South Africa's Kruger National Park covers a sizeable area in the north-eastern corner of the country. The distance between its northern boundary and the southern end is around 360km and both landscape and vegetation vary significantly along that axis. We thought it might be interesting to travel the whole length of the park to see this variation in habitats and associated wildlife.
We decided on a route that would take us from northern end to the southern exit in eight days. There are quite a few rest camps along the way, but you need to book well in advance if you want a choice of accommodation - or indeed any prospect of accommodation at all. We booked it all some 11 months ahead. The South African National Parks website is a good source of relevant information (https://www.sanparks.org/parks...ism/availability.php).
We entered the park via the Punda Maria gate. The various bureaucratic formalities, of which there are always plenty at places like this, were dealt with reasonably quickly. There was not much of a queue - the North gets significantly fewer visitors than the South - and we had already purchased 'Wild Cards' (well in advance) which covered the park admissions charges.
Our first destination was the Pafuri Camp, just over two hours away. The journey initially took us through stunted Mopane scrub mixed with savannah grassland and it was not long before we encountered our first elephant - pictured at the top of this piece. Nearer the camp the scenery changed, with small woods merging into larger forests. When we reached our 'tent' - all the accommodation is in separate (quite luxurious) canvas-covered units - we were ready for a cup of tea on our terrace. The views over the river, the Luvuvhu, were stunning.
There was an almost constant procession of animals passing along the river banks. Many came quite close and over the coming days we had visits from a number of elephants. They seemed to home in on our tent, rather than any of the others, and we soon found out that the attraction was the huge Ana tree right next to us. Its large seed pods were raining down whenever there was a gust of wind and they were clearly what the elephants were after. Below is a photo of one of our visitors.
I noticed belatedly that I had left my phone within easy reach of the elephant's trunk - you can see it lying there on the bench - but fortunately he was more interested in the seeds and chasing away a buffalo who was trying to encroach on his bounty.
The Pafuri Camp is situated very close to the point where the borders of South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe meet at the Limpopo river. We went there for a 'sundowner', which was when the photo below was taken. The area behind the elephants is already in Mozambique, and Zimbabwe lies, out of frame, just to the left.
Unusually for Kruger rest camps, the prices at Pafuri include all food and drink as well as activities such as daytime game drives, guided bush walks, and night drives. The safari vehicle in the shot below had a big hole in the front wing on the other side - a reminder that elephants are not always as friendly as the ones who visited our tent.
The camp had been highly recommended by the tour operator through whom we sorted out the booking. Without that strong recommendation we probably would have been put off by the price tag, but I am happy to say that it was well worth it.
The rangers accompanying us on this bush walk assured us that their rifles had never been fired outside a shooting range.
This track in the forest was made by antelopes, but we saw others which suggested that a crocodile had passed through there.
Apparently they can smell a carcass from miles away and will venture considerable distances into the forest to claim it. Not a comforting thought considering the size of some of the ones we encountered.
Game viewing activities at the camp typically start immediately after sunrise. This takes some getting used to, but scenes like this one - with the sun coming up behind the Baobab trees - made it immediately worthwhile.
Below are some shots of the wildlife we came across on various drives through this region.
The scenery in the north-eastern corner of the park is also be well worth seeing in its own right. We had never before set eyes upon a fever tree forest, for instance, and were also very impressed by the views across 'Lanner Gorge', which is up to 150m deep in places and some 11km long.
The star attractions in the North of Kruger Park, however, are without doubt the elephants. Sometimes they appeared seemingly out of nowhere - as on this occasion, when I had initially pointed my camera at the buffalo on the bridge ahead of us.
Here are a few more elephant photos:
After a couple of very enjoyable days at Pafuri we started heading south. The giraffe in the photo below was the first one we had came across so far.
However, we soon saw more and more.
We also spotted our first waterbuck. Again, a short while later there were lots.
We stopped for refreshments at the Shingwedzi rest camp, and just outside we encountered the first big cat of the trip. The lionness was clearly using the passing traffic as camouflage - there were antelopes on the opposite side of the road.
A short while before we reached the Mopani rest camp (at dusk) we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, which effectively marked the end of our journey through Kruger's northern region. However, whilst we did not know it then, there were still plenty of fantastic experiences ahead of us further south.