Reminiscences of the Kruger Park of Yore

To celebrate the 90th birthday of the Kruger National Park (KNP) on May 31, management encouraged guests and staff to share memories on various social-media platforms. Visitors and Kruger lovers eagerly responded to this call and shared various memories. Some have been visiting the Kruger since the ‘60s.

Main picture: With a paucity of bridges, pontoons were the only way to cross the many rivers

Zania Collin shared her KNP memories on Facebook. “Braaiing, the smell of wood fires for the hot water and running barefoot in the rain,” are memories that stand out for her.

For Lael Richards it is “the excitement of going through the gate,” while for others a puff adder on the verandah of the Skukuza tea room or monkeys stealing bread. Elephants pushing down trees and hyenas dropping in to steal food were also mentioned.

Lyn Hughes said, “The smell of Kruger will always stay with me. Nothing can beat it.”

From these memories it is clear the KNP holds a special place in everyone’s hearts and has become an icon for the country on many levels, including conservation, tourism and national pride.


The KNP proudly hosted over 1,7 million tourists in 2015.

The magic million was first exceeded during March 2003 and the tourist figure has remained above one million ever since.

“We have people, who are beyond their golden years, who have coming to the park every year since they were infants. You hear these loyal seniors in years referring to the park as a pilgrimage for them, a retreat where they get replenished and a place of tranquillity which brings about a sense of purpose in life. We would like to urge those people in particular to go down the memory lane, share with us how much they love the park,” said the KNP managing executive, Mr Glenn Phillips.

Mpumalanga premier, Mr David Mabuza, wished the employees and management a happy birthday.

Animals checking out the visitors in the 1940s

Animals checking out the visitors in the 1940s

“All of us in the provincial government are delighted to wish the staff and management of the Kruger National Park a happy and joyful 90th birthday. We take pride indeed to be associated with the park, which is just a stone’s throw away from us, through opportunities that you offer to our communities. We wish you great success as you continue to assist us in providing jobs for many families residing adjacent the park. We hope you would continue to open the doors for many of our youth from the villages surrounding the park who might consider careers in tourism and environmental management,” said Mabuza.

He promised government would continue to rally behind the fight against rhino poaching in the park as the illegal killing of the rhinos created a growing threat to the wildlife.

Skukuza 1935

Skukuza 1935

“The Kruger National Park is one of our strategic tourism attractions for us as a province, therefore wildlife crime will definitely have a negative economic impact. As we wish the park strong health on their birthday, we wish to commit that we will work with them in an effort to stop the rhino poaching. May all their dreams and desires come true in the coming years,” said Mabuza.

President Paul Kruger’s Volksraad established the Government Game Reserve during 1898. The National Parks Act was ratified before parliament on May 31, 1926. Technically the KNP’s 90th birthday is celebrated on this day, even though it is actually over 118 years old.

The first tourist visited the park by train while the first motorists entered it in 1927 for a fee of one pound. The first overnight facilities were opened in 1928 at Pretoriuskop, Satara and Skukuza.

Breakfast at Rabelais in1953

Breakfast at Rabelais in 1953

One of the best things about a holiday in the Kruger National Park is the feeling that I am partaking in a family tradition – my granddad has been going there since he was a baby, and my dad too.

On a recent family trip, while having sundowners at Lower Sabie, looking over the beautiful Sabie River, Granddad began telling me about his memories of the park in the “old days” I’m sure many of you/your parents/your grandparents, have similar stories to share.

Granddad: “When I was a little baby, my mother and I were sitting on the back seat of the Chevy when we met a big lion in the road. In those days, motor cars didn’t have proper windows, just cellophane covers that you had to clip on at the side.


“The lion put his feet on the ‘running’ (step on the side of the car) and came right up and sniffed inside the car. My mother had to pick me up and put me on the other side of her. It was getting dark and the lion wouldn’t let us pass. Each time it walked around the car, my mother would have to pick me up again and move me!

“Eventually, we took a chance and managed to get past it. We arrived late at the camp gate, but because of what had happened to us, we didn’t get into trouble.”

Gorge Camp circa 1957

Gorge Camp circa 1957

“We hardly ever saw elephants in those days. I remember one time – we were on our way to Letaba – there were lots of cars stopped in the road, and a ranger was there who said we should all get out and walk with him. We walked a little way, and there in the river bed was an elephant. It was very exciting! Even if you saw one from miles away, it was a big event.”

There was still a lot of hunting going on. After the hunting stopped, elephants moved back into the park from Mozambique.


Entrance to the KNP in the forties

Entrance to the KNP in the forties

Before the park was proclaimed in 1926 people rode around on ox-wagons, buggy carts, pack donkeys, horses, and used the Selati railway line. In 1927 the first road was built from White River to Pretoriuskop, connecting to the first ranger post. The first motor vehicle in the park (a Model T Ford) was bought by ranger CR de la Porte in the mid-20s.

The building of the road between Skukuza and Lower Sabie started in 1928. By the end of 1929, 617km of tourist roads had been built and so had three pontoons. By 1945, causeways replaced the pontoons.

Game viewing in the1930s as per Sanparks archives

Game viewing in the1930s as per Sanparks archives

As for the Rest Camps…

In 1928, the first three “rest huts” were built.

These ‘rondavels’ were designed according to the “Selby” style – round rondavel huts, with a gap between the wall and the roof and a small hole in the top half of the door. This was supposed to be a peephole to see if there were dangerous animals before walking out. (Camps were only fenced in 1932.) However, there were complaints that huts were too cold and that there was a lack of privacy because people could peep in at the door! In 1931 new rondavels were built that also included mosquito nets.


KNP camp in the 1940s

KNP camp in the 1940s

“The huts didn’t have windows but were open at the top,” Granddad recalled, “and there was a hole in the door. As a little kid I used to peer out at the moon, expecting to see a lion jump out at any minute! There were still no fences in those days.”


“I remember that we used to hang outside the bathrooms in the evening and watch the ladies walking out with their paraffin lamps that would shine through their long white nightgowns…it was very naughty!.” (In 1939 it was thought necessary for the park to provide hot water for overnight guests, but the rule was that only ladies could have hot baths – available daily from 5pm to 12am – and men were entitled to showers only!)

Motoring in the KNP in the fifties

Motoring in the KNP in the fifties

“In those days there weren’t a lot of people visiting the park, so they used to have communal fires. In the middle of the camp there would be a little brick wall with a sheet of corrugated iron that you cooked on, and you would make your fire underneath it. In the evenings, everyone would gather around to cook and tell stories about the animals they had seen that day. There would only be about 20 – 30 people in the camp at a time.”


“I remember when they put up ‘bell tents’ at Letaba. Your Granny and I stayed in one, overlooking the river. There were metal beds in them and it was so hot in the day that we couldn’t even go into them. But at night – your Granny and I were newly married – it was so cold that we had to sleep in the same single bed!”


Letaba huts where the current restaurant is located – July 1954


Letaba tents erected during the winter – July 1954


Numbi Gate in the thirties


Letaba – 1953


On a pontoon at Crocodile Bridge


Travelling along a pack of lions in the fifties


The first meeting of the KNP board members on September 16 1926


Touring in the 1950s

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