PLANNING A 5 DAY KRUGER SAFARI TOUR
5-DAY KRUGER SAFARI TOUR
A 5-day Kruger safari tour (or longer) allows you to reach the upper northern region of the Park which is a spectacular treat. The far north corner of Kruger National Park is a scenic wonder, made up of a diverse range of eco-zones. The Punda Maria and Pafuri region have many features typical of a tropical biosphere as it is situated closer to the equator, although part of the region lies in a rain shadow and supports plants species used to more arid climates.
Moafrika Tours can recommend places to stay and popular destinations to visit in the Kruger National Park if you want to spend more time at this incredible South African destination.
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Unique factors contribute to a diverse array of plant species, some of which are only found in the far northern parts of the Kruger National Park. Sandy belts created from rivers that have flooded over centuries and corridors of riverine forests located along the Luvuvhu River make the far north region of the Park the favourite destination for avid birders.
Extremely rare sightings of the knocking sand frog, the Egyptian fruit bat, Wood’s slit-faced bat and the Madagascar large free-tailed bat are just some of the delights of the far north region of the Park. The nocturnal bush pig and the rare Sharpe’s grysbok are often sighted; aswell as troops of the elusive samango monkey that lives in the riverine forest at Pafuri. Five packs of endangered wild dog are found in the far north, aswell as the more common bushbuck, kudu, nyala and buffalo.
WHERE TO STAY IN THE FAR NORTH REGION OF KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
Punda Maria Rest Camp
Punda Maria Rest Camp is located in a corner of the Kruger National Park that is completely different from the central and southern regions and often described as the ‘botanical garden’ of the Kruger National Park.
Visitors staying at Punda Maria Rest Camp can stay in luxury safari tents nestled in lush vegetation or pretty white-washed bungalows that have much-needed air-conditioning. For a budget-friendly option, visitors have the choice of 50 camp or caravan sites.
The rest camp was given the name Punda Maria by the first ranger posted to the area, Captain JJ Coetser. The name Maria is the captain’s wife who bore him 12 children. Captain Coetser played a vital role in curbing rampant ivory poaching in the region which had become a haunt of smugglers, poachers and hunters.
FASCINATING FACTS ABOUT THE SANDVELD BIOSPHERE
The sandveld region is dominated by sandstone hills and thick woodlands. The variety of tree species in the region is staggering, where as many as 80 different types of trees are found just in Punda Maria Camp alone.
Unique sightings of the Natal red hare and the yellow-spotted rock dassies are fairly common, as it is the only habitat in the Park where these two are found.
Termite mounds dotted en-mass across the open grasslands are a striking feature of the sandveld region.
The minute suni antelope is only found in the far north region of the Kruger National Park.
The major pans found in the sandveld region are home to the rainbow killifish which is not found anywhere else in South Africa.
Fish species such as the spotted killifish and the odd-looking lung fish are able to survive in the more arid regions of the far north corner of the park as they have a lung that enables them to breath out of water. They can survive in pans that have dried up in the long summer months by creating a mud cocoon.
Other rare species found in the sandveld region of the far north of Kruger National Park include the pink-throated twin-spot, the fawn-coloured lark and the Cape hare.
The brightly coloured Narina trogon, long-tailed starling, wood dove and the white-fronted bee-eater are common sightings in the riverine forests that line the banks of the Luvuvhu River. Other rare bird species seen in the Pafuri area include the trumpeter hornbill, Cape parrot, tropical boubou, broad-billed roller, olive bush shrike, three-banded courser, cinnamon dove, mottled spine-tail and the yellow white-eye.
The Punda Maria Sandveld eco-zone is characterised by undulating hills and valleys on Soutpansberg sandstone and quartzite. Tree species such as the common red bushwillow, pod-mohogany, kudu-berry, propeller-tree and Lebombo-ironwood all manage to survive in the shallow and rocky soil.
MOST DIRECT ROUTE TO PUNDA MARIA AREA REST CAMP
H1-7 from Shingwedzi Rest Camp to Punda Maria Rest Camp
If you followed Moafrika Tours recommendations for a 4-day Kruger safari tour, you will make your way to the Punda Maria Gate via the H1-7. The main road takes you through flat northern basalt and gabbro plains, dominated by mopane, leadwood, bushwillow and sickle-bush trees. It’s a fairly arid and bleak part of the park but occasional sightings of elephant make it a little more exciting.
The main attraction on this route is the Dzundzwini view point which is located at the point the H1-7 road joins the Punda Maria Road (H13-1). The outlook point is one of the highest points in the northern region, although the view is of fairly flat and featureless mopaneveld. There are a number of waterholes along the road with a bit more game activity but animals are fairly scarce as they grazers do not like the sourveld grasslands.
