Driving through Kruger National Park
Leaving Pafuri River Camp early, I checked in at Pafuri Gate, Kruger National Park’s most northerly entrance and drove southwards. A distance of 267 kilometres and seven hours later I exited the park at Phalaborwa Gate, roughly at the centre of the park.
If Kruger was an independent country, at 19 485 square kilometres, it would slot in at number 158 in world rankings, ahead of neighbouring eSwatini at 17 363 square kilometres which sits in position 161.
The speed limit in the park is a maximum of 50km/h and 40km/h on gravel roads. Frequent stops will be necessary for game sightings along the way, so make sure to allow plenty of time to get to your destination.
In future posts I’ll write more about the northern Kruger area. Less popular than the southern areas, it really offers a unique experience for visitors who make the effort to drive the extra distance to get there.
Phalaborwa Safari Park
Situated about half a kilometre from the gates of Kruger Park, the Phalaborwa Safari Park is perfectly located to give easy access to the central areas of the reserve. The Safari Park is part of the well-known Forever Resorts group who maintain high standards at all their resorts. Well-equipped and maintained with a cool swimming pool to dive into after a hot day of game-viewing this resort is also close to the shops and other amenities of Phalaborwa.
Whether stopping overnight or staying longer, this campsite is a good choice. The campsites are not grassed but they’re level, spacious and neat and have as much shade as could be had in this naturally dry area. The ablutions and other facilities are first-class.
A short drive from Phalaborwa with a quick stop in Tzaneen to re-fuel and buy a few provisions, my next stop was in the valleys and mountains around Magoebaskloof.
Woodbush Forest Reserve
Between Tzaneen and Polokwane, close to the village of Haenertsburg and in the heart of the valley of Magoebaskloof lie pristine afro-montane forests surrounded by man-made plantations.
Amongst South Africa’s indigenous forests Woodbush is second in size only to the Tsitsikamma forest of the Eastern Cape.
The deep shadows and dark greens of this valley were in stark and welcoming contrast to the arid thorn-scrub vegetation of the Musina area where I’d just come from.
Only about three and a half hours north of Pretoria, it is an easy long weekend get-away for city dwellers but today I was approaching Magoebaskloof from the opposite direction.
A few months earlier we’d visited this beautiful area and one of the objectives that weekend was to drive through the Woodbush Forest. Unfortunately we ran out of time and the drive had to wait for another day. Now, finally, that day had come and another tick off my list was about to be accomplished.
No visit to the Magoebaskloof would be complete without stopping at the well-known Debengeni waterfalls. This popular spot is a favourite amongst the people from nearby Tzaneen and is a lovely place for a picnic or a braai.
The cool pools look inviting for a swim but the rocks are dangerously slippery and swimming is unfortunately prohibited.
Nevertheless the picnic area is cool and shady and the sound of water makes for a tranquil setting. A lovely place to spend some time on a hot summer’s day.
Woodbush Forest Drive
Entering the area there’s a simple sign next to the road which, to me, perfectly describes this beautiful woodland. Written in Latin and Afrikaans, it translates as
“O’Conner Monument: If you seek the monument, look around”
Leaving the rush of the main highway, a drive through these hushed forests and plantations brings about a true sense of being in a very special place. A monument to nature’s beauty.
For keen birders, a drive through Woodbush offers one of the best forest birding experiences in the country. Even if you’re not a birder, the drive is well worth it as it winds through the most spectacular forests in the valleys below up to infinite views from the peaks.
Kurisa Moya in the area is renowned as a venue from which excellent guided birding tours with award-winning bird guide David Lestoalo are run.
The World’s Tallest Planted Tree
Unknown to most visitors, the “tallest planted tree in the world” can be found right here in Magoebaskloof.
Actually finding the tree wasn’t easy. The proverbial “can’t see the forest for the trees” or something like that came to mind.
I’d marked the location on my GPS and followed the clear roadsigns till Garmin said I was within 200m of the tree but all I could see were some rather insignificant pine trees. After a few u-turns and backtracking I’d almost given up the search when I saw a faint footpath leading up the embankment and heading into the forest. Leaving the car, I followed the path and a short walk later I came across the objects of my search.
Standing over 80m high, this foursome of giant eucalyptus trees were planted more than a century ago in 1906 and have been growing undisturbed in the quiet forests ever since. Surrounded by much younger trees it’s difficult to really comprehend their true height and until recently one of the champion’s siblings was thought to be the record-holder. In 2013 the trees were re-measured and a new king was crowned.
In wet weather the steep roads could be quite slippery but luckily the day was perfect when I visited.
Nearby, a signboard pointed to “The Three Matrons”. These giant Mexican Pine trees planted in 1916 are said to have a diameter of more than five metres. The tallest of the matrons has been measured at over fifty metres.
Unfortunately, this time, no amount of “searching in a forest for a tree” could reveal these ladies. They’d have to wait for another time to have their picture taken.
World’s View and the Dap Naudé Dam
After visiting the tallest trees, I continued northwards, took a detour and followed the signs to World’s View for an awesome 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape.
Then I headed back down towards the Dap Naude Dam. This is an excellent place stop at the shady picnic site under giant oak trees. From here it’s an easy drive back to rejoin the R71 near Heanertsburg.
Sitting on a crest above the Magoebaskloof, Haenertsburg is a popular venue for weekend sightseers who drive out for a meal and wander through the quaint little town. During springtime the flowering azaleas and cherry trees are famous for the display they put on.
Coral Tree Camp
For visitors to the Magoebaskloof who own a 4×4 vehicle, I’d like to take a moment to tell you about The Coral Tree Campsite hidden high up in the forests of the area. Without any doubt, this mountain-top campsite is high on my list of all-time favourite campsites! This off-grid camp is only booked to a single group at a time so guests are guaranteed exclusivity during their stay.
Cottages are also available for those who are not camping. A 4×4 isn’t necessary to reach the cottages but good ground clearance will be beneficial, especially in rainy weather.
The inviting splash pool will make you want to just sit there and soak up the view for your entire stay.
However, if the frequent cold mists close in there’s a cosy kitchen and dining area with a built-in fireplace in which to take shelter till the sun comes out again.
Flowering plants that attract insects and touches like the small herb garden offering fresh herbs for use by guests make Coral Tree a winner.
After a memorable sojourn in the Magoebaskloof area, it was time to move on to explore a mountain pass leading to a reserve which had caught my attention a few years earlier: Lekgalameetse Nature Reserve.