A road trip itinerary for foodies in the Greater Kruger

July 18, 2023 (Last Updated: August 23, 2023)

A family trip to the Kruger sounds like a blast, but cramming four generations of hangry Karoo farmers into a Volkswagen Kombi for 16 hours is asking for trouble. Nonetheless, as Louzel Lombard Steyn puts foot from Cradock to Punda Maria, she identifies plenty of good Bosveld food along the way.

The first hiccup came when we picked up the van from the car rental agency. Dad’s farm English had proved too difficult to decipher over the phone and we were presented with a windowless panel van instead of a passenger vehicle for game viewing. It was quite problematic, seeing as we were headed to the Kruger National Park for a winter break. My brother offered to ride shotgun and narrate interesting viewings to those in the dark backseats – jokingly – and received a smack to the head for it. It took some explaining, but 15 Lombards eventually crammed into a taxi – one with windows – ecstatic for the holiday ahead. But before we continue, also check out 7 waterside campsites in Mpumalanga.

ALSO SEE: Experience the majesty of the African bushveld with this all-inclusive luxury Kruger safari experience for 2 at the Orpen Lodge!


Photo: Supplied

Ouma whipped out the skaftien (lunch box) before we had even exited the parking lot and started peeling oranges for everyone. It’s a messy business, but Ouma insisted we each eat an orange as she didn’t want anyone to catch a cold on the journey. It was a long and harrowing one, so we complied. Punda Maria Gate is a 16-hour drive from Cradock in the Eastern Cape, and there are only so many leg-of-lamb sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs one can consume to settle the nerves.

By the time we arrived, two days later, we were irritated and elated and ready to breathe in the fresh air of the Lowveld. You should also check out the top stargazing spots in South Africa.

ALSO SEE: The Best Restaurants in Gqeberha

The time in Kruger was one for the books, as always. The area around Punda Maria may seem sparse at first glance, but this northern Sandveld landscape offers game viewing at a slower pace. A mega-herd of hundreds of buffalo leisurely grazed by as we braaied at the Pafuri picnic site near Crooks Corner one afternoon.

We tracked a puckish honey badger from the rest camp and ended up spotting a mating pair of leopards, courting in a tree. And on the last day, as we were lazily drinking gin and watching a kingfisher hustle over the Mphongolo River, a pride of 14 lions came strolling up, right past our van. Magical.

The next morning we would take the langpad (long road) home again. We braaied the leftover meat and made a Russian-style potato salad with everything else. Mom baked fresh potbrood buns so I could make padkos sandwiches with leftover steak, chutney, and cheese. The endlessness of a Kruger night sky and complete stillness of the veld, save for our family’s banter and the crackle of the fire, can make a humble plate of braaivleis and potato salad taste like a Michelin-starred meal. That’s the magic of Bosveld food.

READ MORE: Treat your family to a serene natural getaway with this 2-night self-catering stay at Sabaan Holiday Resort in Hazyview

As always, Ouma was in charge of the flasks of coffee for the next morning and when the gates opened that next day, we were stuffed into our usual spots in the taxi and dishing out padkos again. Ouma poured the coffee and I handed out the steak-wiches. Dad took one sip of his coffee and immediately spewed the contents over the dashboard, initiating a screaming contest. The coffee tasted like animal droppings, he hollered and proceeded to chuck the entire mug with its contents out of the window. (Apologies to SANParks for littering in the park. I hope someone picked up that Stanley Thermo cup again soon after…)

Ouma scolded her eldest for his brutish behaviour and threatened everyone else not to share their cups with Dad. She continued to pour the coffees for the rest of the crew. However, one by one, as we took our first sips, confused gazes arose. Until Oupa found a slice of cucumber in his cup… He started to chuckle, then broke into full-on laughter. Turns out, in the rush of the early morning getaway, Ouma had neglected to rinse the thermal flasks. Leftover G&T from the afternoon before – complete with cucumber slices for flavour – had made it into our morning coffee.

A few embarrassed apologies later, we decided to give the taxi padkos a break. There are, after all, more than a few ways to get your fix of Bosveld food. Here are a few favourite food stops and foodie experiences that honour the South African bushveld in its most natural and splendid form.

