Mapungubwe National Park and Pafuri trails
Blogged by Anne
We arrived back into South Africa via the Pont Drift border post which means a short 4×4-only drive across the Limpopo River. The border post is only open to vehicles in the dry season, when the river is full it is pedestrians only via a rickety looking cable car.
We spent our first two nights back in the country at Mapungubwe National Park, a place we had always wanted to visit but hadn’t because it isn’t really on the way to anywhere. Mapungubwe’s claim to fame is the important archaeological site on and around Mapungubwe hill. The hill was a predecessor to Great Zimbabwe and was occupied about 1000 years ago. It is regarded as the first example of a class-based society in Southern Africa.
The guided tour of the site is excellent, although there isn’t much to actually see given that the site was occupied prior to the era of wide-spread stone buildings. The interpretation centre houses a very good exhibition including the famous gold rhino for which the site is most famous. Somewhat surprising to us was that the park is also excellent for wildlife, especially elephants and birds, and has lovely scenery. There is a great lookout point and picnic spot where you can see the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers where Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe meet and there is a tree top board walk which is excellent for bird watching. We stayed at Leokwe camp which has very comfortable chalets in a very picturesque setting amongst the baobabs. The park is really worth a visit, especially if you are en route to Botswana or Zimbabwe. Be warned though that there is no shop in the park to buy supplies, only a small kiosk at the museum area (far from the camps) where you can buy light meals, drinks and wood (if they have stock – they didn’t).
During this trip we have stayed at three SANParks operated national parks and visited one. We were really pleased to be universally impressed, the accommodation is comfortable and well kept, the online booking system is world class and the staff are friendly and helpful.
Our last stop was the Pafuri Trails Camp run by Return Africa (http://www.returnafrica.com) in the Makulele concession in the northern Kruger National Park. You can read more about the Makulele history in Heather Mason’s excellent blog here http://2summers.net/2016/05/31/pafuri-beautiful-place-ugly-history/. It was our third visit to Pafuri and we were thrilled to be back at one of our favourite places in South Africa. The trails camp is situated along the banks of the Luvuhu River and consists of comfortable but basic tents, each equipped with a private camping toilet. There are shared bucket showers and a central lounge and dining area under the trees. Food is all cooked in a small bush kitchen and is hearty and delicious. The camp is unfenced and wild with elephants and other wildlife wondering through regularly – we even had an elephant-interrupted shower.
The area is excellent for walking, combining varied scenery with abundant wildlife and especially the chance for exciting encounters with elephants. We seemed to bump into buffalo at every turn on this trip and they were constantly messing with our plans by appearing in front of us! Unusually, our guides were both from outside of South Africa – the trail was brilliantly led by an Ozzie named Biff with excellent backup by Varun from India. Both of them trained at nearby Eco Training and had an excellent knowledge of the area and a lot of passion for the bush. It was just Dave and I with the two guides so we had plenty of flexibility on what to do and where to go.
One of the great things about Pafuri, is that they really try and maximise the amount of time you have for walking while making the walking as varied as possible. Normally this means a short drive to a suitable area, but not too much time in the vehicle. There are plenty of areas which are only accessible by foot and there is a good mix of actively tracking big game and just enjoying the scenery. We spent some time around the Luvuhu, walked along the Limpopo, hiked up to a spring in the hills and did a magical walk through the fever tree forest. The Makulele fever tree forest is one of the highlights of the concession, and consists of a large area of tall fever trees all roughly the same age – it is likely that they all germinated after a particular flood 30 or 40 years ago. The bright green bark and the sunlight filtering through the tall canopies makes it feel like an enchanted forest. We were fortunate to find an elephant browsing on some bark while lions roared behind us making for a wonderful last morning.
Dave’s photos just keep getting better, many of these were taken on foot:
- Greater bushbaby
Final bird count: 285
Total distance travelled: 12 453km
Next stop: home (but only for a short while, before heading to Mozambique)