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PLANNING A 4 DAY KRUGER SAFARI TOUR

4-DAY KRUGER SAFARI TOUR

If you’ve followed the route Moafrika Tours recommends for your first few days visiting the Kruger National Park, you’ll be spending the night in the central region and ideally positioned to explore the northern parts of the Park.

Moafrika Tours can recommend places to stay and popular destinations to visit in the Kruger National Park if you want to spend more time at this incredible South African destination.

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The south-west and central regions of the Kruger National Park are dominated by Pretoriuskop sourveld, bushwillow woodlands and dense riverine thickets. Heading north you will wind your way through landscapes that are flatter and slightly more arid, dominated by mopane trees that thrive in the shallow clay soils.

WHERE TO STAY IN THE CENTRAL REGION OF THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK

Visitors on a 4-day Kruger safari tour have the choice of two popular rest camps in the central region of the Park. Both are located overlooking a magnificent perennial river with panoramic views of the Lebombo Mountains and the hazy mirage of Mozambique in the far distance.

Olifants Rest Camp

Olifants Rest Camp is located on an escarpment that drops down to the magnificent Olifants River. The river and its surrounds are regarded as one of the most spectacular stretches of the Kruger National Park, where rugged veld meets the lush riverine forest. Olifants means elephants in Afrikaans and was named in honour of the large numbers found in the area, aswell as paying tribute to the Magnificent Seven Elephants.

Guests staying at Olifants Rest Camp have what SANParks refers to as “an unforgettable window of Africa”. The camp is ingeniously located on top of a hill that towers several hundred feet above the Olifants River. Shaded lookout platforms offer visitors’ breath-taking views which makes the rest camp one of the Kruger’s most popular destinations.

Visitors have the option of a range of accommodation, from the more budget-friendly thatched bungalows with en-suite bathrooms and kitchenettes to large semi-luxury units in prime spots along the cliff edge that sleeps 8 people. All the accommodation units at Olifants Rest Camp are positioned to make the most of the spectacular river view. A few units have been designed to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities.

There is a designated picnic site for day visitors which is situated behind the reception area. Gas cooking facilities are available to rent. There are stunning routes to explore in the Olifants area but sitting on the outlook deck and watching the river below is sometimes all you need to do.

Letaba Rest Camp

Letaba Rest Camp is situated close to three major dams on a sweeping bend of the Letaba River, and is ideally positioned for excellent game viewing. The camp itself is described as a magical oasis with lush gardens and gorgeous trees in what is quite a dry and bleak part of the park. It is a popular destination in the Kruger National Park for birders as the lush gardens and abundance of aloes attract a wide variety of birds.

Visitors to Letaba Rest Camp have the choice of the more budget-friendly bungalows and traditional Kruger rondavels or semi-luxury guest houses and furnished safari tents. The rest camp offers the usual facilities including a good restaurant and shop, banking facilities, a small medical facility and a fuel station.

The Goldfields Environmental Education Centre is located at Letaba Rest Camp. The Letaba Elephant Hall, as it is more commonly called, has recently been upgraded with new information panels and provides visitors with a wealth of information on the elephants of the region, including the famed Magnificent 7 and several other large tuskers that roamed the ancient migration routes in the Park.

One of the most impressive displays at the Letaba Elephant Hall is the full skeleton of a fully-grown African elephant. As many as 80 000 tourists and 13 000 learners visit this impressive information centre every year.

EXPLORING THE OLIFANTS AREA

The area surrounding Olifants Rest Camp is made up of three eco-zones that support a high population of elephants. It was home to the original Kruger elephant herd, including the famed Magnificent 7.

The Kruger National Park is world-famous for seven elephants with record-size tusks. Elephants have traditionally been hunted for their ivory so these grand animals were extremely vulnerable to poaching and hunting. One of the more famous of the Magnificent 7 was Mafunyane (the Irritable One) who had perfectly-matched tusks, each weighing 55 kilograms. His tusks were so enormous; they scraped on the ground when he walked.

