Game Drives from Letaba to Olifants in the Southern Mopaneveld

Giraffe and Impala at a water hole
Giraffe and Impala

There are two main choices travelling between Letaba and Olifants. These are the main Letaba-Olifants tar road (H1-5) and the slightly longer Letaba River dust road (S46, S44).


Letaba-Olifants main road (H1-5)

The drive between Letaba and Olifants camps along the main tar road (H1-5) takes one through relatively flat mopane shrubveld. Shortly before Olifants is Shamiriri, one of a number of northern-facing sandstone hills that form the watershed between the Olifants and Letaba rivers.

From Shamiriri Hill (297m), one soon hits the Olifants River and one of the most beautiful stretches of the Park as the mopane gives way to Olifants rugged veld, and one is confronted by the lush, riverine forest of the Olifants River. There are often leopard sightings along this stretch of the road as these big cats hunt along the bush in the vicinity of the river and the koppies.

Just after the H8 turn-off is a particularly good stopping point overlooking the Olifants River on the west of the main road. There is a magnificent sycamore fig with lots of bird activity, a number of jackal-berries and matumis closer to the water's edge. Buffalo and elephant are the most common big animals seen along here, while smaller herds of impala move along the fringes of the riverine bush.

Apple-leaf. Brett Hilton BarberApple-leaf the Rain Tree
Apple-leaves are also known as rain trees because the ground beneath them is often moist. This is because of foamy secretions dropped by the froghopper aphids that sometimes infest the trees, feeding en masse on the leaves. Another explanation is that the apple-leaf comes out in flower ahead of the first spring rains and is, therefore, a reliable indicator to traditional farmers that planting can begin.
The flowers of the apple-leaf are a beautiful mauve-blue that are at their most colourful at the end of autumn, making the trees stand out in stark contrast to the dry veld.

The apple-leaf remains green even during very dry times and is a favourite with elephant, giraffe, eland and Lichtenstein's hartebeest. Most other browsers favour young leaves but find the older ones unpalatable.

Letaba-Olifants River Road

The Letaba River Road (S46 S44 S93) skirts the south bank of Engelhard Dam and tracks the Letaba River almost to its confluence with the Olifants. The views of the Engelhard from the south on the S46 were adversely affected by the 2000 floods that deposited large sandbanks along the river edge.

These are now thick reedbeds which obscure the water from the road. Game viewing along this road is itinerant often there may be no sign of animal life; at other times sightings are plentiful. The proximity of the river means there is usually some form of animal activity around, although the veld is scraggly and stony with sparse grazing that does not allow much carrying capacity. There are lots of patches of bare earth, unlike the mopaneveld where the grazing is more even.

The Letaba River road dips, and winds and climbs through the thickets, allowing occasional views of the river and the giraffe and hippo on the other side. Lion kills are often reported on the dust roads between Letaba and Olifants, their prey being mostly buffalo. It is best to do this road very slowly, not just to look for animals in the thickets but also to go easy on the suspension.

A recommended stopping point is the Olifants get-out point which offers wonderful views onto the river below and the Lebombo range to the east. The Olifants River is one of the main breeding grounds of the rare saddle-billed and black storks which may sometimes be seen from the S44.

Baboon Spider
A new species of baboon spider has been discovered near Letaba camp. Researchers found the new species during the 2003 spider survey in Kruger and to date it has not been recorded anywhere else in the world but in a patch of mopane acacia woodland near the camp.
There are seven other species of baboon spider that are found in Kruger. The new species, Ceratogyrus paulseni, differs from the others in that it has a horn on its back. Baboon spiders are big and hairy with 16 legs instead of the normal eight. They are harmless to humans.



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