One of Kruger’s most gratifying drives – from a perspective of scenery and game viewing – is the road north from Lower Sabie to Tshokwane (H10). The road winds gently through knob-thorn and marula savanna, and the open grassland enables one to see animals several kilometres away.
Shortly after the low-level bridge near Lower Sabie camp – which is an excellent birding spot – there is a 14-km detour off the H10 that skirts the southern Lebombo and rejoins the H10 near Muntshe Hill. This is the Mlondozi Dam road (S29). The other alternative is the old main road to Tshokwane (S128).
The H10 provides some of the best views in Kruger. Mlondozi Dam picnic site provides stunning vistas over the plains and the Lebombo, as well as a combination of bird and animal life at the water’s edge and in the surrounding countryside. The dam is on the Mlondozi watercourse, which carves a wetland path around the base of Muntshe Hill (435m), a dramatic granophyre ridge that juts out of the lowveld floor, signalling the transition zone between the eastern plains and the Lebombo koppies.
This is a good place to see marabou and yellow-billed storks, kudu, hippo and elephant. Herds of zebra, buffalo and wildebeest can often be seen across the surrounding plains. In siSwati, mlondozi means “perennial stream”, an apt description as the stream above the dam transforms into a long, vibrant vlei during the rainy season, with a series of interesting water holes – Mafotini, Loskop, Hillside, Muntshe and Rietpan.
This is a productive birding area during late summer; there are often unusual sightings for Kruger here, such as the black coucal, which appears in years of good rainfall. Large herds of buffalo, zebra and wildebeest often congregate in the plains around Mlondozi and Muntshe in autumn and early winter.
According to Kruger researcher and writer Hans Bornman, the Mlondozi creek was the northern base of the Swazi Inyatsi regiment during the mid-1800s. The warriors who were stationed here were known as the Balondolozi who were involved in several skirmishes with Shangaan groupings over control of the area.
There is a 12-km circular road (S122) around Muntshe Hill, which is particularly pretty during the wet season because of the wild flowers in bloom. There are usually kudu, zebra, wildebeest and occasionally cheetah on this road.
Vervet monkeys are found throughout Kruger. Watch how they groom each other. There is a theory that mutual grooming by early primates evolved into what we call love.
North of Muntshe, the H10 crosses the broad eastern grassland plains where most trees struggle to transcend shrub form – except along the drainage lines which are marked by leadwoods and marulas. There is less game in these grasslands compared to the area north of Lower Sabie, but there is something quite extraordinary about the depth of space of this open savanna.
If one is lucky during times of season change, one may see large herds of zebra and wildebeest on the plains below. The H10 approaches the Lebombo and then ascends into the range to Nkumbe, one of the best look-out spots in the whole of Kruger.
Nkumbe is the highest point in the Lebombo south of the N’waswitsontso. The views over the vast grassland plains and the Shilolweni woodlands from the thatched shelter at the get-out point are spectacular and will remain etched in one’s mind forever. Absorb the soul of the savanna by spending half-an-hour at Nkumbe with a pair of binoculars and a refreshment of one’s choice, studying the lightly wooded grasslands below.
Photo: Brett Hilton Barber
From Nkumbe, the H10 winds down out of the Lebombo into the thorn thickets and mixed woodland valleys of the Tshokwane area. Orpen Dam, nestled in the Lebombo between Nkumbe and N’wamuriwa koppies, is on the N’waswitsontso River. There is a small thatched shelter, well positioned on the edge of the Lebombo, that provides a fine view over the surrounding koppies and the sandbanks below. There is a resident group of crocodiles, often hippo in the vicinity, good views and excellent birding.