At night, while sitting on your porch for a few minutes before you retire, the soulful two-note call of a Pel’s Fishing Owl reaches you from across the river (just too far to catch it in the beam of your torch!). From downstream in the big trees on your side of the river an African Wood-Owl pair breaks into a duet, somewhat livelier than the languid call of the Pel’s. Then, from the more open Acacia woodland just behind the camp, the deep pig-like grunting of a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl comes through, while Fiery-necked Nightjars (“Good Lord deliver us!”), the whoops of foraging Hyenas and a plethora of insect clicks, rasps and chirps provide a sonic backdrop to the calls of the three owl species. What a way to end off the day at Pafuri Camp!
Pafuri Camp is located on the northern bank of the Luvuvhu River, in the Makuleke Concession area of the far northern Kruger National Park. This is the way to do the northern Kruger – from the closest public camp, Punda Maria, you can only really scratch the surface as you are basically limited to the southern bank of the Luvuvhu River. It’s north of the Luvuvhu, ie: between the Luvuvhu and the Limpopo Rivers, where it really gets exciting. Habitats are incredible, including Baobab savanna, iLala Palm savanna, incredible riverine forest, Fever Tree groves that glow yellow in the sun (see banner photo at top), seasonal pans holding amazing water birds, fantastic rocky gorges and more. Special bird species include Pel’s Fishing Owl (sometimes seen fishing in the river at night from the bar at Pafuri Camp), Racket-tailed Roller, Arnot’s Chat, Three-banded Courser, the rather strange Bӧhm’s Spinetail, Tropical Boubou, Meve’s Starling plus the ‘usual’ range of Kruger birds. Big cats are not encountered here as often as they are in the south of Kruger, but for birders and those not overly concerned about cats, Pafuri is hard to beat. The camp is made up of 19 individual luxury safari tents, all spaced out along the river front for views and privacy. Three wonderful meals per day take care of all things gastronomical, while activities include morning and afternoon / evening wildlife and birding drives. In between drives one can continue birding and wildlife viewing from the public areas or your private porch, which is as idyllic as it sounds (see photos below). All in all this adds up to one incredible birding and wildlife destination. Experience Pafuri Camp on our Eagles, Elephants and Baobabs Birding and Wildlife set-departure, 3 – 15 March 2018. From ZAR 49 550 Per Person Sharing (based on 4 participants).
On March 19 a runaway fire tore through the dry Fynbos vegetation around the village of Rooi Els east of Cape Town. Two homes were destroyed in the blaze, and the area still resembles a moonscape as the scorched earth awaits much needed rain. Into this lunar-like scene we stepped on the afternoon of Saturday 6 May in search of the endemic Cape Rockjumpers – one of the region’s most sought-after birds. The wind was howling, as it often does, and the comments from the two American photographer were understandably negative in terms of the chances of seeing anything, never mind the Cape Rockjumpers. Still, as their guide I thought it was worth some effort at least, and managed to stretch it into a 45-minute search, which proved to be fruitless, so they returned to Cape Town empty-handed but not quite defeated. The Sunday was taken up by a pelagic birding trip and thus Monday morning was dedicated to giving it another shot – reports from another guide indicated that they were seen on the morning of the 6th, so it was perhaps just a matter of timing. Eventually we spotted a pair moving high up on the slope below the massif known as ‘Hangklip’, or ‘Hanging Rock’, despite the lack of anything resembling a food source. The advantage of the recent burn was that it was easy to move up the slope towards the birds, which we duly did. We managed to move in carefully enough that the birds weren’t disturbed and soon were sitting down with two males and a female jumping around on the rocks within 20 feet of our position. Believe me when I say that Gorges, with his 500mm f4 Mk11 with converter and Canon 1DX, got some absolutely cracking images! As the Rockjumpers moved off a flock of Cape Siskins moved through right past us, followed by other species such as Cape Bunting, Grey-backed Cisticola and Cape Rock Thrush. Talk about a high-5 moment! Back at the car we had a well-needed cup of coffee and some food while photographing sunbirds before heading off to Stony Point for some more Penguin shots. What a great day in the field!
Ok, so we can’t say that we’ve visited EVERY lodge in Southern Africa. Far from it, we’ve probably only scratched the surface so to speak, though with our high standards there are probably quite a few that don’t really warrant a visit, at least not when there are better alternatives. Over the years however we have visited quite a few lodges across the region, and we have a number of firm favourites. Now each lodge offers something unique, even though their ‘offerings’ may be the same as many other lodges. Design, location, situation, staff and other factors combine to create a unique experience, and it’s that experience that, at the end of the day, determines which lodge is a favourite and which lodge isn’t. Of course each lodge also has its strengths, where for example the game viewing might be so good that one is willing to compromise on other aspects. Or the game viewing might not be so great but the lodge experience is so good that it warrants patronage. Mkhaya’s Stone Camp in Swaziland is the perfect example of the latter. It’s not a Big Five reserve so forget about Lions and Leopard etc, though the Rhino sightings can be very good. But the camp itself is wonderful, and it takes the award for ‘Most peaceful camp’. There’s no electricity, the open-sided chalets (yes, it’s pretty unique!) are situated far apart from one another, and there’s a very small but efficient staff compliment. This adds up to an incredibly quiet camp, far enough from the outside world that one is spared from the ‘village’ sounds in the background, while the staff are very good at keeping a low profile when they are not busy serving the guests (at some lodges the staff area can produce a lot of noise!). Daytime siestas are very relaxing, while by night all one hears is the calming chirps and clicks of crickets, the odd night bird or Spotted Hyena whooping as it passes by on a foraging mission. Lack of WiFi means that one tends to take a bit of a break from electronic devices and return to paper and ink, making Mkyaha Stone Camp a very good place to just get back to simplicity, peace and relaxation.
The view from this dining room is pretty hard to beat… In January we ran a ‘birds and botany’ tour for Naturetrek, one of our UK operators for which we do the ground work. On the request was a visit to Royal Natal in the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg – the northern ‘ Berg to be specific. While this resort offers perhaps the finest views in the whole of the Drakensberg, there is no restaurant on site so catering can be a challenge. No problem for us however, as we brought in our good friends Doug and Riana from Out Door Dining (they specialise in providing food in out of the way places – www.outdoordining.co.za)) and we were able to enjoy great food as well as the jaw-dropping views of the Amphitheater, as the rock wall in the background is known. Now that’s doing it in style!
Some kind of Eden… The Kalahari is famous as a dry season destination, when birds and animals alike are attracted to the artificial waterholes in the ‘fossilised’ Auob and Nossob Rivers that flow north-west to south-east through the park. Thirsty animals and crowding can make for some explosive scenes, which is why the park is almost fully booked during the dry season between about May and early November. But what’s it like during the wet season? Well, to quote our guide Leon after his February 2017 visit, it’s like ‘some kind of Eden…’ This comment was made as they came over a rise near Mata Mata Rest Camp to look down on a herd of Springbok moving down the Auob Riverbed, which was as green as a golf course fairway, with clouds of butterflies dancing over a puddle in the road where the herd was crossing. Coupled with the vast skies and simple sense of space, the reference to Eden was almost involuntary. So, while the dry season may be when most folks want to be there, the summer is a delight in its own right, something that every Africa enthusiast should experience. Contact us for a price on a custom-made safari to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.