Riches of nature, history and adventure
By Brenda Fineberg
The Kruger National Park is one of the most famous tourist attractions in South Africa. Kruger is approximately 20 000km2 and encompasses about 20 different ecozones so one can imagine the huge variety of fauna and flora which abounds in the park. Many tourists include the Kruger Park in their itinerary when travelling to South Africa with many focusing mainly on the southern areas as these are easier to access due to the distance from major cities. However, the northern sections of Kruger have enchanting qualities that should not be overlooked.
Punda Maria Rest Camp
A few nights stay at Punda Maria Rest Camp is a must for those wishing to explore the delights of the top section of Kruger. Punda Maria’s rooms admittedly are rather rustic but they do have all the amenities needed for a comfortable self-catering stayover. Also available for booking are seven permanent tents which are much larger and more secluded than the rooms so they are a favoured reservation. Birders might be rewarded with sightings of Crested Guineafowl and Cape Parrots around the camp. After sundown keep an eye out for some of the nocturnal residents like the Thicktailed Bushbabies.
From Punda Maria one can drive north to Pafuri. Stop for breakfast at the Pafuri picnic site where the vista across the Luvuvhu River is breath-taking. Don’t be so focused on the mischievous Vervet monkeys, who have perfected the art of stealing any food left unattended, that you forget to scan the surrounding areas for special sightings. We had the good fortune to watch a lioness come and lie in the riverbed (after an unsuccessful attempt at catching her prey) and lap the water for a while, providing us with a perfect viewing.
Fever Tree Forest
Continuing east towards the border of the park, one drives though the most amazing Fever Tree Forest. These trees have a unique yellow colour on the trunk and branches which, if rubbed off, exposes a green bark. This colouration is not, however, the reason for the naming of the tree. Fever trees are often found in areas where water is present in shallow pans or swampy areas which are also ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Early pioneers in these areas developed terrible fevers and associated the fever with these strangely coloured trees. However, we now know that the fevers were actually due to being infected by the malaria parasite which is transmitted by mosquitoes.
Fever trees provide a variety of food sources as their leaves, fruit and flowers are enjoyed by a wide variety of animals so when driving through the avenues of these beautiful trees, one is bound to see many Nyala, Baboon, Impala and other antelope. For birding enthusiasts these areas are a delight.
The eastward journey continues to Crooks Corner. This infamous spot, where the Luvuvhu River and the mighty Limpopo River meet, is so named because back in the early 1900’s it afforded the perfect escape for outlaws. As it is the border between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, criminals were able to escape being apprehended by merely moving across the border to which ever country did not at that moment have lawmen on one’s heels. There was even a post set in the ground marking the corner and should it become necessary the crook could perch on top and claim refuge.
Returning to Punda Maria one drives through areas where majestic Baobab trees grow. Known descriptively as “upside down trees” because their branches resemble massive root systems pointing skywards, these trees are historical entities in their own right as they can live for thousands of years. They are favoured scratching posts for elephants and their enormous trunks provide homes to a wide range of organisms so look out for roosting birds amongst other creatures.
Shingwedzi Rest Camp
70km south of Punda Maria is Shingwedzi Rest Camp. This is a large camp situated on the Shingwedzi River. During the winter months there are pools of water where one can enjoy viewing the antics of elephant herds splashing amongst the hippo. During these dry months it is hard to imagine the massive riverbed filled with roaring waters flowing from bank to bank, but the flood levels in recent years have even put sections of the camp underwater – what a sight that must be! The fertile soils of the floodplains in this area encourage a multitude of animals to feed on the rich vegetation, contrasting the lesser biodiversity in the surrounding Mopani veld regions. The drive along the river here is delightful, with many spots to stop under the trees and enjoy watching the activities of all the animals and birds which are plentiful here. Watch out for Sharpe’s Grysbok which is a special sighting in this area. Saddle-billed Stork, Spoonbills and other storks can be seen wading in the pools.
Nearby, just south-east of Shingwedzi Camp lies Kanniedood Dam. This stretch of waterway is known for its birding opportunities and a hide allows visitors to sit quietly and enjoy the goings-on of the bushveld.
From Shingwedzi one can drive to Red Rocks – a beautiful sandstone outcrop exposed by the Shingwedzi River. There are lookout points where one can survey the vastness of the area and appreciate nature’s grandeur. This is also the route one would take to Bateleur Private Bush Camp. The bush camps in Kruger are small rest camps which restrict access to residents only and are more secluded to allow guests a quieter experience of the bushveld compared to the busier rest camps.
Rooibosrant Dam and Silvervis Dam are in close proximity to Bateleur Camp thereby providing perfect locations to enjoy sunrise and sunset. What a perfect way to end the day – watching the animals coming to the water’s edge for their final drink of the day as the sky turns orange with the last rays of the African sun.
So when you plan your trip to the Kruger National Park, don’t forget to include a few days in the northern section – it has a uniqueness that one shouldn’t overlook in one’s itinerary!
**And while you enjoy the evenings in the Kruger Park, you will of course be hearing the special cicadas**