Skukuza to Tshokwane (H1-2)
The road from Skukuza to Tshokwane (H1-2) climbs out of the thorn thickets of the Sabie River system into woodlands of bushwillows, terminalia and wild teak. Gradually, these woodlands give way to the more open savanna of the central grasslands where large herds of grazing animals and their predators are to be found.
There are several good water holes on this road – the first being the cluster of Manzimanhle, Elephant’s Drinking Hole and N’watindlopfu some 15km from Skukuza. Elephants may have favoured this area for thousands of years as there is a striking panel of ancient San rock art in a nearby granite hill that depicts four elephants. This is significant in that, of the 109 rock art shelters found in Kruger and studied by ranger Don English, only three depict elephants.
The painting was discovered in 1987 by Ranger Sam Fourie and Kruger information officer Gert Erasmus. Fourie was subsequently trampled to death by an elephant a few years later in the Stolsnek area near the base camp of the Wolhuter hiking trail. Kruger elephant expert Ian Whyte has made a convincing case that elephants were not in abundance in Kruger before the proclamation of the Park and that human intervention is one of the direct causes of elephant over-population.
Rhino Post Safari Lodge
Rhino Post Safari Lodge is in the pristine 12 000-ha Mutlumuvi private concession just north of Skukuza. The concession specialises in bush trails run by Rhino Walking Safaris through the mixed knob-thorn and marula woodlands of the Sand River catchment area. The concession is named after the Mutlumuvi stream, which is a tributary of the Sand. According to the Dictionary of Kruger Park Names, Mutlumuvi is the Shangaan derivative of the Tswana motla o mobe, the literal translation of which is “dangerous when it comes down in flood”.
This area has one of the highest populations of white rhino in Kruger so there is a good chance of seeing these animals during a walk. Hikers on walks in the concession have reported seeing elephant, giraffe, zebra and other big game during their outings, including lion. Two armed guards and a guide accompany each hiking party, which is limited to a maximum of eight people.
The upmarket Rhino Post Safari Lodge has eight luxury thatched chalets, each with a private deck overlooking the thick Mutlumuvi River bush. When the lodge was being built in 2000, workers reported that a leopard regularly strolled to the edge of the building site and watched the construction with interest. It has hung about the camp ever since.
Plains Camp is the current base for the walking safaris. It is an eight-bed, luxury tented camp near Timbiteni Water Hole, which is the site of an old Iron-Age settlement. Potsherds were found here when the borehole was sunk.
The real gem at Rhino Post, however, is the Sleepout Deck where there are wooden platforms in the trees near the Shiteveteve spring, a regular game drinking spot. Guests sleep out under the stars, guarded by two rangers who will also do the cooking.
N’watindlopfu is a good game photography site, especially during winter and spring when water is scarce and lots of animals congregate here. The light is particularly good for photography in the early mornings.
There are two get-out points on the Skukuza-Tshokwane Road (H1-2), both set among the granite boulders spilled by geological upheaval across the lowveld floor. These are the Eileen Orpen Plaque and the Kruger Tablets, which are convenient spots to stretch the legs and admire the granite koppies.
Further along the H1-2 are two of the Park’s top water holes for game photography – Leeupan and Silolweni. Leeupan, which is surrounded by sweetveld grazing, marks the start of the eastern grasslands. There are good views in all directions and, true to its name, the pan is frequented by lion, especially early in the morning. During the day, a variety of grazers come to the water to drink and, occasionally, vultures are seen bathing.
Silolweni is a more expansive water hole with two dead trees with big red-billed buffalo-weaver nests in them. This is a regular drinking spot for buffalo, wildebeest and zebra and there are often giraffe in the surrounding acacia woodland. During the rainy season, the grasslands surrounding Silolweni are transformed into vleis (Silolweni is Siswati for “swampy during the rainy season”) which attract a wide variety of bird species.
Nhlanguleni Road (S36)
The Nhlanguleni Road is a less-trafficked alternative into the central grasslands than the main Satara Road from Skukuza because it bypasses Tshokwane. There is often a lot of animal activity between the turn-off to the S36 up until the Manzimhlope Dam as there is a large patch of sweetveld grazing here.
The road passes through mixed broadleaf woodland on quite coarse, sandy soils through three secondary river systems – the Ripape, N’waswitsontso and Sweni catchment areas. These watercourses are usually rich in game and patrolled by predators but, for the most part, the S36 is not the most reliable road to see lots of animals.
That is not to say it has no surprises. Lugmag Dam, on the Ripape River, is a recommended stop on this road as it is a major water hole in the Kruger’s mid-west and is frequented by buffalo and other grazers that feed in the surrounding mixed thornveld and woodland.
Just north of Lugmag Dam is Nhlanguleni picnic site, where one can buy cold drinks and firewood – there are braai facilities available. Nhlanguleni in Shangaan means “the place of the magic guarri tree”. From Nhlanguleni northwards, the size of the woodland trees begins shrinking and the vegetation becomes scrub-like and stunted.
Ngwenyeni Water Hole, just before the turn-off to the N’waswitsontso River road, is a favourite bathing place for vultures. They take their baths from lunch time to late afternoon and are quite happy to share their ablutions with other vulture species – up to four different kinds of vulture will share a water hole with considerably more elegance than they do a carcass. Ngwenyeni means “place of the crocodiles” in Shangaan as these reptiles are often seen sunning themselves on the sandbanks next to the water.
Crocodiles feature prominently in African folklore and are the source of many proverbs associated with powerful men. In Shangaan culture if a man is described as a “crocodile” it means he is wealthy but quiet. The Shangaan expression “a crocodile does not grow thin” refers to the fact that powerful men can do what they like.
Shortly before Muzandzeni Picnic Spot the road crosses the Sweni River which is noted for the dense pockets of ilala palms that grow on the river banks. Look out in this area for Africa’s fastest antelope – the tsessebe. The palms indicate the proximity of the tropics. There is more game along the S36 north of the Sweni River as the grazing is sweeter – the good grazing begins when the woodlands become noticeably more stunted and there are increasing pockets of thornveld.
Nungu the Porcupine
Porcupines are the largest African rodents, weighing up to 27kg. Although they are common in Kruger, they are rarely seen because of their nocturnal habits. By day they hide in their burrows and emerge after dusk to forage, sometimes wandering up to 15km, seeking a variety of foods, including roots, bulbs, bark and wild fruit.
Their sharp black-and-white quills, which can be up to 50cm long, are their main form of protection. They don’t shoot their quills at attackers as is often claimed. Instead, porcupines will approach an aggressor backwards or sideways, spiking their attacker with their quills which detach very easily.
Lion are known to have died from quills stuck in their faces after botched attempts to eat a porcupine. Their other main enemies include leopard, hyaena, large raptors and pythons. According to Kruger mammal expert Heike Shutze, there is at least one pride of lions in Kruger that specialises in hunting porcupines.
Early Portuguese records from southern Africa show that porcupine quills – which are hollow – were used to carry alluvial gold dust in treks across the bush.