The central Lebombo has a wide variety of animal life because of the different habitats. From far away the rugged hills seem featureless, but as one gets closer the nuances of these rhylotic koppies become apparent. This part of Kruger receives much less rainfall than the west, and this is apparent in the vegetation which grows on the stony soils. The red bushwillow is the dominant tree form but there is a diversity of plant life including many euphorbias and other succulents.
N’wanetsi Picnic Site
This is a convenient lunch-time picnic stop in the central Lebombo. There is an open-sided thatched shelter overlooking the Sweni river gorge and a walkway up to a hut that has impressive views of the surrounding mountains and Mozambique. N’wanetsi is derived from the Shangaan description for “shimmering water”.
N’wanetsi used to be a private camp for senior government officials during the apartheid days. It was often used by the then Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, who once complained during a five-day trip that he’d seen no lion. Lowveld author Piet Meiring recounts how, in desperation, ranger Gus Adendorff stole a wildebeest carcass from a pride of lion near Satara, loaded it onto his bakkie and secretly took it to N’wanetsi as lion bait. His ruse worked – 23 lion emerged from the bush to feed, giving Verwoerd a memorable last night in the Park, and an opportunity to use his new “cine” camera.
Singita Lebombo Luxury Lodge
The ultimate Kruger private experience. Located on a ridge in the Lebombo mountains, the ultra-luxury lodge, Singita Lebombo, is unlike anything else in Kruger. Architecturally bold and contemporary, its style may best be described as modern African fusion, a cunning blend between Great Zimbabwe, Japanese zen and Georgia O’Keefe.
The entertainment area, constructed of rock, wood and glass, offers stunning views over the dry, rugged mountains covered with euphorbias, and other plants suited to the arid conditions.
The spacious rooms are designed for maximum privacy without compromising the view over the N’wanetsi river. Guests have a high level of personalised service, with rangers available at all times.
The 15 000-ha concession includes parts of the Lebombo inaccessible to the self-drive tourist. There is an interesting mixture of grassland and mountain habitat with particularly good birding. Singita Lebombo has a beauty spa of international standards, art gallery and shop. The lodge offers game drives and guided walks.
N’wanetsi to Olifants (S41, S90)
The dust road between N’wanetsi and Olifants goes through open grasslands with stunted bush and into the stonier Olifants rugged veld. The first part of the route is known as the Gudzani Road (S41) which follows a watercourse of the same name. The Gudzani stream is a tributary of the N’wanetsi which, after summer rains, forms a number of pans that often attract large herds of grazers.
The Gudzani Road (S41) joins the Old Main Road (S90) between Satara Camp and Olifants. There are sometimes eland at this junction. The game viewing along the Old Main Road is unpredictable until Bangu Water Hole, which is about an hour’s drive from Olifants Camp. From Bangu to Balule, one is almost guaranteed to see elephant, particularly along the Olifants River watercourse.
N’wanetsi to Tshokwane (S37)- (Trichardt Road)
Sweni Water Hole is the best game-viewing spot along the S37, and it is conveniently located close to N’wanetsi Picnic Site. There is a bird hide at Sweni that has fine views over the Lebombo. The Trichardt Road from Sweni to Tshokwane heads across the eastern grasslands between the Lebombo range and the rather intriguingly named Makongolweni watercourse – “the place of the clitoris”.
Makongo is “clitoris” in Shangaan and is thought to have referred to a swimming pool in the stream reserved exclusively for the use of women from the communities that occupied the area before the Park was proclaimed. Game viewing along the S37 is reasonable in the vicinity of N’wanetsi and Sweni but, as one heads further south, the sightings become less reliable as the Olifants rugged veld gives way to the dry, open, stunted knob-thorn and Marla grasslands.
Mfene, the Baboon
A truculent, cunning and intelligent animal that will eat almost anything, including small mammals and birds. Baboons have even been known to hunt baby antelope.The major part of their diet, however, consists of plants, fruits and insects. They have a distinctive harsh bark, “Wa-hoo!”, and their greatest enemy is the leopard.