Babalala is a great place to stop to stretch your legs. It is a thatch shelter built around a large sycamore fig. Sirheni Bush Camp is located nearby, overlooking the Sirheni Dam. It is a private bush camp favoured by avid birders and those in search of the rare Lichtenstein’s hartebeest.
If this is the end of your Kruger safari tour, you will leave the Park via Punda Maria Gate. The gate facilities are surrounded by mixed sandveld woodlands with Thulamila Koppie nearby.
EXPLORE THE PUNDA MARIA AREA
The eco-system of the far north of the Kruger National Park is dominated by sandveld which is made up of soil that is well-drained but sandy. Parts of the sandveld eco-zone are made up of sand from the Kalahari Desert that was deposited in the region a few million years ago.
The Punda Maria and Parfuri region lies on a fault-line known as the Limpopo Mobile Belt. This unique geological phenomenon is the joint between the Kaapvaal Craton in the south and the Central African Craton in the north. Hot water that is heated at great depths below the earth’s surface rises up in the Parfuri area as a hot spring.
The region does not support large numbers of game and is more popular as a birder’s paradise. Small herds of bushbuck, nyla and the glamorous eland are found in the sandveld eco-zones, although they are often hard to spot because they usually hide out in the thick riverine thickets.
Mahoni Loop (S99)
The Mahonie Loop is regarded as one of the top ten game drives in the Kruger National Park. The short, 28-kilometre drive is the African name given to the mahogany tree which is a species that dominates the region. A number of plants and animals found in the far northern corner are not found anywhere else in the Park.
Trees along the loop to look out for are the wild kirkia, the knobbly fig, the wild syringe, wild custard apple and myrtle bushwillow. Also be on the lookout for the tiny suni antelope which is quite rare and a Sharpe’s grysbok. The suni antelope is hard to spot as it tends to hide out in the thick woodlands and is only slightly taller than a school ruler.
Birders will be on the lookout for the bat hawk which feeds on a particular bat species that is only found in the sandveld region. The Mahonie Loop takes you past the Matukwale waterhole where there is more game activity in the dry winter months.
Punda Maria Rest Camp to Dzundzwini Hill (H13-1)
Punda Gate Road takes visitors on a 5-day Kruger safari through magnificent mopane forests to the S58 dirt road which runs along the base of Dzundzwini Hill. The granite rock outcrop is a striking feature and boasts a spectacular array of plant species and birdlife. The dirt loop winds through woodland thickets to a plaque that marks the site where ‘Ou Kat’ Coetser, one of the original game rangers in the far north, set up camp.
At the T-junction at the end of the H13-1; turn left and make your way to Klopperfontein Dam. Get back onto the S60 to return to Punda Maria Rest Camp. The S60 takes visitors to the Punda Maria Gate if time is up and your Kruger safari tour has come to an end.
Punda Maria Rest Camp to Gumbandebvu Hill (S60)
This scenic dirt road takes you through some of the most spectacular mopane woodland in the Park to Gumbandebvu Hill which local inhabitants believe is haunted. There is a lot of mystery about Bumbandebvu Hill and how it earned its reputation for being the haunted hill. It was named after the daughter of a chief who was believed to have valuable rain-making skills. People would come from miles away to bring her gifts and animals to slaughter in the hope that she would call on the ancestors to make it rain.
The S60 route is particularly popular for birders on the lookout for the endangered Arnot’s chat. This small bird is under threat of extinction because the mopaneveld and woodlands that is its main habitat has been decimated in parts by elephants.
Klopperfontein Dam is a popular spot for a mid-day break as birdlife and game are more abundant, particularly in the dry winter months. The dam was named after a notorious ivory hunter called Dirk Klopper. He often camped in the area, ideally positioned to hunt elephants that followed the ancient migration routes.
Sightings of elephant, eland and lions are fairly common. The grassland surrounding the dam is sweet because of the rich clay soils in the area. The surrounding open grasslands are punctuated with a series of granite koppies (small rock outcrops). The highest koppie is called Matekevhele which is a Venda name meaning “place of plentiful maize”. Historians assume the granite hill and surrounds must have been used as a grain storage site in the 19th century.
The old drift that crosses over the Klopperfontein stream was built by Cecil Barnard, another ivory hunter who was quite a legend in his day. At one time he was a poacher who lived in a hide-out on an island in the Limpopo River but years later he became a game ranger.
Klopperfontein Dam to the Pafuri area (H1-8)
The H1-8 takes visitors on a Kruger safari to the uppermost corner of the Kruger National Park. An interesting landmark on this route is Baobab Hill which was the original camp site set up during the gold rush era for migrant labourers from Mozambique who were making their way to Johannesburg. The rustic camp was also used by hunters and ivory traders during the late 19th and early 20th century.
