The Road to Punda (H1-7)
The Lamont Loop (S55) north of Shingwedzi has good views over the wide, sandy river bed, with elephant sightings almost a certainty. Much of the H1-7 goes through mopane scrubveld where there is often no game to be seen. The water holes at Nkulumboni South and Nwarihlangari are usually quiet.
Mphongolo Loop (S56)
If one is travelling between Shingwedzi and Punda Maria, there is no excuse not to take the Mphongolo Loop (S56), which is one of the best drives in the entire Park. The detour is only 20km or so long, but one should set aside at least two hours for this trip because of the numerous loops that give one remarkable views over the river which is lined with some of the biggest and most beautiful trees in Kruger.
Among the giant jackal-berries, sycamore figs, nyalas and tambotis, a wealth of animal life is to be found, including large herds of buffalo and elephant. There are sometimes lion and leopard seen here.
Buffalo are notorious for their cunning and aggression when wounded. They are known to double back and ambush hunters who are pursuing them. In the case of lions, buffalo have been known to feign death to catch them off guard. They’ll lie still, waiting for the right moment to leap up and thrash about with their deadly horns.
Buffalo, kudu and nyala are most visible in winter here as this is the main source of water between the Shingwedzi and Luvuvhu rivers.
Duiker are common but far less visible than many other antelope – there is a Shangaan expression that, to go into hiding is “to make oneself a duiker”.
Sirheni Bushveld Safari Camp
Sirheni is a Shangaan word meaning “cemetery”, after rumours that there is an elephant graveyard nearby.
Sirheni Bushveld Camp is located in riverine bush on the edge of the mopaneveld some 54km from Shingwedzi on the northern end of the Mphongolo Loop. The camp, surrounded by established acacias, mopanes, silver cluster-leaves and leadwoods, overlooks the Sirheni Dam on the Mphongolo River.
Guests have exclusive use of the hide at the dam which, according to camp staff, is often the site of kills. Staff say there is a leopard that lives near the camp, while lion and hyaena are sometimes seen in the area. If one is lucky one may see cheetah in the surrounding open plains, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, which is rare in Kruger, is often seen in the vicinity of Sirheni, which is also good for other rare antelope species such as sable and roan.
Sirheni is renowned as a birders’ camp, with a bird hide overlooking the Sirheni Dam and the Shisha River Weir four kilometres away being two of the better birding spots in northern Kruger.
Sirheni has 15 self-catering cottages, and the camp offers guided bush walks and drives as well as a special botanical guide. Electricity is generator-powered and there are fridges in each of the units. There is no shop, although firewood and ice can be purchased.
Bateleur Bush Camp
Bateleur Bush Camp sits on the banks of the Mashokwe Spruit some 40km south-west of Shingwedzi at the end of the Red Rocks Loop road. It is a small, self-catering lodge with seven fully equipped luxury thatched cottages. It is the oldest, smallest and best equipped of the bushveld camps, with electrical plug points and limited TV reception.
Bateleur is on the edge of a thornveld intrusion into the mopane bushwillow woodlands and the camp is surrounded by tall trees and dense vegetation. There are two good dams in close proximity – Silwervis and Rooibosrant. There is a hide at Silwervis, which is a good game water hole with hippo and crocs and regular sightings of zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, tsessebe, bushbuck and nyala.
Camp specials are the black-backed jackal and caracal, while leopard are frequently seen in the dense bush along the watercourses.
Bateleur, named after the short-tailed eagle that is resident in the area, is an excellent birding camp. The dams attract large numbers of water birds and there are usually raptors circling in the skies overhead. Near Bateleur Camp is the hill of Shingomane which in the old days was the site of an initiation school for young Shangaan men.
Babalala to Dzundzwini (H1-7)
Babalala picnic site is next to a small water hole between the open mopane shrubveld to the east and the mixed mopane woodlands to the west. There are toilet and braai facilities at the picnic site and wood, ice and cold drinks are for sale. SANParks rangers say the grasslands around Babalala offer the best chances of seeing cheetah in the northern Park.
Unlike most other carnivores, the cheetah rarely scavenges and will always try to find a fresh meal. Cheetah favour the open grasslands where they have the advantage of speed in catching their prey. Their non-retractable claws give them a grip on the ground for quick acceleration, while their broad tails help them steer.
However, unless a cheetah catches its prey within half-a-kilometre, it will run out of steam and be forced to give up. Cheetah are at their most vulnerable after a high-speed chase, and have often been robbed of their prey by hyaena, lions and vultures immediately after a kill.
The tropical wetlands in the savanna north of Babalala are a key stopover for migrant water birds. The wetlands are part of the Shisha river system that, in summer, form a series of protected vleis which BirdLife SA has identified as an important habitat for some of South Africa’s rarest birds.
This is the place to break for a crake. The corn crake, African crake and more common black crake (right), are all summer possibilities at Dokweni (Shangaan for “wishing for something”), Mawawi and Shisha West along the H1-7.
Fires in Kruger
Fire has occurred naturally on the savanna since time immemorial. Mostly, these have been caused by lightning strikes. Fires act as a cleaning mechanism for the bush, ridding the landscape of old grazing and dead trees. They also stimulate new growth.
The Park policy is to allow natural fires to burn but to extinguish blazes that are started accidentally. One of the worst accidental fires in Kruger’s history occurred in 2001 when 14 people died after being engulfed by a runaway fire while cutting grass.
Where to Stay
This route can also be taken in the opposite direction.