Olifants Rest Camp undoubtedly offers the best views of any of the Kruger National Park‘s camps, situated as it is on a cliff high above the Olifants River in the central regions of the Park. Many guests spend all day on their accommodation unit’s veranda, using their binoculars to scan the river below and the plains beyond for wildlife, or simply soaking in one of the grandest vistas in wild Africa.
Olifants was opened in June 1960, though it was closed for a 16 month period in the early 1970’s after a fire destroyed the reception, restaurant and shop. The cliff-top viewpoint near the restaurant is one of the most popular spots in the entire Park, and during the day is always packed with spectators enjoying the wildlife show along the river banks below. The camp offers guests a choice of 112 accommodation units, ranging from 2 and 3 bed bungalows to two luxurious and very exclusive guest houses that accommodate up to 8 guests each. Some of the accommodation units have been built right on the edge of the cliff, offering guests the most exquisite views, but you have to book a year in advance if you want to secure one of those. The two-bedroomed cottage number 14 is a personal favourite of ours. Olifants also offers guests a Mugg & Bean restaurant (itself with stunning views), a shop, filling station, small meeting room, swimming pool, picnic area for day visitors and guided activities.
Nearby, tiny Balule is a much more rustic camp offering accommodation in a small camping area and six very basic three-bed huts on the southern bank of the Olifants River. The huts were built in 1930 in the “Selby” style: a rondavel (round hut) without any windows, just a gap all around between the roof and wall for ventilation. The huts share a communal kitchen (with a paraffin freezer) and ablution block, and the same applies to the camping sites. Balule has no electricity and paraffin lamps are used to provide light at night. During the Apartheid years Balule was available only to non-white visitors.
Just outside Balule, a low level causeway crosses the Olifants River. The pontoon-crossing that operated over the river since 1929 was replaced by the causeway in 1937, but the old bridge was extensively damaged in the massive floods of January 2012 and had to be rebuilt. The high-span bridge across the same river, on the main tarred H1 route through the Park, lies about 5km due west from Balule and affords visitors the opportunity to stop and stretch their legs while enjoying the views up- and downstream. Both bridges are very popular with guests to Olifants, as they allow close-up views of so many of the river’s denizens.
South of Olifants, the roads initially follow the course of the river before leading down to the Satara-area. Nwamanzi offers more spectacular views over the Olifants, and the open plains south of the river host a huge number and variety of game and birds. Bangu waterhole and the Hlahleni stream crossing on the S90, as well as the Ngotso Weir on the S89, are especially rewarding spots to wait for the herds (and the predators that prey on them) to come and drink.
North of Olifants you enter the mopane-dominated northern plains of Kruger. There’s two general options of routes leading northwards from Olifants, both leading to Letaba Rest Camp. The quickest route follows the tarred H8 and H1-5 roads and is often very quiet game viewing-wise, especially once the road turns away from the river. The gravel S44, S93 and S46 roads follows the course of the Olifants and Letaba rivers through some very rocky terrain with several stream crossings and, apart from a lovely viewing point downstream from camp and the historic Von Wielligh’s Baobab, usually also offers lots more wildlife to see.
For scenic splendour alone, there’s no other camp in Kruger that can compete with Olifants. Combine that with the camp’s great facilities and excellent game viewing drives in the vicinity, and you’ll understand why it has become a firm favourite with many Kruger visitors.