However, the main attraction on the H1-8 route is the Pafuri picnic site which is the only vantage point in the far north region where you can stop to stretch your legs and have some lunch. It is located along Luvuvhu River Drive (S63) and is magical oasis, surrounded by tall ana trees and riverine thickets. Firewood and cold drinks can be bought from a small shop at the picnic site for a braai (barbeque) and the toilets are well-maintained.
This remote lookout point offers visitors on a Kruger safari a glimpse of the wonders of the far north region of the Kruger National Park and is a birder’s paradise. A few of the rare species to look out for include the thick-billed cuckoo, racket-tailed roller and the Pel’s fishing owl. A glimpse of the endangered Arnot’s bush chat is an absolute treat for birders.
The Thulamela archaeological site is located close to the Pafuri picnic spot and is well worth a visit if you have some spare time.
Thulamela archaeological site
This interesting site is an ancient fortress that was positioned overlooking the Luvuvhu River. It is thought to be the ancient “government seat” of an Iron Age kingdom that dates back to 1 200 AD and 1 640 AD. The name Thulamela is a phrase given by the Sotho people who came down from the northern regions and means “giving birth”.
Thulamela is believed to have existed as a settlement for the tribal leaders who controlled the ancient trading routes between the southern inland region and what is now the coast of Mozambique. This incredible archaeological find was discovered in 1991 and has been carefully restored.
Excavations have revealed incredible finds such as traces of gold artefacts from Great Zimbabwe, porcelain from China and glass beads from India. Other interesting trinkets uncovered include gold and copper bangles and beads thought to belong to the reigning Queen and gold ornaments that adorned the King’s royal robes.
Two magnificent baobab trees stand sentry at the sight which are believed to be more than 4 000 years old. From Thulamela, you can see the ancient migration route that elephants have followed for centuries.
EXIT VIA PAFURI GATE
Visitors need more than one day to explore the Pafuri area and if you have followed the suggestions made by Moafrika Tours for a 5-day Kruger safari, you will have run out of time to explore this scenic wonderland.
Come back again to explore the Parfuri region. Here are three main attractions to put on your bucket list for your next 5-day Kruger safari:
Crooks' Corner is located at the confluence of the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers, at a point where the borders of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique meet. It got its name from the outlaws that hid out in this area in the late 19th and early 20th century. It became a haven for ivory poaches, gun runners and illegal tribal labour recruiters.
When law enforcement agents arrived, the original settlement was ideally positioned for the rogue men to nip across into a neighbouring territory. Many of the original roads at Crooks’ Corner were built by a man with the nickname of Bvekenay, which means “he who swaggers”.
The Makuleke Conservancy
The conservancy is a private concession spread over 24 000 hectares, with the Luvuvhu River to the south and the Limpopo River to the north. The area is renowned for its scenic beauty and spectacular bird-watching but it is also rich in human heritage.
The region has been identified as a prominent base when the Iron-age Thulamela dynasty ruled the Limpopo valley. One of South Africa’s earliest Stone Age sites was discovered on the northern banks of the Luvuvhu River. Large stone hand axes excavated in the area date back approximately 1.5 million years.
Visitors staying in the Parfuri area can join a guided walking trail that winds through one of South Africa’s most spectacular scenic wonders. The gorge is renowned for its diverse topography and vegetation and is truly breath-taking.
The Lanner Gorge was carved by the Luvuvhu River, with incredible sandstone cliffs flanking each side. The Permian sandstone rocks at the bottom of the gorge originate from the dry centre of the super continent Pangea, essentially a massive desert. The upper part of the gorge is made up of Triassic rock, sandstone and shale which are full of fossils. The Luvuvhu River carried gravel from the west which is believed to have been used as the raw material for Stone Age tools.
The Ivory Trail
This interesting trail takes you back in time to when hunting expeditions came to the elephant-hunting grounds during the 19th and early 20th century. The ancient trail left the Great North Road near the present-day town of Polokwane and passed Soekmekaar, descending into the Lowveld near Klein Letaba.
The well-worn path headed east in the direction of Shingwedzi River where there was a solitary store, the last place to stock up on provisions before heading deep into the bush. The hunters set up thornbush-covered camps at nightfall that offered them some protection from the lions in the area.
The area was occupied at the time by a Shangaan-speaking chief called Sikololo who was known for his hospitality and generosity; offering them produce from his protected gardens in exchange for game meat. To ward off wild animals desperate to get into his precious fruit and vegetable gardens, the tribal women had to stay up all night beating drums.