Want to camp unfenced in the bush at Kruger Park? Looking for a 4x4 track in Kruger National Park? Or, are you a wilderness lover who wants to be submerged in the outback of Kruger Park for 5 days without dealing with the queues of cars? Then the Lebombo 4x4 Eco-Trail is your ultimate next journey! It's considered the best 4x4 eco-trail in Southern Africa. The trail consists of a total of 500km covered in 5 days of driving (we drove 630km in total - it depends on your guide), whereby you drive mainly on 'no entry' roads. You are accompanied by an experienced senior ranger, who will share plenty of his knowledge about animals, birds, plants, ecosystems and history of the Kruger National Park. The trail starts at Crocodile Bridge (Krokodillenburg) in the South of Kruger. After 5 days, you will finish up North at Crooks' Corner in Pafuri. The Lebombo 4x4 trail is absolutely the best trail in the Kruger National Park! You can book a ticket via SANparks website. Often it's fully booked 1 year in advance..
In this blog, we share our experiences of the Lebombo trail, including tips and tricks for those planning to drive the trail.
The sign at the start of the Lebombo Trail in Crocodile Bridge
Day 1 | Lebombo 4x4 eco-trail | Start at Crocodile Bridge
We started the trail at 09:00 am at the Crocodile Bridge Gate. We had to check in with reception (it took us 30 minutes because of the queue) - so make sure you are on time. At the gas station, we met our group and the senior ranger that was going to guide us through the Kruger National Park. In total, 5 cars are allowed on each journey carrying up to 4 people each. Our trip consisted of two South African families, a South African couple, and our guide. What's nice about the Lebombo Eco-Trail is that you mostly take roads that say: "No entry". That's what we call: off-the-beaten-track! We drove about 5 minutes into the park and already spotted our first pride of lions on the 'no entry' road. Such an amazing start! About 500 meters later, we stopped and got out of the car. It was for our security briefing (ironically, it was only 500 meters away from the lions!). Here, we received radio communication, so that each car could communicate with each other and, most important, the guide.
We drove about 85 km to our camping spot on the first day. During the day, you have various stops (note: rangers can decide their own routes - so it might be that you get different ones). The road on day one can be tricky. As it contains a couple of up and downhills on rocky roads. The official SANparks website says it's not a test for your 4x4 driving skills, but don't let this mislead you. Two cars of our group carried a Bush Lapa (South African trailer caravan) and were struggling at some parts.
Our briefing at the start of the Lebombo trail. Our ranger was handing out the radio communications.
During our first day driving on the Lebombo trail, we had 3 designated stops. The first stop was the Hippo pool. Here, you get out of the cars and walk on the Hippo Dam. You will be 2-3 meters close to the hippos. The guide is carrying a gun for safety. The view from the hippo pools is wonderful. We spotted crocodiles, hippo's and hamerkops.
This is the Hippo pool. This can only be accessed by people on the Lebombo trail. You stand on the dam out of reach of the hippo's and crocodiles.
Our second stop on day 1 was the viewpoint of the Mozambican border. Here you have a beautiful view of the Komatipoort Border post. You see endless lines of cars waiting to enter South Africa. In addition, you find some remains of a rhino poached years ago at this specific viewpoint. The guide will tell you a lot about the history of the area and how the border post is changing.
At our third stop, it was time for lunch. You don't go to the 'official picnic spots' but find a nice place in the bush for a halt. There is always the chance to have wildlife (including lions) very close. So the ranger will tell you to stay close. Note: you must bring all your food yourself.
After a 30-minute lunch, we drove towards Lower Sabie Rest Camp. We drove briefly on the public roads as Lower Sabie Rest camp is off the Lebombo trail. Going on the normal tarred roads was a bit disappointing for us as we had prepared our truck to be self-reliant for the full 5 days in the bush. The bright side was that, it did allow us to spot some more wildlife, since there are more animals close to the larger rest camps. We only stopped for about 15 minutes. Here you can load up your supplies, firewood, and food or buy some takeaways at the restaurant.
An elephant blocking our road along the Mozambican border. Just be patient and allow it to finish its lunch before heading on with the Lebombo trail.
Then, we headed straight towards our campsite for the night. The goal is to be at camp every day before 16:30. So you have sufficient time for setting up camp. The first night we slept at a bush camp about 30 minutes from Lower Sabie Rest Camp. The camp was called Mitini Rest Camp. This camp is notorious for having many baboons in the tree. We were lucky as they were not home this day. We did have a curious hyena visiting our camp at sunset.
