Punda Maria: Exploring the hills of northern Kruger
After a hiatus from the blog while Charlotte and I focused on the launch of the KrugerExplorer App, we are back! We were lucky enough to spend over three weeks in Kruger National Park recently, entering at Pafuri and leaving via Malelane and taking in the entirety of the park.
We are going to blog about many of the game drives we did from each camp, including maps and photos of some of the most memorable wildlife we encountered. We’d be delighted if you followed our posts and adventures over the coming weeks…!
Punda Maria: Dimbo Hill & the Mahonie Loop
The Punda Maria rest camp is situated in the north of Kruger National Park and sits on the edge of the rocky Dimbo Hill that is prominent across the local plains. A highlight of staying at Punda Maria is taking the S99 or ‘Mahonie Loop’ road that encircles the hill.
This intimate route is very scenic in the early morning or late afternoon, feels remote and offers outstanding birding and some rare herbivores, as well as occasional encounters with big predators.
Charlotte and I took a loop around the S99 late one afternoon during our Kruger trip. It only takes a couple of hours at slow speeds, so the whole route enjoyed a wonderful golden hour light and made for some outstanding photographic opportunities as well as wonderful sightings.
One of the amazing things about the S99 is the variety of antelope species that can be encountered in a very short space of time. These include species that are commonly seen elsewhere in Kruger, plus some rare specials.
Very early into our drive, we were treated to one of these rare moments, with a lovely sighting of a female Sharpe’s grysbok. This small, handsome antelope prefers rocky hills as its primary habitat and the S99 is probably the best place in Kruger to encounter this prized sighting.
We also encountered several other species of antelope in quick succession.
Female waterbuck, male bushbuck, female duiker and a close-up of the female grysbok.
- The waterbuck is a large antelope that has a very different appearance owing to its shaggy fur. Curiously, it is not a popular target of predators because its skin secretes a water-repellent oil that, while protecting the skin of the animal when in water, also smells and tastes unpleasant. Predators therefore prioritise other prey but will still take waterbuck opportunistically or when alternatives are limited. The female in this image also has a pretty big scar across the top of her hip, so it certainly appears that something went for her at some point!
- The bushbuck is a beautiful, mid-sized antelope that are often seen alone – in fact they are the only African antelope species that is both solitary and non-territorial, defending none of its home range from rivals. Instead, males avoid each other, and even females limit the time spent near their young to just a few hours per day!
- The secretive duiker is another small antelope species that is extremely skittish and not easy to photograph well, so I was very pleased with this image! Despite being a similar size to the grysbok and steenbok antelopes, it is actually more closely related to the much larger roan and sable antelope.
Big herds of buffalo can be encountered along the S99 and this visit was no different. A herd of over 100 individuals passed by us as we looked down from the road into the Matukwala drainage line, kicking up huge amounts of dust that the setting sun illuminated wonderfully.
Buffalo are a member of the Big 5 as their incredible power and sometimes unpredictable and aggressive temperament, particularly when provoked or attacked, make them a dangerous beast.
Understanding remains limited, but buffalo also seem to exhibit some kind of democracy in collective decision making. When a herd has finished grazing in a particular area, individuals will stand and face the direction that they think the group should move in next. When there is sufficient consensus, the herd departs, with the decision ignoring any element of hierarchy, age or dominance and being a simple 'one-beast, one-vote' approach!
Birding is wonderful along the S99 and a great variety of species can be encountered in a short amount of time. While we were a little early for the wet-season migrants to have arrived, the resident species still put on a superb show for us:
White-crested helmetshrike, laughing dove, Meves's starling, little bee-eater, lilac-breasted roller
- The white-crested helmetshrike is usually encountered in small flocks that skip through the lower levels of bush and branches. Constantly moving and very skittish, they are difficult photographic subjects to say the least!
- The laughing dove is a common sight throughout Kruger, but it is a lovely small bird, full of varied colours despite being often overlooked!
- The Meves’s starling is only found in the very far north of Kruger, with its distribution being replaced by the Burchell’s starling further south.
- The lilac-breasted roller is probably the bird species that gets people ‘into’ Kruger’s birds first! Exceptionally beautiful with its incredible colours, it is quite a large bird and has the habit of perching very conveniently in the top of low trees and bushes – perfect for photographing and grabbing the attention of visitors.
The day prior to this drive we had encountered a stunning leopard at the junction of the S99 and H13-2. She had not been at this spot the following morning, so we didn’t hold out too much hope that we’d find her again at the end of our Dimbo Hill game drive – but we were wrong…!
She proudly sat on a fairly distant mound, watching the sun set and making for a wonderful final sighting before we returned to the Punda Maria rest camp.
The KrugerExplorer App is a wildlife, maps and routes field guide to the incredible Kruger National Park. It contains over 300 detailed animal profiles, outstanding photography to identify the wildlife, 70 of our most successful self-drive routes in the park and the most up-to-date and accurate maps of Kruger available today.
We launched the KrugerExplorer App about 15-weeks ago and have been overwhelmed by the reception. The feedback we have had has been wonderful and we’re incredibly grateful for the multitude of comments and messages from people who have downloaded it. We had our 115th 5-star review across the App Store and Google Play globally this week and were featured as the 'App of the Day' on the App Store!
The Dimbo Hill & the Mahonie Loop route shown in this blog post is taken from the App and we hope our sightings and photography bring the routes and habitats of Kruger to life for you!
If interested in learning more about the KrugerExplorer App, you can see more screenshots and info on our website, and here is a video preview:
It is available to download on the App Store or Google Play.
You can also get involved in the KrugerExplorer community and share your Kruger images, videos and experiences with us and other fans of Kruger National Park by visiting our Instagram and Facebook pages.
Many thanks for reading and supporting our project!
Danny & Charlotte