It’s amazing to see how much Kruger has changed from its early days to modern times. Dr Salomon Joubert, author of The Kruger National Park – A History, gives us a glimpse into the rich history of the park. He shares fascinating images of travel in Kruger, a real trip down memory lane!
Dr Salomon Joubert was the Chief Executive Director of the Kruger National Park from 1985 to 1994 and his intimate knowledge and love of the park and bush comes through on every page of The Kruger National Park – A History.
In the early years of the Kruger National Park there was limited accommodation in the form of rondavels and camping played a major role. As early as 1931, only five years after the proclamation of the park in 1926, the board acquired the first six ‘cottage tents’ for Satara and Skukuza. Purchases rapidly increased and by the mid-1930’s several hundred tents were in use in the larger rest camps, such as Pretoriuskop, Skukuza, Satara and Letaba. Many tourists also pitched their own tents and the congenial atmosphere created by campers and open fires provided a very special experience for early visitors.
In 1926, when the park was proclaimed, the only access was by means of the Selati Railway Line. The first priority was, therefore, to open roads suitable for cars – these were mere tracks opened in the southern areas of the park and extending as far as Satara. A major obstacle, however, was river crossings. To overcome this problem pontoons were established over the major perennial rivers such as the Crocodile, Sabie and Olifants. Over the somewhat less daunting Sand River the problem was overcome by attaching logs, in parallel fashion, to one another and thereby creating the ‘corduroy bridge’.
Initially tourists were allowed to alight from their vehicles wherever they wanted and even allowed to camp outside of the official rest camps. However, as the numbers of tourists increased these practices became undesirable and in 1930 a set of regulations had to be imposed, both for the safety of the tourists and in the interests of the park. These regulations included a ban on discarding burning objects or leaving unattended fires, cutting or damaging plants or defacing any objects in the park, littering, leaving the road and a speed limit of 25 miles/hour (40 km/hour). Sound regulations, as relevant today as they were then!
Travelling without air conditioning and modern suspension could only have been something of a nightmare. In these days, park regulations were less stringent than today and visitors could alight from their vehicles to stretch their legs and cool off! In spite of any such real or perceived ‘hardships’ the park rapidly grew in popularity as evidenced by the sharp increase of visitors during the 1930s.
Pretoriuskop was the first area to be opened to tourists. Not that there was a rest camp but merely because it was the only area that had some form of a negotiable track to make it accessible to vehicles! In 1927 visitors would enter the Pretoriuskop area from the town of White River via the then ranger’s quarters at Mtimba (now outside the park) on a specified track and return back along the same track on the same day. Pretoriuskop Rest Camp was, together with Skukuza, the first rest camp to be built – an important consideration, other than accessibility, being that it offered the possibility of remaining open throughout the year. In 1936, the new rest camp, designed by the well-known architect, G Moerdyk, was opened together with the landmark entrance gate to the camp.
To give tourists access to the park pontoons were made available across the Crocodile River (two) and one each over the Sabie at Reserve (as Skukuza was known until 1932) and the Olifants (just below Balule camp). Initial costs for the pontoons was 5/- (five shillings) per vehicle, valid for any number of crossings over the same pontoon for seven days. Pedestrians paid 2/6 (half a crown or two shillings and sixpence) for a group of up to five people and sixpence for any additional persons. The tariff for vehicle crossings was reduced to 2/6 in 1931!