Punda Maria: Northern roads less travelled
Updated: Nov 14, 2019
Hello followers! 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 of our self-drive routes 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…!
Pafuri Gate to Punda Maria
The Punda Maria rest camp can be found in the northern-most reaches of Kruger National Park. The KrugerExplorer App details a number of self-drive routes and game drives to explore in this wonderful area of Kruger. Charlotte and I entered Kruger through the Pafuri Gate, full of excitement for the several weeks of exploring the superb wilderness ahead!
Our plan for the day was to follow the App's Pafuri Gate to Punda Maria route which takes in the stunning Pafuri region, Luvuvhu River and Klopperfontein Dam before approaching Dimbo Hill and the rest camp. While large predators can be harder to find on some of these roads, the variety of herbivores and birds is just outstanding.
Entering the park via the Pafuri Gate brings you onto a road very few visitors ever see. The H1-9 is dominated by mixed bush-willow woodland, so elephants are a common first encounter and our arrival in the park was greeted by this adorable little guy…!
The main event in the far north of the park is the stunningly beautiful Pafuri area. The Luvuvhu River bridge and S63 and S64 roads follow the course of this perennial water source and traverse alluvial floodplains that host an otherworldly fever tree forest. You really cannot adequately explain how magical this place is to someone who hasn’t been lucky enough to visit!
The wildlife here is abundant. Birding is outstanding and we were very excited to spot the trumpeter hornbill, along with its much more common red-billed and yellow-billed cousins. The exaggerated and colourful bills of these species were perfect for the character of Zazu in the Lion King! Uniquely among bird species, they have fused vertebrae in the neck to help them carry the weight of the bill.
Images: Trumpeter hornbill, southern yellow-billed hornbill, southern red-billed hornbill, kurrichane thrush, red-capped robin-chat, crested barbet.
This stunning white-fronted bee-eater posed in the perfect position on the S63 for us but then did something most unexpected… Bee-eaters swallow the bugs they eat whole, but are unable to digest the exoskeletons and carapaces of insects, so every so often a mashed load of insect shell is regurgitated, making for a rather gruesome image!
The waters of the Luvuvhu River are the very definition of croc infested. Hundreds of these giant reptiles live on the banks, waiting for mammals to come into drink, or picking off fish. We witnessed a brief moment of this drama as a group of large crocodiles wrestled over the final remains of a male nyala that had been taken.
The nyala is a beautiful, large antelope that is seen more commonly in this area of Kruger than anywhere else in the park – the S64 is even referred to as 'Nyala Drive'. They exhibit significant sexual dimorphism (the differences between males and females of the same species) as can be seen in the images and in the size and weight differences in the screenshot of the Nyala profile below:
A beautiful and fascinating antelope species and always a personal favourite sighting in Kruger!
The impala is the most common antelope in Kruger with over 160,000 individuals found throughout the park. They are mixed browser-grazers so are able to eat leaves and grass, giving them excellent habitat adaptability and underpinning this huge population.
Despite being a frequent sighting, it is not often that you are treated to a full-on rutting fight as we were near Crooks’ Corner:
Impala males rut for mating rights although these two were not yet fully mature, so merely practicing for the future. Despite not having any females awaiting the results, they were still going for it and will surely be well-prepared once they are of an age to compete with other dominant males.
Leaving the magical wonderland of Pafuri behind after several hours of very slow driving and over 40 bird species spotted, we headed south on the H1-8. This section of road can prove a little more challenging for sightings, but we quickly encountered this amazing young elephant among a bigger herd.
As sometimes happens in nature, this individual was born missing a foot and with some deformity to the lower spine. For absolute clarity, it is worth stating that this was not a post-birth injury caused by an attack or terrible human device like a snare.
The wild is a tough place to be and animals born with such significant defects do not usually survive for very long. However, after just a few minutes watching this elephant keep pace with the herd and feed, it was readily apparent that he has been doing well through his first couple of years and would hopefully continue to enjoy a good quality of life. It was a remarkable sighting and a privilege to witness a wild animal surviving so successfully despite the odds.
After passing some incredible, giant baobab trees, we turned onto the S61 and visited Klopperfontein Dam and Opsaai waterhole. These two water sources are crucial to wildlife in this region of the park as there are no other reliable sources for many kilometres around. While it was a little quieter than we have enjoyed in the past, we were treated to a sighting of an eland bull complete with yellow- and red-billed oxpeckers!
The height of the dry season was very apparent further west along the S61 and onto the S60 roads. Hot, hungry and exhausted, we travelled towards Punda Maria rest camp looking forward to a cold beer and food, but our discomforts were soon forgotten when we encountered this beautiful cat near the junction of the H13-2 and S99:
Big cat sightings are not overly common in this area of the park and this was a special close up. Incredibly, several other vehicles ahead of us had driven straight past her, so it definitely pays to remain alert throughout a game drive! Leopards are solitary and secretive, and she didn’t give us long, quickly getting up and heading into denser bush, away from human eyes. But what an incredible finish to a sensational day’s driving in Kruger!
The golden hour light was simply perfect for the photography and these are some of our favourite images that we've ever taken in the park...
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 12-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 even had our 100th 5-star review across the App Store and Google Play globally this week, which is just amazing!
The Pafuri to Punda Maria 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:
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