Kruger Self-Drive Top Tarred Roads
Five top tarred roads in Kruger
‘Tarred roads? In a National Park? You may think this is crazy. Shouldn’t a renowned game reserve be ‘wild’ and as true to nature as possible? Stevenson-Hamilton also thought so. He vehemently opposed the building of tarred roads in the Park until his retirement. He was seriously concerned that tarred roads would lead to speeding and that this in turn would lead to carnage of wildlife ‘beyond all bounds’.
In a way he was right. Regular visitors to the Park are indeed concerned about speeding – mostly by insensitive drivers of service vehicles providing the necessary supplies to support the infrastructure of the Park. There are also some impatient visitors who race about expecting animals to pose for them instead of driving slowly and spotting them.
Today the tarred roads of the Kruger National Park are one of its characteristic features. I asked an American visitor what she would regard as a representative image of Kruger, and she immediately replied ‘lions on a tarred road’. And yes, of course, I thought, where else in the world would one see lions lounging on tar? But do tarred roads detract from the ‘wilderness feeling’? Most people say no, they like their comforts, even in the bush. No dust, no teeth-clattering corrugations, open car windows, and all-in-all a smooth comfortable drive even in adverse weather conditions. The dirt-roaders say ‘Let the majority keep their comforts. We prefer solitude and silence despite corrugations and dust’.
The dust was one of the reasons for building tarred roads. The argument is that the build-up of dust on plants next to busy gameviewing dirt roads is not aesthetically pleasing and may also be detrimental to the animals. Anybody who has driven along the S100 an hour before gate closing time during winter months knows what the dust of heavy traffic does to visibility. Another disappointment is that after heavy rains favourite dirt roads may be closed for game drives to protect the surface and prevent tourists’ vehicles from getting stuck.
Eco-friendly tarring of the first Kruger road commenced in August 1965. Today there are more than 850 kilometres of tarred roads in the Park. The remaining 1 444 kilometres of dirt roads will probably not be tarred soon (if ever) and will remain preferred backroads for those who value an intimate bush experience. For the tarred roads in the Park, bitumen is used rather than tar. It looks the same as tar but bitumen is a residue created when oil is refined and is relatively inert. Tar is made from coal and contains cancer-causing hydrocarbon compounds which can leach into the ground water.
The downside of eco-friendly tarred roads is that they require regular resealing. They contain no crushed stone, being made of bitumen and sand – a process called sand sealing. This involves stockpiling sieved, siltfree river sand in places where the upgrading has to be done. Hot bitumen is then brought into the Park in several tankers to ensure an uninterrupted supply for a couple of kilometres at a time. A coat of hot bitumen is sprayed onto the old road surface and then immediately covered by a layer of sand from a sand spreader. A roller follows to compact the surface and to give a smooth finish. The good news is that as soon as the rolling is done, the road is ready to be driven on, and that as the road degrades over the years, the sand eventually washes back into the rivers.
Top 5 tarred roads:
The H4-1 and H4-2
The most popular tarred road in the in southern section of the Park is probably the road between Skukuza and Crocodile Bridge via Lower Sabie. The main attraction is that the road hugs the perennial Sabie River for most of the way, is extremely scenic and offers ideal habitat for most kinds of predator and other game. The probability of good sightings and witnessing action is high. The downside is that everyone knows this, and traffic congestion does occur around good sightings. Courtesy and patience are required, but are sometimes in short supply!
The H1-2 and H1-3
The other popular tarred road is the stretch between Skukuza and Satara. This is an excellent drive that offers a diversity of landscapes and the possibility of seeing most of the general game found in the Park. The section where the road runs along the Sand River is good, and also the area around the Mantimahle Dam and Olifantsdrinkgat where the grass is sweet and attracts a lot of game. One should be especially on the lookout on the stretch from the huge boulders with the Kruger Tablets up to Leeupan.
After the Tshokwane picnic site visibility is excellent and the road passes reliable water sources and game is plentiful. The reason for the abundance of game in this area lies in the geology, soil and vegetation of the surrounding plains. The grasses are sweet and the landscape is mostly parklike and open, with knob-thorn and marula as the dominant tree species. The soils tend to retain water well into the dry season and therefore game gathers on these plains for nutritious grazing. The seasonal N’waswitsontso and Sweni watercourses have semi-permanent pools even into the dry season while the Kumana Dam and the Mazithi Pan are two reliable watering places on the H1-3.
The road between Lower Sabie and Tshokwane picnic site is yet another of the fine game-viewing roads in the Park. Visibility is good, game densities are high and there is a good likelihood of sighting all of the Big Five on a single game drive. Elephants favour the lush vegetation in the drainage lines where fever trees (light green), sycamore figs (yellowish stems), leadwoods (tall and upright) and jackal-berries (huge, dark green rounded canopies, yellowish in early spring) line the stream bed. A special sighting on this road would be reedbuck that keep to the vlei areas of the Mlondozi drainage line. Another would be the klipspringer on the rocky ridges of the Nkumbe Hill. Framed by the scarce Lebombo euphorbias (Euphorbia confinalis), the Nkumbe Lookout offers one of the grandest vistas of the seemingly endless bushveld.
Imagine the chaos that would have ensued if these five magnificent drives had remained as gravelled roads. With more than 4 500 visitors in the park each day, much of the grandeur of Kruger would have been lost in dust and frustration. Tarred roads contribute in a big way to everyones enjoyment of good wildlife sightings in Kruger.
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