The far northern area of the Kruger National Park is not as popular with tourists as the south. The reasons are probably twofold: Firstly, it’s quite a long drive from the big cities to get there. Secondly, the landscape is visibly more arid and generally there are less animals.
But the Northern Kruger National Park offers a unique experience for those who make the effort to get there. Since there are less visitors, the feeling of being in a true wilderness is enhanced and, should you come across a rare sighting, you will most probably have the experience all to yourself.
Pafuri River Camp
Situated right next to the boundary fence of the Kruger National Park this is a very convenient and affordable alternative to staying inside the Kruger Park. Mere metres before the Pafuri Gate into Kruger, the track to Pafuri River Camp follows the fence southwards for about three kilometres to reach the camp.
Right on the banks of the Mutale river, the campsites are shady and far enough from each other to give a true bush-camp feeling.
There is no electricity and paraffin lanterns are lit by the staff in the evenings to create a memorable out of Africa ambience.
From a rural village hidden behind dense bush on the opposite bank come melodic sounds of cowbells and distant voices adding to the feeling of being deep in Africa.
Kruger National Park – a topic on it’s own
Kruger National Park can roughly be divided into three regions: South, Centre and North. It covers a vast 19 485 square kilometres, larger than some countries. To cover it in one post will be an injustice and I will leave the Kruger as a topic for a later posts.
Even though Crooks Corner falls within the boundaries of Kruger National Park and I’ve just said I’ll leave this for another day, I’d like to tell you about Crook’s Corner. It was to be a milestone on my trip, in the extreme corner of South Africa. From here there was only one direction to go and that was South.
Where the Levuvhu river flows into the Limpopo, the borders of another three countries converge. South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. From this point the Limpopo leaves South Africa and continues its journey through Mozambique to the ocean.
This, the most north-eastern corner of South Africa is known as Crooks Corner and the story behind the name is quite interesting. There is a plaque on the site and I quote from it:
Called the haven of scoundrels this area takes visitors back in time to when Crooks Corner was no-mans land on the boundary where three countries come together.
This triangular piece of land situated between the Levuvhu and Limpopo river is the most north-easterly corner of the Old Transvaal (now Limpopo province).
Since 1913, the Luvuhu river acted as the northernmost boundary of the Kruger National Park, up to where it joined the mighty Limpopo river.
The Limpopo river was always the boundary between the Transvaal in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia (now called in Zimbabwe).
The confluence of the two rivers also formed a natural corner between those two countries and Portuguese East Africa (now called Mozambique)
This area was one of the most remote areas of South Africa, only accessible via long arduous wagon routes through thick bush and very hot conditions.
Crooks Corner was the natural refuge for all kinds of people who had no great wish to look into the eyes of the law and who, at any moment, might suddenly need to flee across an international border.
Inevitably, it became known as Crooks Corner as it was the home of ivory poachers, illegal black labour recruiters, gun-runners and various other shady characters that had chosen the free lifestyle of buccaneers and outlaws.
One of the more famous (or infamous?) men who used to operate in this area was Stephanus Cecil Rutgert Barnard. Local people named him Bvekenya, which simply means “one who swaggers when he walks”. He would often receive advice from the other veterans like William Pye that when he encountered problems during his ivory poaching adventures, he should head back to Crooks Corner.
This strategy probably enabled many shady characters to escape the long arm of the law for their entire lifetimes.
At the corner where the rivers meet, there was a wonderfully useful beacon. To the east lay the Old Portuguese territory, to the north was Southern Rhodesia, to the west lay the Union of South Africa and to the south lay this huge tract of land that eventually became the Kruger National Park.
Now, if the long arm of the law started to catch up with any of the shady characters, all they needed to do was remember the beacon, and if you were on the opposite side of the beacon the law couldn’t reach you for fear of violating an international boundary.
Even if the lawmen from three different countries arrived at the same time, you could also sit on top of the beacon and watch the lawmen fight over who takes you into custody.
And this is how the crooks of Crooks Corner managed to live long and healthy lives.
The area now falls under the jurisdiction of Chief Makuleke.”
The original beacon marking the exact boundaries was unfortunately washed away by floods a few years ago.
The book The Ivory Trails written in 1954 by well-known author T V Bulpin is a South African classic and deals with the fascinating life of Bvekenya Barnard and Crooks Corner. If you can get hold of a copy it is well worth reading.
I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at Pafuri River Camp but from here it was time to move on again.
Since I was now in the top right corner of South Africa, I could only head in one direction if I was to stay in the country. Making use of my Wildcard for unlimited free access into all National Parks, I entered Kruger at Pafuri gate and drove south, exiting at Phalaborwa gate.
Passing through Phalaborwa and Tzaneen, Woodbush Forest Reserve was my next destination.