Game Drive from Shingwedzi to Punda Maria

Kudu at the rivers edge. Nigel Dennis
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There are few roads in the north, and the only link between Shingwedzi and Punda Maria is the (H1-7). A highly recommended game-viewing detour off this road is Mphongolo Loop (S56), which provides some relief from the mopaneveld by winding through magnificent riverine forest.


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".

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.

After the Fire. Brett Hilton BarberFires 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.



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