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By unknown | Feb 23, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Lounging peacefully on the terrace, watching the elephants, leopards and antelopes gather at the watering hole.

Lounging peacefully on the terrace, watching the elephants, leopards and antelopes gather at the watering hole.

That's how hundreds of football fans will relax in South Africa's Kruger National Park on "soccer safaris", after taking in World Cup matches in the nearby city of Nelspruit.

With 100000 people, Nelspruit is among the smaller of the host cities and doesn't have enough accommodation for the fans expected to arrive here in June 2010.

So organisers are tapping resources in the tourist magnet of Kruger game park, just a two-hour drive away.

"Any person who comes so close to Kruger would definitely come to see the game. You cannot miss it if you're that close to it, especially coming from Europe or Asia," said Stephen Nel, a manager at the Berg-en-Dal rest camp.

About 1,3 million tourists each year visit the park, which is about half the size of the Netherlands and has a highly developed network to accommodate guests.

During the World Cup, the camps of Skukuza, Berg-en-Dal and Pretoriuskop will host nearly 2000 fans in search of South Africa's "Big Five" - elephants, buffalo, leopard, lions and rhinos.

Fifa partner responsible for accommodation, Match, is offering packages that include lodging, transport and safaris, which could mean pre-dawn drives to catch the animals at sun-up, twilight hikes, or dinner in the bush.

To allow the guests to see the football matches, Kruger is reworking its rules. The park currently closes at 6pm, and some games at Nelspruit's Mbombela stadium will only kick off two hours later.

Armed rangers will escort the fans back to their lodges and tents, "to protect them from lions, elephants and other dangerous animals," according to South African National Parks.

"They'll probably change the opening times of the restaurants as most of our guests would be for the World Cup," Nel added.

He said that the camp had welcomed guests from the rugby World Cup in 1995, but that was on a smaller scale than what is expected in 2010.

The World Cup will be the biggest event ever held in this rural province, with Nelspruit building a 46000-seat stadium for the occasion.

And to solve the accommodation problem, new guesthouses have opened in the city, and two other towns are helping to ensure enough beds are available.

The city expects new hotels will be built, while some homeowners plan to leave for vacation and to rent out their homes to tourists.

Organisers are even considering creating tented campsites for visitors, spread around a 200-kilometre radius, including in neighbouring Swaziland and Mozambique.

Fifa want to ensure that 55000 rooms are available across the country during the World Cup. Right now there are 34000, making Kruger's model appealing.

The only requirement for the "soccer safaris" is that guests can actually see the matches, which is why Berg-en-Dal is thinking about setting up a TV in a conference room so the fans can watch games in other towns...if generators can be found to keep the electricity running. Sapa-AFP


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