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Uncovering Kruger National Park from Air- Grant Knight

 
19 June 2015 by Katy Johnson

A bird's eye view of Kruger National Park

Anyone who gets to live and work in Kruger National Park has a dream job in my mind! That being said if I could only choose one job, it would be Grant Knight’s. As head helicopter pilot he is one of the few people who gets to see the Park from the air.

Grant will be the first to admit he is living the dream. He first came to the Park during his practical year as a game capture student and saw the role helicopters play in conservation. From that moment on his mind was set on becoming a Kruger chopper pilot and for the past 11 years that is what he has been doing. Apart from the flying the best part about the job for Grant is that no two days are the same, especially as he gets to work in all 22 of South Africa’s National Parks. However, it is Kruger that holds a special place in Grants heart. His job as a pilot has allowed him to see more of the Park than almost anyone else and his passion for conservation means he wants to be flying here till the day he retires. This makes Grant the ideal person to Uncover Kruger from a totally new perspective. 

 

What makes Kruger National Park so special?

It is the size, diversity and the uniqueness of Kruger along with its absolute wilderness that makes it so special. There are places which are so remote very few people get to see them. Tourist roads only allow you to see about 5% of the Park, with a helicopter you can of course see more. Still there are places in the Park I have not seen after 11 years of flying here! Almost every day I see something unique or new, whether it’s an area I haven’t seen before or an animal behaviour I haven’t witnessed. That for me is what makes Kruger National Park so special. You never really know what you are going to get but you can guarantee whatever it is, it will be special! 

If we had one day, where would you take me in the Park on a game drive and why?

I would suggest you come in winter, as that is when there are the best sightings. Winter is our dry season, which means the animals come to the rivers, watering holes and roads in search of water. This gives tourists the best opportunities to get great sightings. I would definitely take you for a drive along the Sabie River road network. There are so many different lookout spots and loops along the route that allow you to see a lot of what is happening at the river. The Sabie River is great because it draws animals to it in winter time and gives tourists the best chance of coming face-to-face with an elephant! Another special place is the Berg en Dal section. The terrain there is quite different to the rest of the park with its rocky outcrops and hilly areas. When you are flying the Park can look rather flat, as often it is just trees for as far as the eye can see. The rocky outcrops around Berg en Dal give you something completely different to look at and from the ground they are also spectacular. Here if you are lucky you will get nice leopard sightings and you also must keep your eyes out for klipspringers too.

Where is the best place to grab a bite to eat?

Kruger has recently opened a range of new restaurants at all its rest camps and they are really great. As they offer a good range of food at affordable prices, The Cattle Baron steakhouse and bistro at Skukuza is one of my favourites. There are a number of well-known names like Mugg and Bean and Wimpy, as well as unique offerings like Tindlovu, but what makes the restaurants in the Park stand out is that they have the best views found anywhere in the world!

What are your top 5 parts of Kruger to visit?

 

The Berg en Dal area is definitely one, as the terrain there is so unique.

The next would have to be the lookout at Tshokwane, on the tar road. It showcases the landscape near Orpen Dam. It is a really popular lookout and can sometimes be quite busy, but the wait is definitely worth it!

The Sirheni landscape area is truly beautiful. There are some of the largest mopani trees in the Park near the river and if you are really lucky you will get good roan and sable sightings here. So it is a great place to visit and one that is often overlooked by many tourists. 

The Olifants River is a fantastic area within the Park, especially at the Olifants Rest Camp where you have great views of the river system. If you spend the day there you will see almost every kind of animal imaginable coming down for a drink. From a lone dugger boy to herds of elephants, baboon troops to lion prides, it is a very special river.

My last place would be the Pafuri regions of the Park. It is so remote that you don’t have the levels of tourism you get in the Southern Sections. Quite often you can drive for a morning and see only one or two other cars. The landscape there is unlike any other place in the Park. In places you feel like you have entered a tropical forest, with huge creepers hanging down from incredibly tall trees. There is all the history associated with Crooks Corner and Thula Mela, which are both definitely worth a visit. It really is a spectacular place.

What makes Mpumalanga stand out from all the other Provinces?
For me the thing that makes Mpumalanga really special is the landscape. The rolling hills that descend down from the Highveld escarpment and the stunning water catchment areas with their waterfalls, pools and tributaries are just breath-taking. Being able to see it from the air is one of the best perks of my job and luckily in Mpumalanga tourists can have the same experience as there are many companies offering balloon flights, helicopter flips, microlite experiences or for the really brave paragliding! I guess aside from the landscape it is the huge number of friendly tourism ventures that really make this province special!