Game Drive in Makuleke Wilderness Area

Big Baobab at Makulele. Brett Hilton-Barber
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The Makuleke Conservancy is the jewel of northern Kruger.
The 24 000-ha private concession is located between the Luvuvhu River to the south and the Limpopo to the north. It is primarily a sandveld environment, distinguished by its central African vegetation, large alluvial flood plains and probably more animal and plant species diversity than anywhere else in Kruger.


Anti-poaching measures in 2003 and 2004 destroyed more than 1 000 snares and have eliminated illegal hunting. This has allowed the game to flourish. Lions, which were previously almost hunted out by cross-border poachers, have made a return.

The area is a favourite winter grazing ground for elephant from Mozambique, Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Kruger. Leopard love the thick bush environment and prey on the nyala and impala that feed close to the river. There is a large population of hippos and crocs at the confluence of the Limpopo and Luvuvhu rivers at Crooks? Corner. Among the more unusual sightings in the Makuleke Reserve are the eland and Sharpe's grysbok. The birding in the whole area is excellent, with specialities being the Pel's fishing-owl, black-throated wattle-eyed, orange-winged pytilia, African crowned eagle and racket-tailed roller.

Outpost Safari LodgeThe Outpost
The Outpost is a luxury lodge set high in sandstone hills overlooking the Luvuvhu River. Its design is contemporary, with a feel of steel and canvas and lots of space.
It consists of 12 luxury stand-alone rooms, all with stunning views over the northern Kruger wilderness. The rooms are connected by a raised walkway.
Besides the usual game drives and walks, The Outpost organises trips to Thulamela and Lanner Gorge along the Luvuvhu River.

One thing the Makuleke is not short of is baobab trees, which thrive in the basalt soils and dry, hot conditions. The baobabs give the Makuleke the feel of an ancient African landscape. Some of the bigger trees are more than 4 000 years old.

They would already have been mature during the 13th and 17th centuries when the Iron-Age Thulamela dynasty ruled the Limpopo Valley.

Baobabs are ecosystems on their own, supporting communal nests of red-billed buffalo-weavers and red-winged starlings as well as providing nesting holes and food ? in the form of insects ? for kingfishers, rollers, hornbills and mottled spinetails.

Makulele Heritage

The Makuleke area is rich in human heritage. Co-author Lee Berger, who has been a heritage advisor to the Makuleke, discovered one of South Africa's earliest Stone-Age sites on the northern banks of the Luvuvhu near Crooks? Corner. Large stone hand axes from the site are believed to be approximately 1,5 million years old.

The tool-makers were probably Homo ergaster, one of the earliest members of the genus Homo. This period in prehistory was a transitional one with a number of hominid species sharing the African savanna. The last of the gracile and robust Australopithecines (ape men) populations were still in existence but under pressure from the new, bigger-brained genus Homo, the first of our ancestors to master the art of stone tool-making.

During the exploration of the Hutwini Hills, the low rolling ridge of hills south of the main Pafuri Gate road (H1-9), Berger and co-author Brett Hilton-Barber also discovered evidence of one of the world's oldest games ? the maraba. On a flat rock, the professor found a ?board? of regularly spaced carved-out holes. The game ? a form of Chinese checkers using stones and holes, has been played in Africa since ancient times. Several other ?boards? have since been found in the valleys on the lower slopes of Hutwini.

Limpopo river from Crooks Corner. Brett Hilton-BarberThe Mighty Limpopo
The Limpopo River is Kruger's northern border as well as South Africa's frontier with Zimbabwe and, to the west, Botswana. It has its source near Johannesburg where it rises as the Braamfontein Spruit and the Crocodile River before joining Pienaar's River after Hartbeespoort Dam to become the Limpopo.
The Limpopo zigzags in a 1 600-km arc across southern Africa before disgorging into the Indian Ocean at Xai-Xai in Mozambique. It was once one of Africa's mightiest rivers, larger possibly than the Congo River is today.
However, a subcontinental tilt in the Angolan highlands aeons ago diverted much of its water into the Zambezi and Okavango Delta.
In the next few million years the Limpopo is likely to become subsumed by the Luvuvhu River system which is geologically more active.
Photo: Limpopo River from Crooks? Corner

Hutwini also appears to have been an ancient burial ground with as yet unexcavated mounds found in the area. There are several rock art sites in shelters in the sandstone hills. The paintings depict human figures in some form of dance, and recognisable animals include elephant, eland and jackal.

Berger and Hilton-Barber found stone tool manufacturing sites next to a narrow pass through the hills which appears to be an ancient animal highway. Early Stone-Age hunters probably used this pass to ambush game passing through. Among the animals they would have hunted are the extinct buffalo, Pelarovus, which had formidable horns up to three metres long from tip to tip.

The Makuleke Reserve has one of the most dramatic lookout points in all of Kruger. Lanner Gorge is a narrow, winding gorge where the Luvuvhu River has carved its course through sandstone cliffs over millions of years. The vantage point on the rocks high above the river offers sweeping views over northern Kruger and Venda, and the wonderful baobab-dominated sandveld. It was named by Kruger ranger Mike English because of the high density of lanner falcons nesting in the cliffs high above the water.

A trip to Lanner Gorge (right) can be organised from Pafuri Camp, which also offers tours to the Thulamela Iron-Age kingdom site on the southern cliffs of the Luvuvhu. Lanner Gorge can only be accessed by guests staying at the two private lodges in the Makuleke Reserve.

During the past few centuries, the Limpopo served as a trading corridor into the southern African interior from Mozambique. Traders from the Middle East and Far East would stop off on the Mozambican coastline and barter or buy goods from traders who brought skins, salt and gold from the interior.

One of the main trading centres was the ancient city of Mapungubwe located at the junction of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers. Mapungubwe has been incorporated into a new Vhembe-Dongola Transfrontier Park which includes wilderness areas in north-western South Africa, south-western Zimbabwe and eastern Botswana.

Male hippos in a territorial clash. Nigel DennisLand, Humans and Animals

Kruger was occupied by several indigenous tribes before it was proclaimed as a game reserve.

Most people in the area were removed by the authorities with little compensation. Because these removals generally happened before 1913, the cut-off date set by the South African government to settle land claims, there have been relatively few attempts at land restitution involving Kruger.

One exception is that of the Makuleke community in northern Kruger. In 1969, this clan of Shangaan speakers, which had occupied the Pafuri land for generations, was forcibly moved from the area in the interests of consolidating Kruger.

In a historic deal forged with the South African government in 1998, a creative resolution was reached. Instead of insisting on the right to reoccupy the land, which would have compromised Kruger's wildlife heritage, the Makuleke clan agreed to enter into a private-sector partnership to develop new tourism facilities in the north.




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