Punda Maria 22-24th January

Punda Maria 22-24th January

Wednesday, 22nd

Filled with anticipation, we head north from Jo’burg along the N1. A bad bout of flu is not enough to put us off from visiting our beloved Kruger Park. All along the route, the grass is richly green from the good summer rains.

I prefer to take the most caravan friendly roads possible and therefore head right up to Louis Trichardt lying at the foot of the Soutpansberg Mountains. Here we turn off right and head along the S254 eastwards. Intensive farmland, filled initially with orchards and crops makes way to the heavily populated Venda area. But we make good time reaching the Punda Maria Entrance Gate at 1pm.

This is the quiet, informal part of Kruger exemplified by the signing in which is done from a chair under a tree. No queues here nor the dreaded tourist bakkies – which is why we enjoy it so much in the north.

We thread our way through the hills and arrive at the beautiful and historic Punda Maria Restcamp, nestled so attractively against a well wooded hillside. The campsite is almost empty and we set up camp right next to the waterhole, some 30m from the fence. However we soon learn that good rain fell last Saturday and large pools of water lying in the veld means that our waterhole will not be as active as usual. It is really wonderful to be here again. What with the 7 hour trip and the ravages of flu, we set up camp and then rest for the remainder of the day.

Thursday, 23rd

The weather is cool and sunny today but despite this we are too disorganised and out of sorts to really do this beautiful area justice. A midday swim invigorates us and in the later afternoon I do the 25Km Mahonie Loop which circles the camp through the valleys to the north. Very beautiful and peaceful but I do not lift my camera once.

Friday, 24th

Today is heavily overcast and feeling much better, I set off for my favourite Pafuri area – some 50Km distant. Oh the joy of quiet, desolate roads. I drop down into the Luvuvhu River valley early morning but note that not much rain has fallen here. My regular bloggers will know that my main object in the Park is photographing birds, preferably new species.

I cross the recently flooded Luvuvhu River. I do not enjoy disillusioning you when I say that the idea of a wild, untamed Luvuvhu is rather a myth. Like all Kruger’s rivers it rises in the west, in this case near Louis Trichardt, from where it flows some 150Kms through intensely farmed agricultural lands and then densely inhabited Venda before entering Kruger as either a muddy deluge or nothing at all.

Leaving the bridge, I creep along the H1-9 road towards Pafuri Gate. The very sought after Three-banded Courser can be seen close to the river and then further along in the high Mopane woodland, Racket-tailed Rollers are to be found. But try as I might, I cannot find these very elusive birds. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoy myself in beautifully cool, cloudy weather. Some compensation comes in the form of an oh so impressive African Hawk-eagle that alighted in a tree next to the road.

I come back over the river and take the S63 river road eastward, heading for Crooks Corner. I pass through beautiful forests of giant trees with nyala and ellies plentiful.

Before entering the forested area at the end of the road, I pause and try to find the Lemon-breasted Canary which is often seen amongst the lala palms here. No luck again.

From the photo above you will understand how uplifting it is to be in this magnificent environment with no one else in sight.

At Crook’s Corner the Limpopo River is flowing strongly and the Luvuvhu adds its muddy torrent. Amazingly, a number of hippos are cavorting in the waters. Considering that a month ago both rivers were bone dry then I do find it puzzling how these animals survive during the long dry months.

I then start dawdling back along the S63 towards the Pafuri Picnic site, turning along all the loop roads that lead onto the banks of the Luvuvhu.

Arriving at a particular dense thicket I find myself amidst a breeding herd of ellies with one particularly upset female.

I am beginning to wonder if the sight of my grey, rounded Quantum antagonises these ellies because I seem to be regularly evading these angry beasts. Today is the first time that I have had to take some really quick evasive action from a female ellie.

Each time she would come at me I would back off just enough to stop her charge. Eventually she wandered off into the bush but I could see that she still had her eye on me. Then with a deafening squeal, she wheeled round and came full taps, crashing through trees and bushes to get at me. Fortunately, there were no other vehicles and I could make good my escape. Sadly I had to let go of the camera during the high drama parts. Really folks, I know my ellies and this is the first time that I have had seriously angry female after me.

Charged with adrenaline, I call at the Pafuri Picnic site where I have heard the attendant is very knowledgeable about birds. This is certainly the case as I have a lengthy discussion on how to track down my ‘specials’. He mentions to me that the Grey-backed Cameroptera is to be seen in the bush next to the high-level bridge so I hurry there.

With the aid of my bird-caller, in no time at all my quarry arrives and I get my shot.

Meves Starling – note the long, barred tail.

What a tremendous, action-packed morning and I am sorry to leave arriving back at Punda at 2.30pm. This evening we braai next to the fence with the screeches of Barn-Owls around us. We are now really properly back in the saddle again and can’t wait for more.