On the other side of the Olifants River is a region referred to as northern Lebombo mountain bushveld which is dominated by rhyolite hills and small mountains with an abundance of red bushwillow and mopane trees growing in rocky soils. The Olifants River is regarded as the divide between southern and northern Kruger National Park and definitely elephant country.

There is a less game in this grassland region and most activity takes place close to the rivers and waterholes. Waterbuck are prolific the closer you go to the Letaba area and you should see good lion and leopard sightings. Apart from stunning scenery, your main reason for exploring the central grasslands is for good birdwatching. The two rivers are important habitats for water birds and there are many breeding sites dotted along the banks of the rivers.

H8 to N’wamanzi waterhole

The N’wamanzi waterhole located on the bend of the H8 road marks a point where the grasslands to the south, the mopaneveld to the north and the riverine forest of the Olifants River merge into one. There is a good picnic spot at the waterhole but you often have to share it with a party of scavenging baboons.

From N’wamanzi waterhole, you can take the H1-5 main road to Letaba. If you have time, take the scenic routes (S46 and S94) to explore the grasslands and riverine thickets between the main road and the Letaba River.

S44 to Engelhard Dam

Heading north towards the Letaba area, the most scenic route is the S44 road that takes one on an idyllic journey alongside the Letaba River. Birders will delight in sightings of the rare saddle-billed and black storks that are commonly found in this region.

Engelhard Dam was named after a former US air-force bomber and the late chairman of the Rand Mines Group, Charles Engelhard. The wealthy businessman donated funds for the construction of a large concrete weir in the Letaba River, located east of the Letaba Rest Camp. Today it is regarded as one of the best birding destinations in the Kruger National Park.

The impressive dam is surrounded by three different habitats which includes the rocky Lebombo range to the east, the mopaneveld and the riverine bush on the river banks. Waterbuck are a common sight along the Letaba River and around the dam, particularly where in the marshland pockets. Waterbuck let off a peculiar smell which attracts lions to the area.

The best way to enjoy the beauty, birds and wildlife around Engelhard Dam is along the S62 road that runs east off the Letsaba-Mopani Road. Game is more plentiful in the winter months as the dam and Letaba River is a critical source of water in the dry season.

There are two excellent birding spots on the northern side of the dam; the Matambeni bird hide and the dam wall lookout point. Birders will be happy to see a variety of herons, plovers, stilts, bee-eaters and storks, as well as rarer species such as the black heron and collared pratincole. Hippos and crocodiles are common sightings, and you’ll see a good selection of elephant, waterbuck, buffalo and impala in the riverine bush surrounding the dam.

For panoramic views of the Lebombo Mountains, make your way up Longwe Mountain to the Engelhard viewpoint which is positioned halfway up the highest mountain range in the northern region.

EXPLORE THE LETABA AREA

The Letaba region is rich in archaeology and cultural history as the area has over the past been inhabited by different groups of people who each made their mark. Archaeological excavations at Masorini Hill (40 kilometres east of Letaba Rest Camp) provide visitors to the Kruger National Park with impressive displays of packed stone walls and terraces, grinding stones and iron-melting furnaces that date back to the late Stone Age.

The area surrounding the Letaba Rest Camp is dominated by mopaneveld and alluvial flood plains. It has a much lower carrying capacity than the southern region but is popular rather as a birding destination, with the Shingwedzi flood plains being one of the country’s top summer birding spots.

Letaba River Road (S47) to Mingerhout waterhole

The Letaba River is one of seven major tributaries in the Kruger National Park and forms part of a corridor of biodiversity that includes the Olifants, Shingwedzi, Tsendze and Mphongolo Rivers. Large imposing trees grow along its banks, including the tall apple-leaf, sycamore fig, nyala, tamboti and jackal-berry trees. Large pools that break up the flow of the river are home to crocodile and pods of hippo.

The first half of Letaba River Road takes visitors on a scenic loop through mopane shrubveld and via the Mingerhout waterhole. Game numbers are not high in this habitat but what you see around the waterhole is often spectacular, including sightings of leopard and elephant.

