Kruger NP Part 7 – Nthakeni and Pafuri

28th to 31st October 2020

Pafuri is a long drive from Punda Maria making it difficult to reach the area early in the morning. As we had previously stayed at Pafuri River Lodge just outside of the Pafuri Gate so we attempted to stay there again but had no response. Eventually someone called us and told us that it had closed down but we could camp at – Nthakeni.

Leaving Punda Maria we headed north. Passing large herds of Buffalos and finding it difficult to spot Red-billed Oxpeckers. Yellow-billed Oxpeckers were everywhere that there were herds of Buffalos or Impala.

There is a large Baobab on top of a hill overlooking the Pafuri plain beyond. Very majestic and noticeable from all around.

Nthakeni is near the village of Nkotswi and about 6 kms from the Pafuri entrance gate. About 4 kms on tar then turn off to the left for 2 kms past the village, across a river through dry pastoral land to the camp. Nthakeni is a concession from the local people who have created the camp.

Upon arrival we were met by a very friendly host and hostess – Annelise and Kobus – and directed to our campsite – Mashato. Annelise and Kobus manage the site with help from the local population. The goal is to make it ecofriendly and comfortably rustic. Cottages run on solar power.

The campsite was right on the river bank and surrounded by trees – much like the setting at Pafuri picnic site. The entry was down a steep slope with a sharp turn to the right. Facilities in our camp included our own Ablutions with hot water and a kitchen fully equipped but without a fridge. No electric power but a donkey boiler. And a great river view.

Some photos of the communal facilities:

And our view of the Mutale river:

Unfortunately in the future the two campsites by the river will be converted to Tented camps and camping will be found in and around the great baobabs nearby – no river views sadly.

Cows and a donkey roamed up and down the river ringing their bells.

Birding was excellent in the campsite – many different species to listen to and observe flitting about.

There are a couple of trails to enjoy: –

When we went to explore the trails, two of the camp dogs joined us and led the way.

What a wonderful life for these dogs. They know how to stay fit as this video shows.

Dogs will be dogs

A few of the special birds seen at Nthakeni

We spent a couple of days traversing the Luvuvu River at Pafuri, from Crooks Corner, past the Picnic site, the bridge and on to the Thulamela Archeological site. The area was quite dry although there were some lush treed areas around the river bed as these photos will show.

The drive between the bridge to Crooks Corner is always variable and interesting. The riverside trees are massive and full of life. No sooner had we turned off the S63 heading for Crooks Corner we ran into a road block – a tree had fallen across the road and we had to find a way around it. We looked for Lemon-breasted Canaries in the palms but probably it was too dry for them.

While there we noticed people on the opposite side walking along the river side. And as we were there a police patrol arrived and shouted at the men opposite. Crooks Corner still lives up to its name.

The picnic site is always a great place to see and listen to birds. We were not disappointed. There were a couple of Black-throated Wattle-eyes attending to their nestlings in one of the very large trees in the picnic site – very hard to spot and impossible for photos unfortunately. Here are some of the birds we did manage to photograph.

The bridge is a great place to look for birds and there is often animal life below. This time was no different. It is one of the bridges where you are allowed out of your vehicle but you must stay between the yellow lines on the bridge surface. Unfortunately there are people who wander over the lines sometimes going off the bridge. If that habit persists then this privilege will cease.

It was here that Sally spotted a Bohm’s Spinetail amongst the Swifts and Swallows overhead.

Mud Fun:

As we drove around the area we had sightings of birds and animals. A lone Eland youngster, a pair of mating Lions, a Leopard below a treetop full of Baboons, Crocodiles as well as Meve’s Starling, Marsh Sandpiper, Red-headed Weaver, Squacco and Striated Herons, a pale phase Wahlberg’s Eagle, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver to name a few.

Bath Time for a White-crowned Lapwing.

And then there was the Leopard lying next to the road among some dead tree trunks. At first we passed by without noticing it but something caught our eye. We reversed and there was the Leopard – keeping an occasional eye on the nearby Buffalo.

