate. However, even at that time we were not the first on the scene as a couple of tour vehicles beat us to it.

When we saw the tour guide alight from the vehicle in front of us, there was no doubt about who that could be. A tower of a man, with an infectious grin. Excellent is one of those people you don’t forget in a rush. He led us on a 3-day walking Safari on the Olifants trail back in 2015.  After emailing to and fro, we met up again for a morning walk in Satara a couple of years ago. It was great to rekindle an old friendship, and we knew a great weekend was about to unfold.

Not 30 minutes into our early morning drive, we encountered two male lions at full trot and rather agitated. In hot pursuit, they eventually stopped when they spotted their target, a pride of 4 female lions. What ensued was simply amazing, as the lions ran around our car, wailing and roaring, until eventually they charged the lionesses who didn’t hang around to find out the two brutes’ intentions.  No sooner had it started was it done, but the proximity of those two males will leave lasting memories.

We encountered another pair of lions en-route to Skukuza, this time the opposite sex was in a far more agreeable demeanour; a fitting scene for Valentine’s Day. 

We got to Skukuza for a late breakfast on the deck of the Cattle Baron Restaurant, beneath the ancient wild fig tree overlooking the Sabie River. Recent heavy rains were evident in the Sabie’s strong flow and higher than normal water-levels. With a buffet breakfast safely stashed away in our tummies, we continued our drive north.

Skukuza Breakfast

We always do the little river loop near Skukuza and then continue in an easterly direction towards Lower Sabie. At the bridge we turned left and crossed the Sabie, where it is particularly wide, having merged with the Sand River a short distance up-stream. The trees along the banks are spectacular and hold the promise of a lazing leopard draped over one of the low-hanging branches. We had to be content with baboons, even though they initially looked like those elusive rosetted cats.

The next stop is an institution if you are heading north; the Tshokwane Tea Room, situated half-way between Skukuza and Satara on the H1 makes for a much-needed leg stretch. The birdlife is always active here and so are the vervet monkeys. Never leave anything unattended. Revitalised, the stretch to Satara is usually very productive, so keep your eyes peeled.  

Satara is Kruger’s second-largest camp, which has its benefits; for example, you can indulge in proper coffee at Mug & Bean. The garden in front of the restaurants is teeming with birdlife, so twitchers can tick away. Keep an eye out for the resident Scops owl, which hangs out in the trees near the car park, close to the shops.  The large pool is a welcome relief on hot days.

Accommodation options

Our final stretch takes us west to Orpen, the boundary camp near Hoedspruit. Orpen was so popular that they decided to build a campsite (Maroela, 3km from Orpen) and a tented camp (Tamboti, 3.5km from Orpen) within close proximity. 

As the name suggests, the campsite is set amidst a stand of large Maroela trees, with plenty of shade (and consequently little grass). The camp is small, so most stands are situated along the perimeter fence, which is a big bonus because you are just a couple of pieces of wire away from all the action.  

Of course, the tented camp is situated in a Tamboti grove, complete with resident bush buck and baboon. There are 40 tented camps, all positioned on the boundary fence along the Timbavati River. The Timbavati River is non-perennial, meaning it does not flow throughout the year. The camp is served by two ablution blocks and a communal kitchen facility, offering basins, hobs, boiling water and a microwave.  The tents themselves are spacious and there are 15 x 2-sleeper tents and 15 x 4 sleeper tents. All tents have a large veranda overlooking the riverside, with a table and chairs and there is a lockable fridge and storage area, to keep your goods safe from the primates. There are no eating utensils, but these can be hired for a nominal fee from Orpen. There is also a braai facility to complete the picture. The tent has no tap and basin, instead there is a tap some 30 meters away where you park your car.  

For those seeking more creature comforts, there are 10 x 3 sleeper “luxury” tents, which additionally have a hotplate, sink and utensils, as well as a toilet and shower.


Check-in is at Orpen main camp from 14h00.  For those staying in the standard tents, arrange for your eating utensils while you check in. Check-out is at 10h00, and remember to drop your keys in the box next to Tamboti’s gate (not necessary to hand keys in at Orpen).

