Saturday 13 May 2017

Kruger: Punda Maria and Pafuri

Russell Cottage: the old police house at Punda Maria 

I have a new favourite place: the far north of the Kruger National Park. Most people think you have to go to the south if you really want to see the big game, but there's something quite magical about the area around Punda Maria for it's here that you will see the beautiful big trees of Africa, large herds of elephant and buffalo and maybe even an elusive leopard.

Male leopard on his morning patrol on the Mahonie Loop

That's just what we were lucky enough to see on a recent visit to the area. The Mahonie Loop is a 28km circular drive from Punda Maria that takes you through some beautiful countryside. I love it, not least because of the amazing trees that are special to that area. 

Trees on the Mahonie Loop taking on their autumnal colours
A young baobab tree with clouds in the background
If you're at Punda Maria, then you simply have to drive the road north to Pafuri, an area where the Luvuvhu River eventually joins up with the mightly Limpopo River. The Luvuvhu is a special place. It's where the National Geographic documentary called The Last Feast of the Crocodiles was filmed. The documentary tells the story of a pool gradually drying up during a terrible drought in 1991. Within the last few years, the Kruger has experienced similarly harsh conditions, but this time the north was spared the worst.

The Luvuvhu River
The Luvuvhu River is the archetypal African river, or at least the kind of river you dream about. It meanders slowly, murkily, muddily towards its rendezvous with the Limpopo. Huge trees tower alongside it where brightly coloured birds flash in the undergrowth. Crocodiles doze on the banks and elephant dung in the road is evidence that this is a life-giving source in this part of the world.

The north of the Kruger is famous for its elephant herds
If you drive the Luvuvhu River from the Pafuri picnic spot towards Crook's Corner you will traverse an area known as the Fever Tree Forest. These trees with their lime-green trunks were once associated with malaria, hence their name, but they are among the most beautiful trees of the African bush.

Fever Tree Forest on the road to Crook's Corner
This is a truly splendid road with many spots where you can pull over and observe the river and its rather wonderful birdlife: White-fronted bee-eaters, Verreaux's Eagle-Owl and the striking Saddle-billed Stork, to name but a few. Just take it slow and easy and soak it all in. 

White-fronted Bee-eater

Saddle-billed Stork
Verreaux's Eagle-owl

TIP: If you really want to experience the Kruger without the crowds, then the north is a must-visit area. The safari tents at Punda Maria are great, not least because they get regular visits from smaller creatures like spotted genets and bushbabies. I can't wait to go back.


  1. Hmmm. Longing to go, Andy, for those trees. I didn't know about them, up there. We did see them around Letaba - a grand and almost religious experience. But then we experienced MS and PMS (mopani syndrome and post mopani syndrone in the higher middle parts) around Mopani and Tsendze, two spots whose mopani monoculture monotony would not want to stay in again.

  2. The thing about getting to the north is there is a lot of mopani veld on route but there are river courses and back roads that break the monotony along the way. You would love Punda Maria.

  3. Would definitely looks so peaceful while living in this nature, thanks for sharing.
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