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Nature Reserves

  • Kruger National Park
  • Mapungubwe National Park
  • Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve
  • Blouberg Nature Reserve & Vulture Colony
  • Musina Nature Reserve

Kruger National Park - Pafuri
Pafuri is easily accessible from Johannesburg (about 6 and a half hours), but Punda Maria gate is the usual option for visitors coming from the south wanting to experience the Pafuri area.

Pafuri Gate takes you along the H1-9 directly into the northern sandveld between Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers. This is one of the most ecologically diverse areas of the Park and is known as the 'northern biome'.

The vegetation includes a diverse mixture of South African lowveld and tropical African woodlands. Here you will find various trees, including bushwillow species, silver cluster leaves and white syringe. From Pafuri to the Luvuvhu River there are rare plants and animals that can be found nowhere else in South Africa.

In the winter, hundreds of Elephant and Buffalo invade this area. While driving over the Luvuvhu River bridge, take time to stop and admire the river and surrounding forest area.

Keep an eye out for the Sharpe's grysbok and the suni antelope which may be hidden in the thickets on the river banks. You will also be able to see rare birds like Pel?s Fishing Owl, Bohms Spinetail, African finfoot and white crowned plover. More uncommon birds found in the area include thickbilled cuckoo, rackettailed roller, Arnot's bush chat, bush shrike, narina trogon and the trumpeter hornbill.

While driving around the Luvuvhu area, be on the lookout for the flood markers that show the high water point reached by the floods of February 2000.

There is just one look out point in the whole northern section of Pafuri, the Pafuri picnic site (S63), which should be your first stop when entering Pafuri. This is a charming little spot surrounded by luscious Anna trees and thick bushes. There are braai (barbecue) and toilet facilities and a place where you can buy firewood and cool drinks. Spend some time on this site, relishing in the many wildlife and vegetation that surrounds you. Watch the birds go about their daily business, observe the Crocodile waiting for a kill, or simply just relax in the beautiful surroundings. The area is often visited by bee eaters, kingfishers and woodpeckers and you will be able to hear the call of the majestic fish eagle gliding across the water. One of the things to keep an eye out for is the high water mark indicating the level of which the water reached during the 2000 floods. This is marked on the wall of the toilet facility, about 8 metres from the usual water level.

Also discover the history and archaeology of the area by visiting the nearby Thulamela Iron Age site. Pafuri is abundant in birds with ranger Frank Mabasa having recorded about 257 species at this site in just one year.

Boundary of South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe

In the 1900s this area was a safe-haven for gun runners, poachers, fugitives and anyone else dodging the law. It was an easy hop across the river whenever police from one particular country approached. There is a large plaque here commemorating the legendary ivory hunter Cecil Barnard (Bvekenya), who hid on an island in the middle of the Limpopo to avoid being tracked down by pursuing rangers and police in the 1920s. Ironically, Barnard later became a ranger himself. A police station was later built here.

The road to Crook's Corner passes under majestic fig trees, jackalberries and a forest of fever trees. This is the spot where the Limpopo and Luvuvhu rivers and three countries, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique, meet.

The region is considered one of Kruger's biodiversity hotspots, with some of the largest herds of elephant and buffalo, leopard and lion and incredibly prolific birdlife. In May 2007 the biological significance of the area was recognised in its declaration as a Ramsar site - a wetland of international importance.

Many bird and animal species that are sometimes really difficult to spot elsewhere occur here. Keep a look out for kudu and nyala, baboons and monkeys - including the samango monkey. Hippo and crocodile can be seen in large numbers. In the summer, the area is full of rarely seen bird species, such as broad-billed and racket-tailed rollers, icterine and river warbler, and thrush nightingale.

Mapungubwe National Park
Mapungubwe Hill rises 30 metres above the southern bank of the Limpopo River in the northernmost region of South Africa, in the Limpopo Province. For more than a thousand years, the 300-metre long hill served as a natural fortress and impregnable stronghold that entombed gold treasures of a forgotten kingdom. The two main rivers of this region, the Shashe and Limpopo, converge a kilometre from Mapungubwe Hill to form the common international boundary between South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Towards the end of the 19th century, European colonial powers moved into what was then Rhodesia to lay the cornerstone of what would one day be the Republic of Zimbabwe. For 10 centuries before that, the Bantu-speaking peoples migrated from central to southern Africa, where geography channeled them into a natural funnel. Here Mapungubwe was settled across a strategic communications trade route, where these two rivers and a natural north-south migration highway met. Access to the top of Mapungubwe Hill is through a narrow passageway in the rock, which was formed at some forgotten time in the past by a block of rock shattering near the summit and 'calving', or slipping sideways to open up a cleft, so narrow and steep that only one person at a time can negotiate the route. Surrounded by 30-metre cliffs on either side, it appears impossible to climb, offering no clues to the treasures and breathtaking views at the top. The entrance at ground level has been concealed for centuries by a huge Ficus tellensis (once known as F. Smutsii, this wild fig tree was originally named after General Jan Smuts). Today an inconspicuous wooden stairway makes the journey to the summit easier.

