The space in which the Kruger currently exists was once the last stretch of wilderness and existed as a sort of wild frontier. The areas surrounding what is now the Kruger Park were occupied by European settlers or African Hunter-Gatherers and as time went on groups of people moved ever forward, encroaching on the wild frontiers. Many Animals were pushed out of their homes or culled in order to placate human settlement and as a result many animal populations were driven near to endangerment while other Animals were split and forced to separate regions in South Africa.
As a result of the endangerment of wildlife; concerned South African conservationists, importantly JL van Wyk and RK Loveday, sought to repair the damage that settlements caused to natural wildlife by cordoning off a section of South Africa. By 1898 their plans had come to full fruition and the proclamation of a conservancy for wildlife between the Sabie and Crocodile River came to be the first move in a set of motions that led to the now Kruger National Park.
The Sabie and Shingwedzi Game Reserves
The Kruger Park was later extended, by the then President Paul Kruger, from the Sabie River in the north to the Crocodile River in the south as well as an increase in its width from the Logies river to the eastern Mozambique border. The reserve was named the Sabie Game reserve with an important historical figure at the helm a one, Major James Stevenson-Hamilton took over much of the parks administrating and saw to it that much of the surrounding land was added to the Kruger Park’s size including many farms and settlements. The prelude to tourism happened by way of a train that was started and set to stop over at the Sabie Game Reserve for an overnight stay; the train went from the border of Mozambique in Komatipoort to a town in the South African province of Limpopo called Tzaneen. The park boasted a range of tours and safaris around the park and because of this its fame and following grew substantially and gave the South African government more reason to proclaim the Sabie Game reserve as a National park. In May 1926 the Union of South Africa passed the National Parks act and renamed the Sabie Game reserve to the Kruger National Park in Honour of the famous Union President.
These are the origins of the now famous Kruger National park, where the land had come from and why the Union of South Africa had named it so.
The start of Tourism in the park
One year after the National parks proclamation in 1926 tourism started with only three cars entering the park which soon became 180 cars in the year 1928 and an even larger exponential jump to 850 cars in 1929. This exponential jump proved to the Government of the time that they were sitting on a gold mine that was waiting to be further developed but there was a conflict of interest as tourism grew, as the worry of conservation became a problem. This was later circumvented when it was later defended that the park would be used to educate and show people the pristine nature of the parks in tandem with the thriving wildlife and in turn would further the much needed conservationist ideals.
Tourism was initially raised as an issue in 1918 and was only dealt with in full by 1923 when the South African Railways initiated a train route that went into the Kruger Park’s Lowveld and through the bordering Mozambican city of Maputo. This railway line proved monumental to the Kruger’s tourism industry as it brought potential tourists out in droves to witness this ground breaking Kruger experience.
With Tourism and the proclamation now in full swing the board of the Kruger National Park held a meeting in which it was decided that in order to boost tourism in the area they would build a main road through the park with a number of roads leading in and out of the hinterlands of the park. Tourism soon became a major part of the Kruger Parks income as many tourists paid for the Aid of guides and multiple park resources and facilities.
It was recognised that the park was lacking in tourist sleeping facilities and accommodations so in early 1927 the board worked in co-operation with the South African Rail Road to build and equip the Kruger Park with sleeping facilities and rest quarters for potential visitors. The need for services as well as amenities grew and soon restaurants as well as security was added to important rest spots around the park in order to assure quality and control to ensure guest safety. The Kruger Park became a booming business for the Board and for the local government as it brought in droves of people who were keen to see what the Kruger National Safari Park had to offer. Bridges like the crocodile bridge were petitioned to be built as well as a railway track going through much of the park itself; the park saw exponential growth in car visitors and in unaccompanied visits.
The early accommodations
The commencement of accommodations started with the building of the first three “rest-huts” with an additional six in store for future plans. These plans for building took some time but eventually these plans had come to be and with them came the visions of grandeur for rest camps the size of current day rest camps. Those in charge of building these spaces saw the potential in building the camps to be bigger and more accommodating and some of the smaller camps like Letaba and Satara were envisioned to become as large as the biggest camp at the time.
By 1929 there was a mass move to increase the amount of accommodations offered by the park and it was done with full intent of turning the Kruger National Safari Park into a world-renowned tourist attraction. Guesthouses were built out of wood and steel at the lower Sabie camp and a multitude of Rondavels (round thatched hut like buildings you will likely see on your travels to Kruger) were built at the Satara, Letaba and Balule camps.
Tourist amenities grew by the early 1930s and kept growing throughout much of the parks history, huts and smaller buildings were built on the banks of the Crocodile River and tents started to make their way into what was offered to tourists and soon tented camps as well as rondavels were offered in the park for all tourist accommodations. Rest camps comprising of tents became common use by tourists and park workers alike, a rest camp comprising only of tents was built by the Tsende River and later a similar camp style was erected at the Shingwedzi rest camp made entirely as a tented camp.
The final camps to be added to the Kruger Parks facilities were opened before 1946, almost 30 years after the Kruger Park’ board of directors initiated the move into planned infrastructure and tourist facilities. The last two camps were camps built in the Lower Sabie and Pafuri regions of the park, the first of these comprised of three chalets with six bedrooms to a chalet and was built in a protective U-shape in order to block off parts of the camp to keep it secure from wild animals. A tented camp was built by the Luvhuvu River with an accompanying picnic area but this soon changed with and infestation of river born mosquitos as well as perennial flooding.
The development of these facilities was done on much of a trial and error basis, many of the directors at the park overlooked pertinent details and many of the board’s decisions lacked a sense of insight into future possibilities for the park. One issue can be highlighted as the quintessence of such behaviour and that is the oversight of a councilor Oswald Pirow who deemed that tourists would not need the offered facilities like rondavels and chalets but that they would rather camp. This lead the board to push an act that stipulated a building style that detracted much from the accommodations and offered the most basic of amenities to guests; one year later this oversight had already become a problem and this stipulation was retracted faster than it was enacted. The progression of the parks facilities and amenities took much time and effort but through all this learning the Kruger park had become one of the most well-governed and looked after national parks with a world renowned directorate board.