4x4 in Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park
Words and pics Romi Boom
Have you wondered what the Mozambican side of Kruger looks like? From Mopani rest camp to Massingir Dam, Wild explores the Limpopo National Park and retraces the trail of a doomed Voortrekker.
Despite the balminess of mid-afternoon, it is spine-chilling to be standing at the site of a massacre, 61km north of the confluence of the Olifants and Limpopo rivers. We are in Mozambique, in the Limpopo National Park. A striking baobab marks the spot where 30 Voortrekker children and 21 adults were ambushed in the dead of night in July 1836.
The ill-fated party of Lang Hans van Rensburg, a 56-year-old hunter who intended to pioneer the trail to Delagoa Bay and sell ivory, had already trekked through the present-day Kruger National Park up to the Limpopo River. When the trekkers reached the banks of the Djindi tributary, they were attacked by impis.
I have long wondered what the Mozambican side of Kruger looks like, and the fully guided Lang Hans Trail is an opportunity to explore the 'other side of the fence'. After meeting our guide, Janco Scott, at Mopani Rest Camp, we travelled in a convoy of five vehicles on management tracks across the Lebombo range. On this section, the Shiluwa part of the Lebombo Trail, we passed a few mud-encrusted dagha boys that left no doubt as to how they got their name.
The border crossing at Giriyondo was pleasant and quick, and then we made tracks to our first campsite, more or less in the centre of the Limpopo National Park. The park existed as a hunting concession area since 1969 and was upgraded to park status only in 2001. As a direct result of the civil war, wildlife on the dry lowland savannah is scarce, but the habitat is still excellent and over 4#000 animals have been relocated from Kruger. The park's primary attraction is the wilderness experience, and nature lovers will find much to see and enjoy. We were soon won over by the scenery and excellent birding.
Initially it was a strange sight to pass the villages with their machambas (fields) on the floodplain. Processes are under way to resettle 1,370 households from the Core to the Buffer Zone. These communities plant seasonal crops and own Nguni cattle and goats. It is expected that once the communities have been relocated, the plains game will move into those areas.
On day one, our campsite beyond the village of Mbona Kaya was at a spectacular, concealed spot overlooking the Shingwedzi River and a permanent waterhole. We were surprised by sightings of nyalas and woolly-neck storks, with trumpeter hornbills in many trees and bubbly calls from the undergrowth revealing the presence of Burchell’s coucal.
A jolly evening around the campfire sufficed for the group to bond and the next morning, after breakfast, everyone sauntered down to the riverbed for a lesson from Janco. He pointed out a tilapia kraal in the waterhole, commando ants, datura (castor-oil) flowers which are said to be hallucinogenic, tamboti ringbarked by porcupines, an African civet toilet with evidence of the millipedes it feeds on, even a monkey skull. Keep your eyes open and you’ll discover riches!
With each passing day we learnt more about the vegetation, which ranges from Mopane shrubveld and Nwambia sandveld to mixed bushveld and riverine woodland. The sandveld plains are the dominant geological feature of the park and represent an area 30 times larger than the total extent of sandveld found in Kruger. The unique features of the sandy landscape contribute to the conservation value of the Transfrontier Park.
Our second campsite at Hardekoolpan (Leadwood Pan) was idyllic, a vast open space where the convoy could spread out and chill before reassembling as soon as the campfire was lit. None of the campsites are formally designated or fenced. On the previous trip, elephant and buffalo paid the dwindling waterhole a visit. We were happy with fish eagles, scorpions and frogs.
The third night was spent at the site of the massacre, at the confluence of the Djindi and the Limpopo, in the shade of tall jackalberry trees. Our vehicles were strung out like the oxwagons would have been, except that we camped in the dry, sandy bed of the Djindi and not in the tangled woodland of the riverbanks. When Janco claimed to have heard a chilling shriek on a previous visit, a huge bonfire was stoked to ward off lingering ghosts. By the light of dancing flames, we pondered the mysterious Ateljee 12-8-68 inscription on the trunk of the baobab where we had stood that afternoon, as well as the tale of the anvil which belonged to Van Rensburg and was found near the very same tree, 100 metres from the Limpopo River.
Our final campsite was at White Cliffs overlooking the Olifants River, at a launch site of the three-day, 50km Rio Elefantes canoe trail. The next morning the rest of the group continued onwards to reach Giriyondo and Kruger at noon. We proceeded to Machampane Wilderness Camp, where wilderness walks are the primary attraction. The best game-viewing area is said to be in the Machampane concession section of the park.
Over the past five days we had had as much fun as you could possibly have on a 4x4 trail. We had enjoyed the intermittent chirring of the Mozambique nightjar, marvelled at fever and fig trees along the Shingwedzi, Olifants and Limpopo river banks, watched saddle-billed storks standing 1,5m tall, kingfishers and brown snake eagles, plus the latter’s prey, yellow-bellied sand snake and brown house snake. We had seen how the locals make lala palm wine from the vegetable ivory palm which only grows where the water table is lower than 18m.
As a final reminder of the Limpopo National Park’s surprises, on the last stretch to Giriyondo, we happened upon a group of 10 giraffes. Their relaxed grazing, in complete disregard of our approaching vehicle, was testimony that despite the harshness of the terrain and poaching, one of the best wildlife areas in Southern Africa is in the process of being conserved.
Source: Wild Magazine