Game Drive around Punda Maria

Herd of Buffalo in the Kruger National Park.

There are two main routes linking Punda Maria to the main Shingwedzi Pafuri road (H1-8). These are the S60 past Gumbandebvu Hill and the Punda Maria Gate road to Dzundzwini (H13-1), which is the most direct way to Shingwedzi.


Punda Maria to Dzundzwini (H13-1)

On the main road eastwards (H13-1) from Punda Maria Gate and Camp the landscape shifts from sandveld to tree mopane savanna and there are some wonderful stands of this tree and usually elephant to be seen. Shortly before the H13-1 joins the main Shingwedzi-Pafuri road (H1-8) there is a loop road that takes one to the Dzundzwini view site which, at 600m, is one of the highest points in the northern Park.
At the foot of Dzundzwini Hill, at a beautiful spot under a giant sausage tree, is the site where JJ Coetser first had his camp when he was appointed ranger of the area in 1919. In 1836, when the voortrekker Louis Trichardt passed by Dzundzwini, the area was densely settled under the control of the chief Matibee. He named the hill Matibeetuijn, Dutch for "Matibee's garden".

Impala lilyThe Impala Lily
Despite its beautiful appearance, the impala lily (Adenium multiflorum) is deadly poisonous. The succulent shrub, which can grow up to two metres, is especially visible in winter when it flowers.
It produces white flowers with delicate pink stripes and crinkly red margins that are very noticeable during the dry months, from May to September. It grows in sandy soils in rocky woodlands and open plains in the hotter, lower-lying regions of the Park.
San bushmen used the sap from the impala lily to poison their arrows and to kill fish.

Dzundzwini to Shingwedzi (H1-7)

The road south from Dzundzwini takes one through fairly flat, featureless mopaneveld. Although there are several water holes along this road, there is not much game because the grazing is mostly sourveld. A recommended get-out point is Babalala, where a thatched shelter has been constructed around an enormous sycamore fig.

The open grasslands around Babalala are reputed to be among the best places to see cheetah and tsessebe in northern Kruger. This area is also known for its accipiters birds of prey such as the black sparrowhawk and African goshawk.

Baobab hill. Brett Hilton-BarberThe Ivory Trail
The "Ivory Trail" was the adventurer's road from civilisation into the elephant-hunting grounds of southern central Africa during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The trail left the Great North Road between Johannesburg and Zimbabwe near the present-day town of Polokwane and passed Soekmekaar, descending into the lowveld near Klein Letaba where there was a rough-and-ready place to sleep.

From there, the well-worn path went east to the headwaters of the Shingwedzi River where there was a solitary store, which was the last place to get supplies before heading into the bush. The Shingwedzi River marked the start of lion country and, from this point on, people travelled only by day and built thornbush encampments at night to protect themselves and their stock from wild animals.

The Ivory Trail then passed the site where Punda Maria stands today. At the turn of the 20th century, it was occupied by a Shangaan-speaking chief called Sikololo who was known for his fortified gardens and his hospitality to travellers. Sikololo was under a permanent state of siege by wild animals desperate to raid his fertile gardens.

In his book The Ivory Trail, TV Bulpin wrote that "Sikololo marshalled his defences with cunning and patience. His womenfolk beat drums all night when the crops were ripening and the place was littered with so many snares and traps that Sikololo himself, when leaving his hunt one moonless night, had come to grief in a pitfall and remained tangled in his own contrivances until morning".

Sikololo was also a fount of news and gossip about the wild lands beyond, providing valuable intelligence to passing hunters and traders. From Sikololo's place, the Ivory Trail wound through the mopane forests to a pleasant camping spot known as Senkhuwa after the wild figs (nkhuwa) which provided shade and nourishment. Today, the site is known as Klopperfontein, named after ivory hunter Hans Klopper who used to camp there regularly.

The next stop on the Ivory Trail was Baobab Hill from where the road wound down into the Luvuvhu River Valley to Makuleke Drift, the main crossing point. Once one arrived at Makuleke Store near Crooks' Corner, one was deep in elephant territory and the Ivory Trail then splintered into numerous bush paths that led one into Zimbabwe or Mozambique or along the Limpopo River. The Ivory Trail was used extensively by hunters and traders. Parts of it have now been developed into a self-drive tourism route.

Punda Maria to Pafuri (H1-8)

The best route from Punda Maria to Pafuri is to take the dirt road past Gumbandebvu (S60) which joins the main tar road (H1-8) near Klopperfontein. The road past the haunted hills has some of the best mopane woodland in Kruger. This is one of the best places in Kruger to see Arnot's chat, a localised bird species that is found only in the denser stands of tree mopaneveld.
There is concern among some conservationists that this chat faces extinction because of elephant destruction of its habitat. Elephants and impala are usually seen along this very scenic stretch of the road. The only intrusion into the wilderness area one encounters are the two huge pylon lines that carry electricity to South Africa from Mozambique's Cahora Bassa Dam.



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