Rabelais Loop (S106) and the Talamati Road (S140)
Shortly after N’wamatsatsa Water Hole is the turn-off to Rabelais Loop (S106), a 12km dust-road detour off the main tar road (H7). Along the detour is Rabelais Hut which was once a ranger’s post and the main entrance gate into central Kruger between 1932 and 1954. Rabelais was one of the original farms of the area, named after the French satirist. The ranger’s hut has been maintained as a small museum.
From Rabelais Hut, one can follow the S140 down south through the rolling mixed bushveld country towards Talamati. However, unless one is booked in at the small camp that overlooks a water hole, one has to drive back along the same road. The Talamati Road itself (S145) is good for game, particularly at the Fairfield Water Hole where giraffe and other browsers often emerge from the acacias for a drink.
The Satara Road (H7)
The Orpen-Satara Road usually has plenty of game in the pockets of thornveld within the mixed marula and knob-thorn woodlands. Thornveld is often an indicator of sweet grazing and there are usually herds of impala, zebra, wildebeest and buffalo along the road.
In Shangaan folklore, zebras are a study in definitiveness. There is a proverb that goes, “We shall admit they are zebras once we have seen their stripes”, which means “show me the proof and I’ll believe you”. The symbolism of the zebra has not been lost on politicians. Former South African foreign affairs minister Pik Botha would enthuse at diplomatic cocktail parties how the new South Africa was like a zebra: it didn’t matter whether one was white or black, both were an integral part of the body politic and could not survive without each other.
Zebras never stray too far from water, but they never swim in it either. They prefer dust baths to clean themselves. Zebras can drink up to 14 litres of water a day, and they are most often seen at water holes before midday.
Orpen, Marula and Tamboti Camps
There are three small camps in the Orpen area – Orpen itself, Maroela Camp and Tamboti Tented Camp, the latter two being mainly geared for campers. The camps are close to the Timbavati River which enters Kruger just north of Orpen Gate.
Orpen is a small camp at Orpen Gate so is well-suited for late arrivals at the Park. The camp has 15 cottages, shop and petrol station. The proximity of the river means there is usually reasonable animal activity in this area, particularly late in the afternoon or early in the morning. Orpen offers some of the best night drives in Kruger. The Orpen area is usually reliable raptor and vulture territory.
Cape vultures breed in the crags of the berg 50km due west near Strydom Tunnel, but often come into the Park to feed. The Bateleur is common as are most of the larger eagles.
Maroela and Tamboti are adjoining camps a few kilometres from Orpen Gate. They cater mainly for campers and caravanners.
Maroela has 19 camping sites and two huts which can sleep eight people. There are communal ablution and cooking facilities.
Tamboti is a camping site with permanent tents and caters specifically for people with disabilities.
Reception for both camps is at Orpen Gate.
There are no shops at the camps but there is a well-stocked shop at Orpen Gate. Both camps overlook the Timbavati River bed and are surrounded by wonderful riverine woodland with abundant bird life in the leadwoods, sycamore figs, acacias and bushwillows.
Orpen was named in honour of a major Kruger benefactor, Eileen Orpen, the wife of National Parks Board member JH Orpen, who purchased seven private farms in the area, totalling more than 60 000 acres (24 000ha) and then donated them to the Parks Board.
There are also usually large buffalo herds along the H7. Although they have a bovine appearance, they are one of the most dangerous animals of the African bush. Stevenson-Hamilton believed that buffalo were more dangerous than lion: “They are far tougher than lions, and far more solidly determined to get even with an enemy. In fact, a wounded buffalo bull will hunt his tormentor much as a terrier does a rat, and it is sufficient to say that, if he catches him, when the pieces come to be picked up they will be most conveniently removed in one or more sacks.”
The best game spot on the H7 is probably around Nsemani Pan, 7km west of Satara. Nsemani is on a narrow strip of ecca shale which divides the granite woodlands of the west from the eastern basalt plains. The landscape is one of broken thornveld with rocky outcrops, such as Mathikithi Koppie (315m).
The Marabou Stork (ghumba in Shangaan) is known as the undertaker of the veld because of its superior scavenging abilities. It has a wingspan of 2,87m (9ft 6ins) and an unconfirmed report notes a specimen with a 4,06m wingspan, which makes it one of the longest-winged birds in the world. Marabous are believed to breed in Zambia and Zimbabwe and are summer visitors to Kruger.
Nsemani is probably the best place to see white rhino in the Satara area. Elephant, giraffe and kudu enjoy feeding on the surrounding Delagoa acacia and many-stemmed albizias, while steenbok and duiker find protection in the denser pockets of bush.
Look out for steenbok around Acacia tortilis trees – they often feed on the dry pods that have fallen on the ground. The big carnivores often lurk on this stretch of the H7. Indeed tour guide Henry van Eck was lucky to survive a leopard attack at Nsemani in September 2003. The big cat apparently leapt into his open vehicle and mauled his leg before he managed to fight it off. Rangers later tracked it down and shot it dead. Official reports indicated the leopard may have been previously fed by tourists, thus becoming dangerously overly-familiar towards humans.
Talamati is a small bushveld camp in the mixed woodlands of the N’waswitsontso watercourse. In Shangaan talamati means “abundant water” which refers to the strength of the camp borehole.
There are six self-catering cottages with no other facilities, although there is a public phone at reception. Talamati is on the edge of the N’waswitsontso wetlands which ensures there is usually good year-round birding.
The sandy river feeds the Mluwati Concession before snaking its way down to Orpen Dam and on to Mozambique through the Lebombo.
There are two bird hides at Talamati, one of which overlooks a water hole near the reception area.