The next part of our trip was to be spent at Balule. On the way we overnighted at Shingwedzi. Most of our experience at Shingwedzi has been included in Part 5 of this series. Balule is Part 8 of this series which will follow shortly.

Our bird list for Nthakeni and Pafuri can be seen by clicking on the following link:

Hope you have enjoyed the read.

Sally and Paul Bartho

Kruger NP Part 6 – Punda Maria

24th to 28th October

From Shingwedzi we headed north to Punda Maria to continue birding. Our friends left us and returned south through the Park. On the way up we had a delightful experience with a pair of Kori Bustards. They were prancing on a hillock by the road.

The camp in Punda Maria was very busy at the bottom near the fence and the hide overlooking the waterhole just over the fence. The ablutions there were over worked and had an unseemly odour.

We headed for our preferred location nearish to the ablutions at the top and overlooking the campsite – away from people.

The waterhole can get very busy at times with small herds of Elephants and hundreds of Buffalo – especially late afternoon going into the night. Often trumpeting quite loudly and for long periods – presumably to let others know that this is their waterhole.

Marabou Storks sometimes visit as this one did. It sat down in a posture resembling a person playing the piano.

On occasion a Leguaan passes by. But it is not often that you get to see it doing press-ups.

Several times we drove the 25 kms Mahonie Loop around the camp. Birds were disappointingly quiet. However we did come across a leopard once – making up for it – a bit.

While we were there we got a message from Trevor Hardaker that a Golden Pipit had been seen and he gave us the co-ordinates. The Pipit was seen approximately 10 kms south of the turnoff of the H13-1 heading on the H1-8 to Shingwedzi. We got up very early to find it. And we did. The co-ords were perfect. Sally spotted it on the verge as we drove slowly towards it. It went up into the trees by the road and moved about from tree to tree and branch to branch. Lovely bird – seems to float like a butterfly as it flies. A calling Monotonous lark also appeared at the scene.

The next day we needed diesel – however the petrol pumps at the garage at Punda Maria had unfortunately been smashed into by a car which had lost control on the drive up to reception. That meant a trip back to Shingwedzi (70 kms away) to fill up. This was not an inconvenience for us. We had the opportunity to look for the Golden Pipit again, a bit of breakfast at the Babalala picnic site and another drive on the S56 side road which we had so enjoyed when staying at Shingwedzi.

Damage control

As we reached the end of the H13-1 to turn south on to the H1-8 a family of Cheetahs ran across the road. The mother heading left and the two sub-adults to the right across the road. We stopped to look at the youngsters as the mother disappeared into the bush. Eventually she re-appeared, crossed the road and united with the youngsters. Nice sighting.

On the way we stopped again when we found the Golden Pipit. Lovely bird. As we left so the bird flew away but we heard it later returned. At Babalala picnic site we stopped for tea then took the S56 loop road to Shingwedzi. We had not gone far when a pair of Coqui Francolins – Sally’s recent bogey bird – crossed the road ahead of us.

Further along we came across the Elephants digging for water while the Leopard watched. Another Leopard further along was hanging out lying in a tree by the road. Then as we approached the Shingwedzi Gate we noticed about a hundred Buffalo taking advantage of a large pool of water in the river bed below. Closer inspection of something odd in the water revealed a pair of crocodiles holding on to something. With the scope out we realised it was the head of a buffalo.

Buffalo demise at the hands of a couple of crocodiles very close to other bathing Buffalos.

The Klopperfontein waterholes were virtually dry, however an Elephant and a few Buffalo were taking advantage of what was left in one of them. While camping in Punda Maria we refrained from visiting Pafuri as we intended to spend three nights at Nthakeni at a community camp just outside the Pafuri Gate.

Here is a selection of the birds photographed in the area.

The day before we left we returned from a drive to find we had new neighbours. They had put their Campervan up so close to us that it was impossible for me to hook up our car to the front of our trailer when we left – without having to drive over their ground sheet and under their awning. Turning our Serval was not an option as we were on a ledge.

