We had spent a few minutes by the water hole, watching the many birds and a flock of zebras quenching their thirst in the distance, when our guide Callum quietly said “let’s just move up the side here and let this guy come for a drink”. We all looked in the direction he had pointed and saw a massive elephant bull slowly making his way directly towards the spot where we were standing. We all followed Callum’s silent directions and gather at the foot of a massive tree some 30 meters from the water hole. As he came down, he threw dust around with his trunk, creating a cloud of gold in the early morning light. After a few big gulps of water he suddenly stopped and lifted his trunk high to smell. He’d noticed us. Slowly and cautiously he made his way towards us, all the time sniffing with his trunk. Some ten meters away he stopped. We were in a slightly elevated spot, and at this point we were all face to face. After a few seconds, Callum said in a calm but firm voice “hello big boy, were’re just visiting”. This seemed to be enough, and with a snort the elephant turned and disappeared into the bush.
This was just one of many Magic Moments we experienced while hiking in the Pafuri area with Sean and Callum from African Born Safaris. Pafuri is located in the northernmost part of Kruger National Park, between the Luvuvu and Limpopo rivers. The area was given back to the Makuleke community in 1998, but is still part of the national park. This means that the people cannot live here, but they collect fees from the accommodation and safari operators that use their land. They are also allowed to enter for traditional ceremonies that are bound to the land. We stayed in a tented camp along the Luvuvu river, where we slept comfortably in simple beds and had our own, private chemical toilets. There is no electricity and no running water, but plenty of oil lamps and a fridge (run on gas) full of cold beverages. Every morning, you’d get hot water for washing from a drum heated over the fire.
We’d start each day with tea, rusks and a steaming bowl of porridge in camp. Then we’d either set off on foot, or drive to the start of our trail. Walking in Big Five territory is a very different experience to driving. You don’t expect to see as much game, but there is always that anticipation and the feeling of being an intrepid explorer. Among the most awe-inspiring sightings were definitely the elephants and a big herd of buffalo. Oh, and there was that almost close encounter with a Black Mamba. You suddenly realise just how small you are when you see these potentially deadly animals whilst on foot. But with experienced guides, it is an adventure that I highly recommend!
Pafuri is also a paradise for birders. We were told that a pair of Pel’s Fishing Owls were nesting in the area and there was a collective gasp among the experienced birders. Apparently seeing one of these is almost like spotting the Yeti. One evening we took a short drive at night, and to the absolute delight of our bird watching friends we came across the pair, feasting on a freshly caught fish in a tree on the river bank. I don’t know that much about birding, but the atmosphere in the air said it all. This was a once in a lifetime bird watching moment.
After our hikes, the lovely Makuleke ladies that ran the camp kitchen would treat us to a delicious lunch. Then it was Relaxation Time. Grab a book and laze on the sofa under the wild fig tree, or have a little snooze in your tent. In the afternoons, we’d go for a shorter walk or a drive to some of the more remote areas. Each night, we’d have sundowners in a beautiful spot. My absolute favourite was Lanner gorge; another one of those Magic Moments!
Under a simple camping shower, with water heated on an open fire, while watching the stars appear on the vast African sky I had one of those “I am the luckiest person alive” moments. Afterwards, I sat down at a beautifully laid table, lit by oil lanterns, and shared a wonderful meal and a few glasses of fine wine with a group of amazing people. Life really doesn’t get much better than that!