Important Additional Info For Your Stay

  • Orpen’s shop is well stocked for all your daily needs (you cannot buy anything at Tamboti camp).
  • There is limited cell phone reception at Tamboti; but WhatsApp messages eventually come through.
  • Tamboti is in a National Park, so pets cannot be brought along.
  • Remember to renew your Wildcard before you go on holiday.

Activities at Tamboti

In the camp itself, you can walk along the network of roads and admire the forest setting, with plenty of bird life. Keep an eye open for the white-backed vultures that roost in some of the Tamboti trees and the breathtakingly beautiful Woodlands Kingfisher (summer visitor).  For the not-so-squeamish, you can buy a UV torch at the Orpen shop and try your hand at Scorpion tracking; you will be amazed how many scorpions lurk around in trees and there is literally a scorpion in just about every nook and cranny.

However, the main activity in the Kruger National Park is game driving. The best times are early morning and late afternoon, because during the day the animals rest up in the shade to escape the heat. In winter the period for game drives is therefore a lot longer than in summer, when you really should not stay out much past 10h00, and in the afternoon it is not worth going out before 15h00.  

There are a couple of other tips that will improve your chance of seeing animals; drive slowly, ideally not faster than 30km/h, so set your cruise control and enjoy the slow pace. There are many Kruger patrons that drive from sighting to sighting as fast as possible, relying on others to spot the game; in our opinion you miss out on half the experience of looking for that special sighting and being the first to see it and enjoy it alone for a short while before other vehicles arrive.  

For fly-in holiday makers, hire a high car, especially in summer when the grass is tall, because if you are in a low sedan you will see only green grass; a Kombi or SUV is ideal, but 4×4 is not necessary.  

When it is hot outside, many people close all the windows and run the air-conditioning; the problem with that is you miss out on the smells and sounds of the bush, so rather keep the windows open and if it’s really hot put the air-conditioning on at the same time.  

Buy yourself a map & guide, which is inexpensive and available in all the shops. It also contains a lot of useful information and an identification guide of the animals and birds you are most likely to encounter. Make use of rest camps and picnic sites along your drives, to get out of the car and stretch your legs.

From Tamboti all game drives commence in an easterly direction along the Orpen – Satara Rd (H7).  After 7km along the H7 you get your first choice; to your right you can take the Rabelais Rd (S106), which is a productive dirt road with a good chance of a cheetah sighting. We don’t recommend the S140 down to Talamati because it is a long drive on a dirt road that traverses sourveld and is consequently not that productive (having said that, remember the golden rule of the Kruger; one can see anything in any place!).  

A further 5km on you get two more choices; right takes you south on the S36 onto Muzandzeni picnic site, where you can alight from your vehicle and make use of the facilities to rustle up a nice bush breakfast; you can even hire a skottel with a gas bottle for next to nothing. From there you can then either take the popular Sweni Rd (S126) or travel further south on the S36 and take the S125, one of the most scenic routes in all of Kruger. The second option from the H7 junction, is to head north on the Timbavati Rd (S39), which takes you to the Timbavati picnic site.

Lastly, you can opt to continue along the H7 all the way to Satara; be assured there is usually some sort of activity along this road. If you are up for a long excursion, from Satara continue east on the infamous S100, which combines stunning scenery with abundant wildlife. 

If self-driving is not your thing, fret not, because nearby Orpen has all the activities to keep you busy for days. Morning and afternoon guided bush walks, as well as morning, sunset and night drives.

If you are budget conscious, keep an eye on specials and book your trip to the Kruger National Park.

You will want to go back again and again.

As we are regular visitors to the Kruger National park for our bush fix you can read more on other parts of and activities in the Kruger National park by following this link.

One Reply to “Kruger National Park for Valentine’s 2020”

  1. I am proud to see this and happy to share with other. This is the experience that people are Shari g and it also let people know what to expect in coming to this beautiful wildlife area of South Africa,
    Thanks Thomas I have word to say thank you for not forgetting the good moments you and your wife Inge it always a pleasure for me to keep everyone happy in their time in the park and I will always keep this in mind that people really appreciate someones work also to remember the face of that person in the dark.

    I will be waiting for your next steps in the park to walk with me.

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