Lions crossing our convoy early in the morning. The Lebombo trail is a great opportunity to spot lions (we spotted 4 differnet prides).
The campsites on the Lebombo Trail
A quick overview of what to expect at the campsites of the Lebombo trail. They are very primitive, unfenced and hidden away in the bush. Each campsite consists of 2 toilets (one female and one male) and 2 showers (one female and one male). As there is no running water the toilets are compost toilets. The showers are buckets which you can fill yourself with the water you brought (note: if you want a hot shower, you need to warm up the water yourself). In addition, there is a designated campfire/braai spot. You have to bring all the firewood and braai equipment yourself. Firewood can be bought in the park stores on days 1, 3 and 4. The campsites are not fenced, which means animals can walk into the camp at anytime. The campsite is a bit further from the parts with high concentrations of animals to give you some sleep at night ;) We had the following visitors at our campsites: elephants, hyenas, spring hares, jackals, elands and impalas (and maybe more, who knows!). On top of that, during the nights we could clearly hear the roars of lions and leopards, the crying and giggling of hyenas, and the trumpeting and rumbling of nearby elephants.
The showers provided at the camp. It's a bring your own water - bucket type of shower. The campfire pit provided. You will need to bring your own wood.
Day 2 | Lebombo 4x4 Eco-trail | Off-the-beaten track to Pumbe Bushcamp
Every morning we woke up at 6:00 am to leave the camp by 07:00 am. Folding in our rooftop tent took us only 5 minutes - so we had plenty of time for breakfast. Be mindful of what you bring to sleep in. Some of our group had a 3-person tent with stretchers that took them nearly 45 minutes every morning (and evening).
On day 2, we were unlucky. We had a lot of rain, and it was cold. Therefore we decided to make only a few stops and drive 'quickly' to our destination. It was a 140km drive with an average speed of 20 km/h. It took us 7 hours of driving. In addition to a lot of rain, this part of the park was recently burned down completely. This meant most of the road we drove were past burned fields with no animals.
Our first stop of day two was our brunch break at 11:30. We stopped at a nice area close to a river. That part of the river is notorious for an enormous crocodile that recently attacked one of the rangers. It's also the place where a ranger was struck by a large male lion, and he single-handed killed the lion with his knife and lived to tell the tale. Because the rain was still pouring, our ranger decided to stay on the border route'. This is a straight and boring road past the South African-Mozambican border. We drove for about 100 km past this fence - not too exciting. In hindsight, our guide told us that in normal weather conditions, they would have taken the Lebombo trail which is 5km more inland from the border.
In the afternoon, we made another stop at the gorgeous Nwanetsi Gorge. This river gorge is - again - only accessible for people on the Lebombo trail. From high up on the cliffs, you have a stunning view into the river bed. We even spotted some elephants in the rivier who were busy taking a bath. After this quick stop, it was time to hit the road again towards our final destination of the day Pumbe Rest Camp. Pumbe is a lovely camp surrounded by high grass and many animal sounds during the night. Despite the rain, we were still able to have a lovely little braai out there.
Campsite 2 on the Lebombo trail beautiful in the bush.
Day 3 | A fresh shower and a 'shaky' route
We woke up at 06:00 am again after a cold night (5 degrees celsius, it was definitely winter in Kruger National Park!). We all packed our completely wet tents and hit the road again. Today, it was again a long day of driving: 160 km. Our first stop came quick and looked like a small dried-out pond. Our ranger told us he frequently found leopards and lions here, but unfortunately not today. The pond was famous for the unique lungfish and killifish that only occur in this waterhole and one other in the Kruger National Park. The lungfish is well-adapted to the heat in Kruger as it can survive up to 3 years in a dried-up pond without any water.
Then, we continued the journey towards Olifant's Rest Camp. We arrived around 09:00 am and had the opportunity to take a hot shower. This ablution block is only used by Lebombo trail guests, so no long lines for the shower! We decided to have late breakfast / early lunch at the rest camp while everybody was showering. In hindsight, we should have waited with breakfast /lunch until the next stop: a spot next to the river as this was much more scenic.
Our lunch spot for day 3! Beautiful located on the Olifants river with amazing birding opportunities.
After this short break at the river and another short interruption, because one of the cars got a flat tyre (make sure to bring a spare!). It was time for the 'milkshake'. This part of the Lebombo trail is notorious because it takes 3 hours to cover only 15km in distance. It's a tough and rough road, with a lot of rocks and bumps, but also great fun! Be careful driving here and take it slow. Also, important to have quality recovery gear with you for this part of the trail. One of our cars got stuck on a rock at the 'milkshake' and luckily we had a Hi-lift jack to resolve the situation quickly.