Letaba Rest Camp to Mopani Rest Camp (H1-6)

Sticking to the main road and heading northwards, take the H1-6 road to Mopani Rest Camp. The area is dominated by mopaneveld and wetter flood that support higher concentrations of elephant. The main road crosses over the Letaba River and it’s a good place to stop and take out your binoculars as birds and game are more active along the river bends.

Mopani Rest Camp is a good place to stop for lunch. The camp is located on the banks of Pioneer Dam, nestled in a mopani wooded area dominated by small hills and rocky outcrops. A signature feature of the camp is a huge gnarled baobab tree that stands in the heart of the camp.

There is a lot to do in the Mopani area, including guided trails to the Shilowa heritage site or an overnight stay in the Shipandane bird hide. The heritage site lies to the right of the Tropic of Capricorn and is the so-called First Site believed to be where the first humans settled in the area in the period 1 200 AD. A second site dates back to the late 1700s when the Pedi tribe inhabited the area.

Shongololo Loop (S142) and Old Main Road (S144) to Shingwedzi Rest Camp

To get off the main road (H1-6), take one of these two loops for a quiet drive through a more remote part of the park. The area between Mopani Rest Camp and Shingwedzi Rest Camp is not great for game viewing as the grasslands and bush thickets are not palatable. However, you are guaranteed to see elephants as they love feeding on the groves of mopane shrubveld. Other special sightings are the rare road and tsessebe antelope, although they are hard to spot as they tend to hide out in the thick woodlands.

Bowker’s Kop located off the Shongololo Loop is an interesting area, with an impressive number of baobabs growing on its slope. Other attractions on this loop include Ntomeni Pan and Uitspan Pan where there is more game activity in the dry winter months.

EXPLORING THE SHINGWEDZI AREA

The H1-6 main road is the more direct route from Mopani Rest Camp to Shingwedzi Rest Camp which is located close to the eastern border of the Kruger National Park. Once again game numbers are limited but it is a lovely area for birdwatching, with an abundance of red-backed shrikes, wooly-necked storks, glossy starlings, hoopoes and a variety of kingfishers that are found in the mopane woodlands and in the beautiful riverine forest.

Red Rocks Loop (S52)

Take a short diversion and explore the Red Rocks Loop (S52). The S52 continues on to Bateleur Camp which is a private camp situated on the edge of the Rooibosrant Dam. This loop is popular for sightings of lion and leopard that are attracted by larger numbers of nyala, kudu and giraffe that enjoy the floodplain woodlands.

STAY AT SHINGWEDZI REST CAMP

A journey to the far eastern corner of the Kruger National Park to Shingwedzi Rest Camp means that you are too far from one of the main gates to make it in time to leave the Park. Moafrika Tours recommends you spend the night at this rugged bushveld camp and get an early start to leave the Park the next day via Punda Maria Gate in the far north.

Shingwedzi Rest Camp is situated close to three major rivers; the Shingwedzi, the Mpholongolo and the Manzemba. Visitors enjoy panoramic views over the floodplains of Shingwedzi River and the delights of being located in an area boasting the biggest elephants in the Park.

The area around Shingwedzi Rest Camp is dominated by vast alluvial floodplains with pockets of ancient gallery forests that break up the expansive mopane scrubveld. Nyala, kudu and giraffe are common sightings and they, in turn, attract larger numbers of lion and leopard.

Visitors to Shingwedzi Rest Camp have the choice of more budget-friendly bungalows or a luxury guesthouse. A special treat is a 21-kilometre guided walk along a route lined with sycamore trees that takes you to Kanniedood (cannot die) Dam.

The best time to visit Shingwedzi area is in the dry winter months when animal activity is intense around the small waterholes and river pools. The Shingwedzi area is renowned for breeding herds of some 50 to 60 elephants and, in the 1970s and 1980s, was home to the Park’s biggest tuskers. One elephant that roamed the region, and was aptly named Shingwedzi, carried the weight of tusks that weighed in at 47 and 58 kilograms respectively. His enormous tusks can be viewed at Letaba Rest Camp.

If you have time, take a quick drive to the Mashagadzi waterhole for sundowners. The loop is lined with magnificent trees and you’re likely to see herds of elephant and buffalo in the area.