Northern Kruger Park | 440km

Sunset over Mapungubwe River. LimpopoSunset over Mapungubwe River. Limpopo

LOUIS TRICHARDT [ALSO KNOWN AS MAKHADO]

Situated at the foot of the Soutpansberg, Louis Trichardt lies in an area rich in culture and history. The Voortrekker leader Louis Trichardt and his party stayed here from May 1836 to August 1837, before Trichardt set off on his ill-fated attempt to find a route to the sea. In October 1898, General Piet Joubert led a commando across the Doorn River in preparation for an attack on the Venda chief, Mphefu. The commando struck camp on the farm Rietvlei, where a portable iron fort was erected. In November, the Venda were subjected to a three-pronged attack in which the royal village was burnt. Mphefu and his subjects were forced to flee across the Limpopo River into Zimbabwe.

A town was established the same year on the farms Rietvlei and Bergvliet and named Trichardtsdorp in honour of Louis Trichardt. The name was later changed to Louis Trichardt. The old portable fort (known as Fort Hendrina) can be seen in the town. The Church of the Vow (one of two in the country) was erected after the defeat of the Venda. The Venda people are accomplished decorators and crafters, and there are many art and craft shops to tempt visitors.

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK (KNP)

Covering nearly 2 000 000 ha, the Kruger National Park is one of Africa's great game parks and ranks among the world's top conservation areas. From the Crocodile River in the south, the park stretches northwards for 350 km to the Limpopo River, and ranges in width from 25 km in the far north to 85 km in the south. This unspoilt wilderness of bushveld, woodland and thornveld is home to a rich diversity of wildlife which includes 147 mammal species, making it a highly popular destination for South African holidays. In addition to the Big Five (elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard), the park is home to a wide variety of antelope, such as sable, roan, impala, Lichtenstein's hartebeest, waterbuck, tsessebe, kudu and nyala, as well as hippo, giraffe and Burchell's zebra. It also provides protection to the only viable wild dog population in South Africa. With 490 bird species recorded to date (about 55 per cent of the total number found in southern Africa), the park is truly a birder's paradise. More than 50 raptor species have been recorded, while many of the species occurring in the north of the park have a limited distribution elsewhere in South Africa.

The park is also an archaeological treasure chest, with over 250 cultural heritage sites, ranging from rock art sites (about 130 have been recorded) and Late Iron Age settlements to early transport routes. Access to Kruger is via eight gates, and accommodation ranges from rest camps with all the necessary facilities (filling station, shop, restaurant) to smaller bushveld camps without facilities, and bush lodges for groups. A vast network of roads traverses the bush, providing access to rivers, water holes, dams and viewpoints, while picnic sites in the bush allow motorists to take a break from the driving. In addition to self-drive game-viewing, the park offers a host of outdoor and adventure activities such as short, self-guided nature walks in some of the rest camps, night drives and guided walks of between three and four hours. There are also seven three-day guided wilderness trails in various remote areas of the park. Because the park lies within a malaria area, it is advisable to consult a doctor about prophylaxis, especially if visiting between December and April.

NORTHERN KRUGER

The northern part of the KNP lies in an ecologically unique area where nine major ecosystems meet. It is a mosaic of mopane savannah and shrubveld, baobab 'forests', plains, sandstone koppies and patches of rare sand forest. This region is home to several mammal species that occur nowhere else in the park, such as Sharpe's grysbok, suni, samango monkey and yellow-spotted rock dassie, while noteworthy species as Lichtenstein's hartebeest (released in 1990 after it became extinct in South Africa) and wild dog are also found here. Other game to be seen by those on Safari or on South African holidays include elephant, white rhino, buffalo, blue wildebeest, impala and Burchell's zebra. The northern Kruger is a birders' paradise, and among the rare species are Arnot's chat, Böhm's and mottled spinetails, racket-tailed roller, yellowbellied sunbird and yellowbilled oxpecker.

PUNDA MARIA

Punda Maria, at the foot of Dimbo Hill, was originally a ranger's outpost established by Captain JJ Coetser, who was posted to the area in 1919 to put an end to ivory poaching. Apparently, the first animal Coetser saw when he entered the old Shingwedzi Reserve was a herd of zebra, and since his wife Maria was fond of black-and-white dresses he decided to call his camp Punda Maria - a combination of the Swahili name for zebra (punda milia) and his wife's name. The rest camp was built in 1933, and, although the original mud-and-thatch huts have been upgraded, the camp retains the rustic atmosphere of Coetser's day. Visitors can explore the camp surroundings by following a short self-guided trail.