Kruger Culinary Haunts: Views for Days
You don’t need to be in a park or reserve to get a full-on South African wildlife experience while enjoying a cold beer and lunch. At the Three Bridges Restaurant outside Hoedspruit, you can see elephants bathing and waterbuck grazing from the restaurant’s raised decks at The Outpost. This locally loved haunt is situated right on the Olifants River’s banks, with the decks perfect for appreciating the serene and natural surroundings of the Lowveld bush. The rustic restaurant and bar is a haven for many Kruger Park visitors, including, recently, a bunch of hangry Karoo farmers who had G&T coffee for breakfast.

Contact: 079 912 9416

READ MORE: Experience absolute serenity in stunning natural surroundings with a 2-night bushveld getaway at Leopard Kruger Lodge in Marloth Park! 

Kruger Itinerary

Photo: Supplied

If you prefer the freedom of a self-drive through the Kruger, but need something a little more challenging than the usual tarred road, rev your engine and sign up for the Mafunyane 4×4 Eco-Trail in the north-western section of the park between the Olifants and Luvuvhu rivers. This four-day, three-night self-catering adventure is led by an experienced and professional guide. The trail route covers about 270km and participants must drive their own 4x4s, with provisions for the entire trip, including tents and camping gear, sufficient supply of water, firewood and food. The day drives can be challenging, but nothing beats lighting the fires at night to enjoy a well-deserved lamb chop straight from the grill while discussing the triumphs – and shortfalls – of the vehicles and drivers at length… Overnight sites have a fireplace, enviro-friendly toilets and a shower for which you heat your water on the fire. The trail departs from Phalaborwa Gate every Thursday at noon and ends at Punda Maria Camp on Sunday morning, during the dry season from 1 March to 30 November.

Contact: 012 428 9111, sanparks.org

EXPLORE: Have a unique African bushveld adventure with this all-inclusive 2-night stay in a luxury safari tent at Little Africa Safari Lodge in Hoedspruit

Best Bushveld Skottelbraai 
The Kruger’s picnic spots each have their own charm, but the northern and central ones are particularly lovely thanks to their remoteness. Fewer human visitors also often mean more visitors from the bushveld, so sightings from next to the skottelbraai can be particularly thrilling. N’wanetsi picnic spot is close to the Mozambican border on Kruger’s eastern flank, with stellar views over the Sweni River. Arriving here in a taxi after a five-hour drive is like arriving at the pearly gates. Facilities are spotless and you can hire a skottelbraai to braai a few breakfast burgers. An oldie but a goodie. As a bonus, the famous S100 leads you to N’wanetsi. You’re almost guaranteed a spectacular viewing along this wild stretch of dirt road.

Authentic Feasts in the Middle of Nowhere: The Real-deal Karoo Feast
Eating under the stars needn’t be elementary. The new True Karoo Farm Table (on a farmstead about 75 minutes from Gqeberha, on the N10) offers all the wonder of the night sky, plus wining and dining fit for a king. No baked beans or stones for chairs here; instead True Karoo has dimmed fairy lights under the Karoo milky way, a beautifully decorated table, exquisite wines, and delicious farm food – a dining experience you’ll not easily forget. There are only 12 seats available per sitting, so book well in advance; the next True Karoo Table is scheduled for 3 December 2022.

Contact: 079 695 5920, truekaroo.com 

READ MORE: Take a break from the city with your partner with this Relaxing 2-Night Stay for 2 at the Serenity Du Bois Lodge in Marloth Park!

Photo: Supplied

A True Bush Oasis
An oasis in the purest sense, Kalahari Oasis Bush Pub in Mabalingwe Nature Reserve in Limpopo offers ice-cold refreshments in the middle of the bushveld, which is especially appreciated after a sweltering afternoon of game viewing. Don’t let the shabby tin-clad exterior put you off – this full-blooded pub is a proudly South African character and one that many remember from that iconic Castrol ad, ‘Ag seker nie vêr nie…’ ([I’m] sure not far). It’s only open to visitors of Mabalingwe and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Contact: 014 001 7011; mabalingwe.co.za

ALSO SEE: Road trip itineraries for adventurers and foodies in South Africa

Road trip itineraries for adventurers and foodies in South Africa: exploring local padstals and cuisine


Originally published by Louzel Lombard Steyn for Getaway Magazine. 

Photographs: Supplied

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