THE REMOTE NORTHERN KRUGER NATIONAL PARK

BY CHRIS FORTESCUE

I was fortunate enough to be invited by Return Africa to the very Northern and remote part of the Kruger National Park, South Africa recently.

This historic area that borders South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique belongs to the Makuleke community. It is often referred to as the Pafuri region.

This piece of the Kruger with an intersection at “Crooks Corner”, forms a meeting point between these three countries but is also an ecological region allowing wildlife to migrate between a vast transfrontier park, stretching South into the Kruger, East into Mozambique and North into Zimbabwe.

The land is a geological, natural and cultural treasure trove making it an exceptionally special place to visit.

The landscape is ancient. The rocks of Lanner Gorge are over 250million years old, remnants of a world when the landmasses were joined.

Evidence of the Triassic age (248-206 million years ago) and bones of a large mammal-like reptile have been found in these rocks.

Ancestors of modern humans first moved to the area 1.5 million years ago. They were probably Homo erectus and settled here in search of raw materials.

From 1200 the area emerged as a trade centre producing gold and ivory and trade for glass beads and porcelain from as far away as China.

In around 1550 people crossed the Limpopo river and founded Thulamela a community that then traded with the Portuguese from the Eastern coast of Southern Africa. The Thulamela culture ended in 1650 and gave way to the Venda tribe. In the 1820’s the Makuleke clan arrived from Mozambique and created a subsistence way of life from cultivation, harvesting, hunting and fishing. Despite many being recruited to work the gold mines of the Witwatersrand, they remained on this land until their removal by the apartheid authorities in 1969. Their removal allowed for the northern expansion of the Kruger, however caused a desperate upheaval in their community as they were now impoverished having lost the land that sustained them.

In a landmark land reclaim in 1998 the Makulekes regained ownership of their ancestral home.
Despite an attachment to the land and to resettle, they decided to rather manage it jointly with South African National Parks and partners RETURNAfrica and to instead rely on a responsible form of nature tourism.

Today this 26 500 hectare area is the meeting point of many habitats resulting in a region of remarkable biodiversity. It is the most diverse region of the Kruger Park boasting almost 75% of the parks mammal, bird, fish, amphibian, reptile and tree species.

The various habitats make the area extremely scenic. They include rivers, pans, floodplains, riverine forests, rugged kopjies (hills), mopane and giant baobab trees, acacia and fever tree forests.

Not only has this area been regarded by the Kruger as one of the botanical reserves, but its pans and waterways are also considered a wetland of global significance and recognized under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.

It is also renowned for its big game, however is a mecca for birdwatchers, as some species are found nowhere else in South Africa.

The area is great for walking (with an armed guide), the scenery is truly incredible and the wildlife. I can honestly say exceeded my expectations and are quite amazing.
Easily accessed by light air transfer from Johannesburg, Lanseria or Grand Central airports (1hour 45min), or a 7 hour drive from Johannesburg. I would recommend combining it with another area of the Kruger or a reserve further South.

Add Northern Kruger to your bucket list …………………

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