The Timbavati Road (S39)
This is one of Kruger’s best drives. It follows the Timbavati River for almost 50km through a diverse mix of thornveld and mixed woodland into mopaneveld over a series of different geological zones – granites, gabbro, ecca shales and basalt. Timbavati is derived from the Shangaan for “brackish water”, yet this tributary of the Olifants River is a reliable water source for game in central western Kruger.
The plant and animal life along this road is interesting because it passes through so many different geological zones. Animal numbers in this part of the reserve have increased steadily since the removal of the fence dividing western Kruger from the private reserves in the Timbavati area.
South of Timbavati Picnic Site, the road winds between thornveld and mixed bushwillow woodlands where, on an average day, the hornbills can outnumber the impala. It’s interesting to note the relationship between rollers and bush shrikes along this road – rollers are more common in the thornveld further away from the river where the bush-shrikes dominate. North of Timbavati, the landscape becomes more broken as the road and river pass through Olifants rugged veld and the south-western mopaneveld.
Leeubron Water Hole on the S39 is rated by photographers as one of the top 10 sites for wildlife photography. Kruger’s legendary “white lions” have been seen drinking here. Timbavati is a good picnic site to stop and rest. The turn-off is marked by a fine baobab. The picnic spot is at the extreme southern tip of the Olifants rugged veld, bordering on marula and red bushwillow woodlands. It overlooks the reedbeds and sandbanks of the Timbavati River.
There are often elephant quite close to the site. However, as is the case with all other picnic spots, the feeding of wild animals has become a problem. Duiker walk out of the river bed to accept handouts, while glossy starlings, francolins and other birds have become beggars.
Cold drinks and firewood can be purchased at Timbavati and gas cookers can be hired. The site has reasonably decent ablution facilities.
The road north from Timbavati Picnic Site to Olifants Rest Camp can be very good for game, especially in the pockets of thornveld between the woodlands. One of the more interesting birds that occurs in this habitat is the kori bustard, which is the heaviest flying bird in the world. Stop at the bird hide at Ratel Pan which overlooks the Piet Grobler Dam, while the Roodewal and Goedgegun Water Holes are also sometimes interesting.
Piet Grobler, a grand-nephew of Paul Kruger, was the Minister of Land during the early 20th century who was responsible for much of the legislation governing Kruger, including the establishment of the National Parks Board (now SANParks). Roodewal is a big, red dolerite dyke that juts out of the lowveld floor above a well-shaded water hole. The rocks are part of a north-south ridge that divides the mopaneveld to the east from the mixed acacia woodland to the west. There is a noticeable decline in game numbers as the woodlands give way to mopaneveld.
Mfenhe the Baboon
Baboons are our closest relatives in the Park and the most advanced primates found in this environment. They live in troops of approximately 30 individuals and can range up to 14km in a day’s foraging.
Males are dominant and often move from troop to troop while females remain within the natal group. Intimacy is ensured through mutual grooming.
Baboons often act as watchdogs for other animals because of their sharp sense of sight. Although they are mostly vegetarian, they have been known to kill small animals like impala lambs for food.