Mopani to Shingwedzi (H1-6)
The H1-6 tarred road to Shingwedzi divides the western mixed woodlands from the open savanna grasslands of the east. The mopane trees vary in size according to the richness of the soil. There are lots of apple-leaf trees and leadwoods marking the watercourses. Small antelope are often seen around Bowker’s Kop Water Hole which takes its name from the nearby hill with its baobabs and mountain syringas.
The mopane trees vary in size according to the richness of the soil, and the road passes a series of pans. One of the better ones is Shidayangwenya, 8km from Mopani Camp. It is a long stretch of water among tall mopane trees, frequented by elephants.
The Shingwedzi Road crosses the Tropic of Capricorn just north of Grysbok Pan. One of Kruger’s rarities to look out for here is Sharpe’s grysbok after which the water hole was named. Sharpe’s is one of Kruger’s smallest antelopes and is extremely shy. It feeds mostly by night but does emerge during daylight when the weather is overcast. In Kruger it is found only in the extreme north of the Park.
The road to Shingwedzi passes through intermediate mopane with stretches of grassland. The main water hole along this road is Olifantsbad (“elephant’s bath”) Pan which, like most of the pans along this road, becomes really interesting only after good rains.
Early summer thunderstorms result in millions of termites emerging from the ground in parts of the north, attracting a feeding frenzy of eagles, hawks, buzzards and falcons which gorge themselves on these high-protein delicacies.
North of Olifantsbad Pan, a small intrusion of gabbro thornveld marks the mini-escarpment between the Dzombo River catchment area and the Shingwedzi flood plains. The mopaneveld becomes visibly stunted as one moves into the eastern basalt plains.
The grassland, in turn, gives way to mixed woodland as the road dips gently next to the Nkokodzi Stream into the alluvial flood plains of the Shingwedzi River system. The flood plains are marked by a stark change in the geological variety of the rocks, which have been deposited steadily in the watercourses over millions of years of flooding.
The H1-6 closely follows the Shingwedzi River for 15km before Shingwedzi Camp, and there is usually animal activity among the large leadwoods, figs and apple-leaf trees that line the river. There are inevitably elephants along this section of the road.
Fraser of the Lowveld
One of the more eccentric characters in Kruger’s history was Major AA Fraser, who was in charge of the Shingwedzi Game Reserve before World War I. Fraser, a tall, imposing veteran of the British army in India, had a knowledge of the bush that was matched only by his contempt for bureaucracy.
Lowveld author Wilf Nussey described Fraser as a “powerful man with a great red beard, total impatience with administration and paperwork, superb marksmanship with rifle or shotgun, and a seemingly bottomless capacity for whisky”. According to writer TV Bulpin, Fraser was a “real bushwhacker. He hated women but loved good guns and strong dogs”.
Nussey records Fraser’s somewhat unusual daily routine: “His practice was to get up very early, fish or hunt warthogs and go to bed after a late breakfast. He would rise again at about 6pm and spend most of the night working on his guns, mending clothing and reading the English country life magazine Field before getting a little more pre-dawn sleep.” Fraser was always accompanied by a pack of dogs which, from time to time, acted as his bedding.
During those rare occasions when Fraser had a guest, he would give over his bed and sleep on the floor cuddled up with his dogs, which, he said, kept him warmer than any blanket.
Despite his refusal to keep records, fill out forms or keep accounts, Fraser was appointed warden for Sabi Game Reserve in 1917. It was a short-lived experience. “When Fraser moved to Sabi Bridge,” writes Nussey, “he took with him his pack of 25 dogs, answered no letters and so neglected his administrative duties that, when officials visited to find out what was going on, the office was so congested with cobwebs that labourers had to cut a way in.”
Mopani to Shingwedzi via Shilowa (S50)
The S50 leaves the Nshawu watercourse and crosses the basalt flatlands of scrub mopane. This can be a rather featureless drive until one crosses the Tropic of Capricorn close to Shilowa Hill (382m). Between Shilowa Hill and the larger Shibavantsengele Koppie (489m), there is a pass that cuts through the Lebombo.
This pass is believed to be an ancient elephant highway, used by generations of elephants migrating from Mozambique to their winter feeding grounds in northern Kruger. This migration route was disrupted when the Kruger eastern border was fenced in the 1960s and elephant populations in Mozambique were severely depleted by the civil war.
However, the return of peace and the dropping of the fence as part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park initiative may see elephants reclaim their old road.
The elephant pass has also been used by humans for hundreds of years. The remains of an Iron-Age trading settlement have been found at the foot of Shilowa and there is archaeological evidence that ivory hunters and traders passed through it in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Former Park head Bruce Bryden discovered a secret cave in the area that appears to have been enlarged through the intensive use of fire at some point in the distant past. The cave appears to have been used in the 1900s as a stash point for ivory and precious metals and may even have been used more recently by ivory poachers.
The S50 follows the Lebombo range northwards towards Shingwedzi. Two recommended stops along this road are the surprisingly large Grootvlei Dam on the Hlamvu Creek and Nyawutsi Bird Hide on the Ntshivana Creek. Nyawutsi – derived from the Shangaan word nyawuti which means “lion with a large mane” – is within a pleasant grove of tall trees next to a permanent water hole that occasionally attracts lion early in the morning. It is not favoured much by other game because the dense surrounding bush provides cover for lurking predators.
North of Nyawutsi, the road meets the Shingwedzi River at Dipene. Dipene was a dipping point set up to try to curb a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 1938. Migrants arriving from Mozambique were obliged to use the foot-bath before they could carry on into South Africa.
This 20-km section of the S50 road from Dipene past Kanniedood Dam to Shingwedzi Camp is one of the most beautiful drives in the Park. The lush riverine forest supports a great deal of animal life compared to the somewhat sparse pickings of the north-eastern mopaneveld. There are usually elephant, kudu and baboons on the river banks as well as nyala, which are not often found much further south. There are plenty of hippos in the bigger pools in the river and an abundance of crocodiles on the sandbanks.
There are eight species of mongoose found in Kruger, the most common being the dwarf, banded and slender mongooses. Kruger scientists estimating that for every 100 square kilometres there are 668 mongooses. They use termite mounds for shelter and feed mostly on insects. The rarest mongoose in Kruger is Selous’ mongoose, which is found only in the Shingwedzi area in the north.