Neighbours to the left

Anyway we managed – with a use of their space unfortunately.

Our bird list amounted to 104 different species identified. To see our list please click on the link following.

Then we were on to the top of the Park and to a community run Camp – Nthakeni near the village of Nkotswi – about 6 kms from the Pafuri entrance gate. From our base in Nthakeni we explored not only the area around Nthakeni but also Pafuri. Our time there will be reported in the next part of our Kruger saga. Part 7 to follow.

Kruger Part 5 – Shingwedzi

21st to 24th October 2020

It is a two kms drive to the Shingwedzi gate once you exit the H1-6. You drive alongside the river bed with many tall trees either side. When we were there the river bed had a number of pools in it. The water was not flowing. It is difficult to imagine that the river sometimes overflows its banks. The volume of water would be immense.


Our friends had arrived before us and were in the process of putting up their camp by a spot along the fence. When we had checked-in they told us not to do so as one has to book those sites in advance and all were booked. We mentioned that to our friends and they told us that they had not been told. After much hoohah with check-in they decided to move. Shame.

The campsite was far from full.

After all our travels it was time to do some washing – except the camp’s laundry machines had broken down so the staff were using the one laundry machine to wash hutted guest towels – piling them in to fill the machine completely.


We had a friendly Dwarf Mongoose visit us one day looking for food no doubt. Bird wise the camp was very quiet. Not surprising after 6 months of lockdown they went elsewhere to find food.

Some typical habitat in the area.

A Lion kill had been reported. A Waterbuck lying in the riverbed along the S50 heading south. We took a drive out to see what was left. We passed the breached Kanniedood Dam passing a number of good water bird pools- even coming across a Saddle-billed Stork in the bush and a pair of Verreaux’s Eagle Owls.

Hippo and Yellow-billed Oxpecker hitching a ride

Just before reaching the Lion kill we spotted 5 male Lions clambering away from us on the opposite side of the dry river bed. Eventually we reached the spot. The poor waterbuck was lying close to our edge of the river bed – just visible through the foliage. Vultures were everywhere but on the carcass – a lioness was lying on the sand close by – perhaps that was the reason. Suddenly the vultures all piled in one on top of another. The stomach was pulled out and carried away much agro as to who will keep it. However once open it looked a soggy mess and most vultures gave up on it. There was a goodly variety of Vultures – Lappet-faced, White-backed, White-headed and Hooded. And then the hyenas arrived,

And when Hyenas arrive then chaos.

Hyena carnage
Vultures at it

Further along the S50 you pass Dipene Outpost monument on the way to the Nyawutsi Hide. Elephant were there and so was an African Fish-Eagle. The Eagle was fluttering between branches and posing for photos.

The R52 – SW of the camp is a double loop road either side of a (usually) dryish river. The Red Rocks lookout is found on the first loop. The second loop goes further to the Tshanga Lookout. The second loop is well vegetated with large trees following the both sides of the river. It was along this loop that we saw some interesting birds. One such was a raptor which challenged us to recognise. Eventually we decided it was a Booted Eagle with an unusual lump on its chest..

Other birds seen along this loop:

We visited Red Rocks on the first loop as well and saw a small herd of Elephants walking on the rocks.

Just north of Shingwedzi is a dirt road – the S56 – going up to the Babalala Picnic site. For many people this road is considered one of the most scenic in the park. It was certainly that for us, as well as just as exciting.

As we drove along we found Buffalo and Elephant ambling in the river bed. In one area there were over 150 Buffalo enjoying a largish pool of water. Elephants were digging for water.

Further along there were elephant scattered in the dry river bed digging for water. Sally took a video of one Elephant at work and was surprised what she saw. Have a look. And be surprised.

Birds too were lovely to see

We ventured along the S56 several times and came across leopards each time. We found the one in the video several times in the same place and another in the same general but resting on a branch. Our favourite cat.

In the three days we were in Shingwedzi we recorded 112 different bird species. Click on the link to see our list.

From Shingwedzi we headed to Punda Maria which forms Part 6 of our report.