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Northern Kruger Pafuri Leopard

She is elusive in the extreme. It can’t be helped – it’s in her nature. It is who she is. For those who have been visiting Pafuri for the past few years, she has become a mirage, a rumour, a beautiful part of a story that has become a myth – the details to be shared around a fire after a hearty meal with a starry sky for company. A bit of elaboration after a few cold beers and a long day in the sun, and she becomes a legend… but still very few have seen her.

Godfrey Baloyi, our guide extraordinaire and Operations Manager of RETURNAfrica Pafuri will tell you he’s seen her, but she appears only when he is out on his own in the bush under inky skies. But one of the elders in the village shakes his head when he listens to ‘laaitie’ (young one) Godfrey tell his tales – he doesn’t believe it for a minute. She will reveal herself only to those who are ready, says the old with a wide smile that fills his face and indicates that he knows more than the rest of us.

Northern Kruger Pafuri Female Leopard

He’s a tribal elder and his clan lived on the land for many years before the forced removals – but he knows stuff about this place, things that a young man with so many years still ahead of him could not. Our group was a motley crew of urbanites washed onto the shores of the Luvuvhu River. We had brought our cellphones, iPads and city stress with us – you never want to be too disconnected from the real world. Or maybe you do…. We’d been told that Pafuri was a place where you shut down, reconnected, returned. Returned to what, you might ask. To sanity? To the soil, nature, the basics… stuff that matters? It all sounds very doable from a glass and steel jungle when making that booking, but a bit surreal when arriving in a place where silence and space rule, where the itinerary is on a small sheet of paper, always subject to change as the moon waxes and wanes.

Northern Kruger Pafuri Scenery

Our first day of the Pafuri trail was tough going as we made the transition from one way of being in the world to the other. The majestic landscape of magical colours – the sandy hues along the river banks, the vivid green of the bush, the fiery nights that take one’s breath away. By day two, we were getting more comfortable, more ‘into’ the whole experience. With no cellphone/mobile signal anywhere to be found, we forgot about our devices and all our to-do lists and just focused on putting one foot in front of the other as we traversed this ancient landscape with its enormous baobabs, its fever tree forests and its elephants that own their auric space as only elephants can. It was on our last night that she appeared. We’d forgotten to even look for her, so without any ceremony and for no reason at all, there she was – a mottled beauty, up a tree with her prey, an unfortunate warthog that was not fast enough. Dinner.

‘You see, I told you she exists,’ says Godfrey quietly.

The Elusive Pafuri Female Leopard

The next day en-route back to ‘reality’ we went past the village and delivered the news to the old man, who laughed a crackly big laugh and simply said, ‘I told you. She will only show herself when you are ready.’

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