There is a stretch of road in the northern part of the Kruger Park where you may begin to think that you have passed the best – the road is dominated by short scrub and powerlines – and a few steenbok, ostrich and kori bustards. But then you notice a baobab on a hill in the distance.
It is about now that the terrain begins to change and you notice a different feel in the air. The baobab dominates the skyline and once you reach it you notice that the road starts to wind down into the Luvuvhu River Valley and the Pafuri region of Kruger – and into another world. Land of giants, place of silence, ancient space – no description is enough to capture the place that is Pafuri. This is a place that whispers the Africa of the past, where the roar of a lion carries across a land of ancient baobabs, gorges and fantasial forests.
Crooks and Forced Removals
Ancient settlement near Pafuri Camp
It is a place where human history, past and present, can be seen and experienced. The ground is littered with the tools of our early ancestors, each stone telling a story. Crooks Corner, the infamous point of connection of three countries, played a role in the colourful recent past of the area. Scoundrels of every ilk would evade the pursuing law enforcers of one country by slipping across the river to another country. In this era of instant gratification for safari travellers, Pafuri is a step back to a time of marvel at the natural course of things. Pafuri is a step into the past and yet is of the new order of Africa. It is a story of forced removals and land reclamations.
The northern reaches of the park were the traditional lands of the Makhuleki peoples until 1969 when the South African government proclaimed the land as part of the Kruger Park under the guise of extending the park, but in truth it was to extend the military presence along the whole eastern border of the country. With the onset of majority rule people who had lost their land due to forced removals were entitled to claim it back. The Mukhuleki community was the first to get their land back under the new dispensation – and instead of farming the land they decided to develop the area for tourism.
Land of the Baobabs
Baobab near Pafuri Camp
A rest for the ancient baobabs it is almost as if they are the breath of Pafuri, the very energy of this enchanted place. Rising from Pafuri's plains, ridges and gorges the baobabs shape the landscape and sky, teasing the senses in a mixture of emotions. In an attempt to capture the emotions a long forgotten yearning surfaces, inexplicable in its intensity. In many wilderness areas you can hear the echoes of the ancient wilderness song. At Pafuri you get fleeting glimpses of the lyricist. There are a number of reserves in Africa where baobabs occur in numbers. The landscape of Tanzania's Tarangire National Parks is shaped by the presence of baobabs and in the wild southern reaches of the country the Ruaha National Park sports baobabs in its vast canvas. But nowhere is the spirit of the legend better defined than in Pafuri.
Ancient cities were built around the giant trees of Pafuri centuries ago and today these cities in their state pay homage to the baobabs. Baobabs add to the aura of the crumbling walls of the ancient buildings. Atop a hill looking out over the vast wilderness of northern Kruger Park the ancient settlement of Tulamela echoes stories played out over time. On ridges, slopes and valleys the baobabs of Pafuri occur singly or in large groups. You cannot but be awed by the landscape of the northern reaches of the Kruger Park.
More than Baobabs
But the Pafuri area is more than baobabs and ancient settlements. It is here that fever tree forests haunt the senses, where animals seem out of place among the yellow stemmed giants. Forests of ebonies and sausage trees add to the beautiful haunting of the place.