From the 'milkshake', we continued to our 3rd campsite: Shilowa bush camp. This was our favorite camping spot. It's nicely secluded between the trees. We arrived early (15:00), which gave us a lot of time to enjoy some cold beers. Unfortunately, it's not allowed to walk too far from the camp as you are surrounded by hyenas and lions.
The Milkshake road on day 3 with the 4x4 of the ranger stuck on the Lebombo trail.
The campsite on day 3. Beautiful covered under the green bush.
Day 4 | Driving in the Northern part of Kruger National Park
Day four is the last day you will drive a long distance on the Lebombo trail. About 160 km, but the road is in much better condition. We really enjoyed this part, as the road is stunning. There is a large variety of wilderness and we spotted the most game on this day.
As a start, our ranger took a 30km side tour towards a nice loop. It's a beautiful piece of the park that consists of a lot of animals. We spotted two prides of lions, loads of elephants, zebra, jackals, vultures, korhaan bustards, kudu's and other animals. Our second stop was an excellent viewpoint. From here, we had a fantastic view of the grasslands in the north. Getting out of the car so many times in the wilderness is extraordinary. You sometimes forget you are surrounded by wild (dangerous) animals. At our next stop was time for brunch. We stopped at a small picnic spot of the-beaten-track. It was surrounded by bones from animals and signs to be careful with the hyenas in this part. We spotted the rare thunderbirds on our way to the picnic spot.
We continued for our second shower stop at Shingwedzi Rest Camp. Tip: use these stops also to do your dishes as there is plenty of hot water available! Same shower facilities as the first shower stop. After showers and fuel top-ups (tip: you can get fuel on days 1, 3 and 4 at the rest camps - although prices are higher than outside the Kruger park), we drove onwards via the Mphongolo loop (optional). This is a beautiful part along the (dry) river banks and often considered as one of the best loops of Kruger National Park. It is outstanding for spotting leopards (we didn't, sadly), lions, buffalo's and elephants. We came across many breeding herds of elephants. We even got chased by a herd of elephants protecting a very young one (just a few weeks old). Also, we spotted again multiple lions and buffalos lying in the sun.
Above a series of animals that we spotted on our Lebombo trail. You will be able to spot the whole big five! And more rare animals which hide from the crowds.
After the Mphongolo loop, it was still another 80 km to drive. However, the roads are good in this part of the park. You can go up to 40 km/h on the dirt roads, so it will take you about 2 hours to get there. But, be prepared. You are driving on sandy roads fully covered in elephant dung and you might encounter an elephant, buffelo or kudu hiding in the bushes waiting to cross safely.
The last camp is the Nidzogfuri rest camp. When we arrived, a big herd of elephants was near the camp. We couldn't see them, but we heard them walking around us. On our final night, we had a braai again, while the ranger told us interesting stories about the life of a ranger.
Tip: Make sure to ask your ranger a lot of questions. He is there for you during the entire trail to answer them. Only senior rangers are able to guide the Lebombo trail due to their many years of experiences. They have a lot of knowledge and unique experiences of the Kruger National Park as this has been their home for years. However, they sometimes only share some of these captivating stories when asked.
Day 5 |The end of the Lebombo 4x4 trail
The last day is only a short 2-hour drive. We woke up 30 minutes later than usual. On our way up north, we stopped shortly at a huge Baobab tree. The largest we've ever seen. We 'illegally' crossed the Mozambique border to get closer to it and snap a picture. The tree is over 800 years old with a diameter larger than our Land Cruiser.
Our 4x4 passing the big Baobab tree on the South African-Mozambican border.
It was another 1-hour drive from the Baobab, past the Pafuri Border post, to Crook's Corner. Here, we handed in our radio communications and thanked our ranger for all his guidance and knowledge. For the last 5km, we had to drive on the Pafuri loop to Pafuri picnic. This is where we all had our final lunch, and the trail officially ended. In total, we drove 630km (130km extra due to all the detours).
All in all, we were so happy that we signed up for this unique trail. It's an amazing and special experience. You get to see a complete different side of Kruger. You'll learn a lot about wildlife behaviour, but also the bird- and plant life in Kruger. You discover a Kruger that is not known to the wider public. That's all that we long for: going off-the-beaten-track in Kruger National Park.
We are Mitchel & Esther and love to share our experiences with you.
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