A few kilometres along the dirt road which leads to Pafuri Camp in Northern Kruger we were directed through a craggy detour where the original road had been washed away. This was the first evidence that the flood damage of January 2013 had left its mark. As we bumped back onto the old road my thoughts turned to Pafuri Camp and how it had also been ravaged by the raging waters. This was the first time it was open again and I was eager to see the transformation by new owners -Return Africa.
We were met in the parking area by friendly staff offering warm, damp towels and glasses of chilled orange juice – always so refreshing after the dusty trip.
Then we were ushered into the lodge itself. The first thing we saw is the beautiful, winding Luvuvhu River and it is breathtaking. Whatever the rains had done three years back there was certainly no evidence of it in the buildings or the interior and little in the surrounding environment except for the bank of the river which had been brought further in towards the lodge.
The spacious reception and communal area is relaxed yet tasteful with lots of comfortable seating areas all well placed for the fantastic views of the Luvuvhu River and its continuous goings on. The space is kitted out in natural materials – wood, hessian, cane, with trees and creepers the only curtains to the habitat around us. As we took in the sights and sounds of the bush an old resident Elephant strolled along the river bank right beneath us. And as we watched him walk away, relaxed and swaying his tail, we heard the distinctive call of the African Fish Eagle.
I loved the touches of yellow in the cushions and other decor, dotted here and there, a nice contrast with the khaki and green of the bush. A dark charcoal pool, surrounded by loungers and white umbrellas lies invitingly to the right where there is also the pool bar. Part of me could happily have ordered a long, cool drink and plopped right down on one of those loungers with a pair of binoculars at the ready but I was also eager to get to my room.
We were led down a raised wooden gang plank to our tented room – number 14. Each of the 19 luxury tents is completely private, with its own special view of the river. The rooms are big and bright with broad balconies and plump king sized beds. With just green gauze between us and nature the outside noises seemed amplified in the stillness of the hot afternoon. As we gazed at the sleepy river a crocodile slid silently into the water before us.
After high tea – scrumptious quiche and salad we took off on our evening game drive. As we ambled along, Alweet, our brilliant guide explained that this area is the most biodiverse in Kruger. “As much as 75% of Kruger total biodiversity occurs here in an area only slightly more than 1% of its total size,” he said.
Joining us on the drive were old-time safari couple Bill and Irene from Britain. Both in their late seventies, this was their tenth visit to the park and second to Pafuri. Avid bird watchers, they came to this area especially in the hope of spotting the Pel’s fishing owl. This 26,000ha Makuleke concession area has over 350 bird species. Birders come from all over the world to spot birds here.
Southern African Birdfinder author Callan Cohen says; “arguably the most exciting birding in Kruger is to be had here.” The Luvuvuhu River Bridge is described as a compulsory birding spot. It was here later, at dusk, that the British couple got their wish.
As the game drive progressed we crept on under majestic fig and Jackalberry trees to Crooks Corner – the place where the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers and three countries, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, meet. Gin and tonic in hand we walked down the dry river bank to the shallow water where we were greeted by the beady eyes of multiple crocs.
On the trip back to the camp Alweet took us through the Fever tree forest – the largest in South Africa. Thousands of silvery branches create a kind of magical wonder world in the twilight glow.
Back at the communal camp area we exchanged our stories. We had seen kudu, nyala, baboons, monkeys, elephants and warthogs. Although the area is inhabited by the big five it didn’t seem to matter that we didn’t see them. For all of us it was the bird life, amazing vegetation and the simple isolation and serenity of the place that touched us.
Dinner was at eight. Smiling waitresses served us a delicious three course meal. There is always a choice of the main course – this evening it was stuffed chicken breasts or springbok shanks. I think everyone chose the shanks and we were not disappointed – they were succulent and tasty. After the meal we retired to the camp fire for a night cap. A baboon screamed from the other side of the river and then slowly the noises changed and quietened slightly and we returned to our tents. I was awoken in the early hours by a distant lions roar. I curled up under the safety of my tent and lay there, listening.
Alweet called us at six for the morning game drive but the cry of an African Fish Eagle had already been my alarm clock. After the most comfortable sleep, the outdoor shower was a perfect start to a new day.
A full English breakfast, along with delicious blueberry pancakes, was served after the drive where we were very lucky to see a honey badger. Tummies full, we grabbed our books and our hats and headed for the pool. We lounged there, like the crocs on the rocks below us, their mouths wide open, soaking up the sun.
Guest blogger: Sonja Dalais
Photographs: S Dalais & L Corder