The Kruger National Park and neighbouring concessions is located in the north-east of South Africa. It is a part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park and includes a number of neighbouring concessions, chief of which are the game reserves Sabi Sand, Manyaleti, Timbavati, Thornybush, Kingstown and Makalali.
The greater Kruger experiences a semi-arid to humid climate. Located at latitude 25°, in a climatic zone known in South Africa as the Lowveld, it is a part of a savannah biome that extends down much of eastern Africa. Watered by a number of rivers, including the Sabie, Sand, N’wantetsi, Sweni, Olifants, Limpopo, Letaba, Crocodile and Luvuvhu rivers, the area is characterised by 6 ecosystems: baobab sandveld, knobthorn-marula bushveld, mixed acacia thicket, leadwood and silver clusterleaf, woodland on granite, and riverine forest.
Overwhelmingly influenced by subtropical air masses, the region experiences two distinct seasons: dry and wet. The dry season occurs between June and August, the wet season between October and April. September and May are the transition months, the former the region’s spring, the latter autumn. The area as a whole receives an average of 800mm of rain per annum and temperatures range from an average daily maximum of 26.1°C in the winter months to a fairly uncomfortable daily maximum of 32.4°C during the summer. However, given that the size of the area and the fact that it falls away from west to east, with the south-west reaching 864m at its highest, the borderlands 200m, rainfall levels vary slightly across the region.
The greater Kruger’s fauna is driven by the seasons. The dry season is best for game viewing, when animals are forced to utilise permanent water sources; the wet season sees the park at its prettiest, and is excellent for birds.
June through to August is peak season. At this time, the grasses are in recession, the trees largely bare, and the prevalent colours are yellow and brown. With the cover all but decimated, and seasonal water holes dry, the game masses along the river fronts.
September – mid October is still reasonably dry, but the park is beginning to green and temperatures are rising in anticipation of the main rains. Depending on the strength of early rains, the game remains concentrated around the rivers. Migrant birds begin to arrive and courtship rituals abound. With the cover still relatively thin, game viewing at this time remains good to excellent.
While November is fair to good for game, December through to March is the height of summer. Thunderstorms are frequent, the area is super green, rain dependent plants are in flower and the animals are well and truly dispersed. For specialists and very experienced travellers, this is the season, as various species – impala, buffalo, waterbuck and kudu – enter their breeding seasons and behaviour is markedly different. Prey animals are notably fresher, stronger, and carnivores are forced to work a lot harder.
April sees an end to the main rains, temperatures drop, the cover is excellent and trees are beginning to seed. This is the rutting month and prey species such as impala and wildebeest are in fine fettle.
By May the greater Kruger is changing colour. Late flowerers and receding grass makes for paler habitats, and as the temperature drops, animals tend to move to warmer areas. At this time, the northern end of the park’s elephant population is boosted by an influx from Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Resident wild dog packs begin to breed and game viewing improves dramatically towards the end of the month.