Mapungubwe represents South Africa's earliest civilization which was established before the colonial era. It is believed that this civilization traded with the rest of Africa and the East over 1000 years ago, leaving behind a legacy of gold artifacts, beads, pottery and ornaments that are breathtaking both in scope and artistry.

On 8 April 1933, the illustrated London News reported a remarkable discovery in the Transvaal: a grave of unknown origin, containing much gold-work, found on the summit of a natural rock stronghold in a wild region. This site, Mapungubwe Hill, is on the confluence where the international borders between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana meet. Since the site was discovered in 1933, numerous research and news reports have told the story of Mapungubwe, a flourishing Iron Age metropolis at Limpopo ruled by an African king almost a thousand years ago.

One thousand years ago, Mapungubwe was the centre of the largest kingdom in the subcontinent, where a highly sophisticated people traded gold and ivory with China, India and Egypt. The Iron Age site, discovered in 1932 but hidden from public attention until only recently, has been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)

The meaning of the name 'Mapungubwe' remains a mystery. For decades, people have believed it to mean 'Place of the Jackal', a derivative of the Nguni word mhungubwe, or the Tshivenda word punguvhe, both meaning jackal. According to the BaLemba, the legendary Semitic race of southern Africa, Mapungubwe means 'the place where the molten rock flowed like a liquid or water', that is, the stones flowed like a liquid. Others assume that the meaning of Mapungubwe is analogous with that of Zimbabwe, whereby the bwe means 'venerated stones or houses'. The name 'Mapungubwe' will, however, remain open to interpretation and, as such, a mystery. Not being of Shona, Karanga or Venda origin, it instead suggests a dialect as yet unrecorded by linguists.

Together with Great Zimbabwe (the ruins near Mashvingo in Zimbabwe) these sites are most important places and proofs of early African civilizations.

The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape was declared a national heritage site in December 2001, and listed as a World Heritage Site in July 2003.

Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve
Reduction and fragmentation of suitable habitat, together with intense human persecution, have led to the dramatic decline of the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus). In South Africa, the only viable population of wild dogs occurs in the Kruger National Park. Even this population is not immune to large fluctuations in size. Outside the Kruger Park small isolated, reintroduced populations occur in several small reserves, managed together as a metapopulation, as well as a few persecuted packs in Limpopo Province.

Venetia Wild Dog Project
The Venetia Wild Dog Project established a satellite population of wild dogs on De Beers Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve in the Northern Province. The project will not only help to increase the number of free-ranging wild dogs in South Africa, but also provides the basis of a monitoring programme in which hunting records, movement patterns, and other ecological factors are examined in order to better understand the dynamics of the released pack. In addition to biological and ecological factors, socio-economic issues relating to the costs and benefits of wild dogs are investigated. Results will form the backbone of a public awareness programme to improve tolerance of wild dogs among private landowners in the area.

A pack of wild dogs was released into the reserve on 8 January 2002. Prior to their release, several of the adults were fitted with radio-collars so as to be able to locate the pack on a daily basis. The information collected forms the basis of a research programme to determine pack dynamics, movement and dispersal rates, hunting behaviour, causes of mortality, and other measures of pack viability.

Daily monitoring provides frequent high-quality visuals of the wild dogs. This is an excellent basis for the development of wild dog eco-tourism on the reserve, providing guests with the opportunity to learn how to locate the pack using radio-tracking equipment and experience the thrill of seeing free-roaming wild dogs. If the value of such eco-tourism can offset the costs of wild dogs predation this will go a long way towards persuading other landowners to tolerate wild dogs on their land. And more land is what the African wild dog really needs.

Wild Dog Research Project
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 11 486 1102

Blouberg Nature Reserve & Vulture Colony
This unique nature reserve is nestled at the foot of the Blouberg Krans. Here visitors can admire the world's largest breeding colony of Cape vultures.

The plains below the dry Bushveld savannah interspersed by gigantic baobab and mashatu trees are home to a variety of antelopes, zebras and giraffes.