The grazing is sweet because of the rich clay soils supported by ecca shales which are punctuated by a series of granite koppies, the highest being Matekevhele (482m) to the north-west of Klopperfontein Dam. Matekevhele in Venda means the “place of plentiful maize”, which probably means it was a grain storage site in the 19th century.
There is some mystery about these koppies as Kruger historians Klopper and Bornmen note that local people refused to spend the night nearby.
There are two viewing spots at Klopperfontein, which is named after the lowveld ivory hunter Dirk Klopper who frequently camped here. The windmill and the dam are both worth stopping at. Klopperfontein Dam is often visited by elephant and eland and, on occasion, lion have been seen here.
There is a drift over the Klopperfontein Stream that was built by another ivory hunter, the legendary Cecil Barnard, who was known locally as Bvekenya (“he who swaggers”). Barnard’s own journey was one of redemption. Once a poacher who had a hide-out on an island in the Limpopo River, he eventually became a game ranger.
During the height of the southern African conflict of the 1970s and 1980s, many mines were laid along the borders between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Former Kruger head ranger Bruce Bryden tells of his heartbreak at having to shoot an old bull elephant near Klopperfontein.
It had been blinded and crippled by an anti-personnel mine:
“How many elephant and other large game animals were killed or mutilated by mines during my time at the Kruger National Park is known only to God.
Certainly, we had to destroy quite a number of elephants in the northern areas after they had fallen foul of the mines laid so heedlessly in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It was a terrible business; my blood boiled every time I heard or came across one of these landmine victims,” he wrote in his memoirs.
There is a great deal of folklore associated with northern Kruger. East of Punda Maria is Gumbandebvu Hill (576m), named after a chief whose daughter Khama was believed to possess great rainmaking skills. During years of drought, people from far and wide would bring gifts to Khama and implore her to bring rain.
She reportedly would then slaughter a goat, prolonging its death cries so that the ancestors would hear the desperation of the people, and then climb to the top of the hill with bones and potions and implore the spirits to change the weather. Many people from this area today believe the hill is sacred and haunted.
Camps in Far North
Klopperfontein to Pafuri (H1-8)
The rocky granite ridge at Klopperfontein marks the start of the broken landscape of the broader Luvuvhu catchment area. The Shikuwa Stream rises at Klopperfontein and drops down to join the Matsaringwe which, in turn, joins the Luvuvhu near the Nyalaland Trail base camp on Kruger’s western border.
The H1-8 heads north through gentle, undulating plains of shrub mopaneveld with views over the western edge of the Soutspansberg, until it reaches the landmark Baobab Hill.
This was a camp site for migrant labourers from Mozambique who were recruited for the Johannesburg gold mines. It was also used by hunters and ivory traders during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From here, the road descends sharply into the Luvuvhu River valley through mopane woodland until it levels off along the alluvial flood plains.
Here, the mopane trees end abruptly and are replaced by the tangled flood plain vegetation of thornveld and fever tree forest which then give way to thick, riverine bush on the river’s edge.
From being almost non-existent, game becomes quite plentiful in a short space of time. The scenery in this area is exceptionally beautiful, with dramatic sandstone koppies and baobabs providing a visual counterpoint to the lushness of the river area.