Tag Archives: Punda Maria

KNP – Punda Maria and Pafuri

Punda Maria, on the north-western edge of the Kruger National Park, is definitely worth a visit if you’re into bird watching.  We’d heard many times that it was a bird lover’s paradise in summer and our long drive north certainly proved worthwhile for this very reason.  According to the guide book this remote little camp that was built in the 1930’s was named Punda (meaning striped donkey or zebra) and Maria after the wife of the ranger, J J Coetzer, who founded it.  I doubt whether the ranger meant any disrespect by linking his wife’s name to a striped donkey!)

African Hawk Eagle

It’s a pretty camp set in rows on a hillside.  There’s a magnificent camping area overlooking a waterhole, which must be amazing in the dry season.  The only fault that we could find with our comfortable little chalet was that the thatched roof extended right down over the verandah and we managed to bump our heads on it a lot.  But as I said to Rob, if we bash our heads once or twice it’s an accident – after that it’s our stupidity.  After that comment we both kept our stupidity to ourselves.  There are some nice walks around the treed camp and lots of birds to be seen without even going for a drive.

Beautiful Baobab

We’d read that nearby Pafuri, on the border of Mozambique, was a must-see place for birds so we packed up a picnic basket and headed off slowly in that direction.  The vegetation in the area is somewhat different from the rest of the Park, which is probably what attracts the variety of birds that you don’t find further south.  Our first ‘lifer’ of the day was an African Crake that was wandering along the edge of the road.  Too fast for our cameras unfortunately, but we did manage to get a positive identification before it disappeared into the long grass.

Sharpe's Grysbok

I might have been unfair in a previous blog when I said that animals were few and far between in this area.  I’ve subsequently read blogs by folks who raved about all the game they saw in winter.  I guess the rainy season isn’t the time to see many animals as they don’t frequent the waterholes like they do in the dry season.  We were therefore grateful to catch a sighting of a shy little Sharpe’s Grysbok which isn’t common in the rest of the Park and was also a lifer for us.

Fiery-necked Nightjar

There are loads of raptors in the area and we ticked off an African Hawk Eagle, an Osprey and numerous Bataleurs and Peregrin Falcons.  The Bee-eaters and European Rollers provided lots of colour, as did the Violet-backed Starlings, Grey-headed Parrots, Red-headed Weavers and African Green Pigeons.  I learnt a new trick – focus about a meter off the ground when driving slowly and you could pick up a nice photo of a Nightjar taking a nap!  You have to have good eyes as they blend into the bark so well.

Rob on the Luvuvhu Bridge Pafuri

At Pafuri our next lifers were Lemon-breasted Canaries and Green-capped Eremomelas that were nesting right next to the Luvuvhu Bridge.  Unfortunately the river was about to come down in flood, as we found to our dismay when we drove to Crooks Corner.  The water was already lapping over the road when a police vehicle raced up to warn us to get away before we were trapped.  That was quite disappointing because the scenery along the river is probably the best in the entire Park.  Beautiful woodland picnic areas with lots of birds to be seen.

Woodland area along Luvuvhu River

We spent three days at Punda Maria and enjoyed every minute of our time there.  The Mopane Woodland and enormous Baobab trees make the scenery lovely and you never know if you’ll round a corner and come across an elephant munching on the leaves or rubbing up against a tree.  I definitely want to go back there in winter even though the summer migrants will have left.  It’s a place in Kruger that deserves a lot more of one’s time.  I only hope that it isn’t modernized too quickly so that the visitors pour into the place.  I think it would lose a lot of its charm if this happens.

KNP – The Drive from Satara to Punda Maria

Most people who visit Kruger National Park make a point of going to the southern part because of its accessibility and proximity to international airports and the main centres of the region.  Fortunately the landscape is favourable for seeing an abundance of animals, including the Big Five.  Whilst it is nice to be able to see all these, one pays a price and the price is overcrowding, with many vehicles vying for positions to see the animals.  If, like us, you’re used to the relative peace and quiet of the game reserves to the north of South Africa’s borders, these crowds can be a bit off-putting.  So it was with happy hearts that we left Satara as soon as the gates opened and headed north to the quieter part of the Park – our destination for the day being the camp at Punda Maria.

Grey-headed Kingfisher

It’s a long drive of 245 kms and with a speed limit of 50 kms per hour it’s a good day’s journey.  It takes a long time to cover the distance because you stop often to look at birds and animals.  Our first great sighting was a tree full of White Storks.  They looked like baubles on a Christmas tree!

White Storks

We hadn’t gone much further when we were confronted by a small herd of elephants walking down the road towards us.  There was no way of getting past them and they seemed determined not to leave the road.  They ended up pushing us back a kilometer or two as they plodded steadily towards us, unconcerned about the time we were losing.  After what seemed like an eternity they left the road and we were able to proceed.  The area north of Olifants Camp has large tracts of Mopani trees, a favourite with elephants, so we were to see many more on our trip up to Punda Maria.

Elephants on the march

Dawn in the Park is an awesome time.  We came across a Yellow-billed Kite feasting on a hare.  The Kite was undaunted by our presence and made the most of its meal while we clicked away and got some nice photos.  The Kite wasn’t eating alone – can you see the beetle that was also interested in getting a piece of the action?

Yellow-billed Kite

Spurfowls and Koorhaans are also found in great numbers along this route.  They favour the road for some reason, which makes it easy to get photos of them.

Swainsons Spurfowl

The variety of animals thins out as you head north, so unless you’re a birder, you could be disappointed.  We saw loads of Spotted Hyenas, which I will blog about separately, but apart from them and the elephants, there were hardly any other animals.   Raptors, both large and small were plentiful, the smaller one’s being Amur Falcons, which were everywhere.  Close to Shingwedzi we saw a Broadbill Roller for the first time on the trip.  This, together with colourful Red-headed Weavers (both male and female), was very exciting.  There were European Rollers everywhere – it would be nice if the Broadbills and Racket-tail Rollers were as prolific.

Broad-billed Roller

We actually arrived at Punda Maria in good time, but the heavens opened up as we were unloading our vehicle, so poor Rob was drenched.  Nothing that a good cup of coffee couldn’t sort out though.  Next blog about the lovely area between Punda Maria and Pafuri – new ground for us.