GUMBANDEBVU

Gumbandebvu, a prominent hill to the northeast of Punda Maria, is revered by the local communities as a rain hill. The Venda name, meaning 'to shave one's beard', refers to the custom which required those wanting to ascend the hill to be clean-shaven. Tradition has it that Nwakama, a daughter of a local headman and reputedly a relative of the famous Rain Queen, Modjadji, lived at the mountain. Nwakama possessed rain-making powers, and in time of drought she would take the meat of a slaughtered black cow to a certain spot on the hill where it would be offered to the rain gods. It was taboo to climb the mountain without Nwakama's permission, and only a few privileged men were allowed to accompany her when she performed her rituals.

BAOBAB HILL

...was for centuries a prominent landmark for travellers along the early trade routes between the coast and the interior. Between 1919 and 1927, it served as the first outspan for Mozambicans recruited by the Witwatersrand Native Labour Associ-ation (WNLA) at Pafuri to work in the gold mines on the Rand. The first roads in the north of the Kruger Park were constructed by the WNLA, and the labourers were initially transported by donkey-drawn wagons between outspans set some 40 km apart until they reached the railway line, where they continued on by train to the Witwatersrand.

WNLA OFFICE

The WNLA recruitment station at Pafuri was situated at the old Mozambican border post. The post was converted into a police station when the border was closed.

CROOKS' CORNER

...is a triangle of land at the confluence of the Limpopo and Luvuvhu rivers which formed the northern boundary of the Shingwedzi Reserve. In the early 1900s, its remoteness and inaccessibility made it attractive to poachers and other lawless characters. It had another major advantage: situated at the boundary between South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, it was a convenient refuge for those wanting to escape from the law. In time, this spot became known as Crooks' Corner.

The Pafuri area was administered by the then Department of Native Affairs until 1968, when it was incorporated into the Kruger Park in exchange for land to the south of Punda Maria along the park's western boundary. In 1989, a historic land claim settlement was reached with the Makuleke people, when they regained 25 000 ha of land from which they were forcibly removed when the Pafuri area was incorporated into the park. In terms of the agreement the community will not be able to live permanently in the area, farm, or mine without the permission of South African National Parks, but they have rights over tourism. A variety of tourism projects are being investigated by the community for the area.

PAFURI

Pafuri, a delightful picnic spot, lies amid magnificent riverine forest of jackal-berry, ana, nyala, and baobab trees fringing the Luvuvhu River. The river was named by the Venda people after the abundance of river bushwillow trees (Combretum erythrophyllum), while Pafuri owes its name to one of the early chiefs in the area. The forests are home to samango monkeys (re-introduced in 1982), nyala and a wide variety of bird species, including mottled and Böhm's spinetail, Narina trogon, broadbilled roller, wattle-eyed flycatcher and yellow white-eye, to mention but a few species.

THULAMELA

...is without doubt the most significant archaeological site in the Kruger National Park. Built on the plateau of Thulamela Hill, the site was inhabited by Late Iron Age people - the ancestors of the Venda - between the 15th and 17th centuries. Among the most significant artefacts found here are three small gold beads, a 1-cm-long section of a gold bracelet and two potsherds that could have been part of a crucible for gold-smelting. Chinese porcelain and perforated ornamental cowrie shells have provided evidence of contact with the east coast, while other material excavated includes clay spindle whorls, ivory and metal rings, glass beads and the remains of cattle and small stock. Further research at the site led to the excavation (with the approval of local communities) of two skeletons of inhabitants who were clearly of high status - possibly a chief, or headman, and his wife. At a ceremony attended by the local communities, the two skeletons were reburied in their original graves on 31 May 1997. The stone-walled settlement has been reconstructed and can be visited by joining a guided tour which focuses on Thulamela's history and its surrounding environment.

TSHIPISE

Originally known as Chipise, the name of this popular spa resort is said to be a corruption of the Venda name chia fisu, meaning 'to be hot', a reference to the 65 °C temperature of the hot spring where it surfaces. Situated among mopane woodlands punctuated with towering baobabs, the resort's hot mineral pools are not the only attraction, and there is a wide variety of activities and recreational facilities. Game-viewing in the adjacent 2 200-ha Honnet Nature Reserve, which has been stocked with giraffe, sable, tsessebe, blue wildebeest and a variety of other species, can be enjoyed either on horseback or by joining a guided game-viewing drive on. The resort offers a variety of accommodation for those on South African holidays, including the option of sleeping in a reconstructed Venda homestead.

WYLLIE'S POORT

...is a spectacular natural gateway through the Soutpansberg which was used as a passage from the north by Iron Age people. A nearby Early Iron Age site has been dated at about 1 650 years old. The poort was named after Lieutenant CH Wyllie, who surveyed it for a road in 1904.

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