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African Rock Python
7 Mar 2014
 
     

African Rock Python – Punda Maria

f/13, 1/180 sec, ISO-400, EV 0, 100mm focal length.

Eyelashes
28 Feb 2014
 
     

Eyelashes

f/5, 1/200 sec, ISO-200, EV 0, 185mm focal length

Maasai Kill
21 Feb 2014
 
     

Maasai Kill

f/14, 1/400sec, ISO-400, EV 0, 400mm telephoto.

Water Lily - HDR
14 Feb 2014
 
     

Water Lily – HDR

Here’s another example of the benefits of HDR photography – where the tonality range is better captured with this technique than with a single shot. This picture is, in fact, a composite of three identical pictures, taken at different EV steps (-0.7,0,+0.7) apart, and then merged using software.

Sun Worship
7 Feb 2014
 
     

Sun Worship, Tsitsikamma.

1/250 sec, f22, ISO-100, EV step -0.30.

Á la cinquième
31 Jan 2014
 
     

Á la cinquième

Marabou storks are not the most aesthetic of birds, but their enormous size and sedentary habits make them easier to photograph than many other species. It is sometimes fun capturing them in unusual positions. Á la cinquième is the French for 5th position – a position meaningful to ballerinas – the classic hands raised and one foot in front of the other.  F6.3, 1/1250 sec, ISO-400 and 300mm FF f2.8 lens.

Fresh from the Hunt
24 Jan 2014
 
     

Fresh from the Hunt

We stumbled across a pack of Wild Dogs, bloodied and excited, running through the bush, on a cold morning. 

F4, 1/640 sec, ISO-800, 300mm FF Prime lens.

Elephant Crossing
17 Jan 2014
 
     

Elephant Crossing – Okavango Delta.

F10, 1/400 sec, 180mm focal length, ISO400.

Whiskers
10 Jan 2014
 
     

Whiskers

Leopards - one of our favourite animals to photograph, especially at night. Jeep spotlights alone – no flash, F2.8, 1/160 sec exposure, prime lens at 200mm focal length, ISO-800 and EV stepped -0.3.

Pafuri - Finale
3 Jan 2014
 
     

Pafuri - Finale

Three concessionaires are currently operating in the Pafuri triangle: Ecotraining (www.ecotraining.co.za), Wilderness Safaris (www.wilderness-safaris.com) and The Outpost (www.theoutpostcamp.com).   

Until recently, one could also enjoy the splendour of much of the concession area from the SANParks Nyalaland wilderness trail – from across the Luvuvhu – until the floods of January 2013 damaged the Nyalaland base camp and rendered it unusable. The Nyalaland trail has relocated to around the Punda Maria until the basecamp is repaired. The temporary site and camp look inviting in their own right, and the trails are still being led by the legendary ranger Christopher Muthathi (Panel A). We look forward to a return to the baobabs of Nyalaland.  

Ecotraining runs FGASA accredited ranger and tracker training courses in the concession area, along with several shorter courses (birding, photography). We have yet to attend any, but have heard only great things about the company, and the quality of training therein. 

Wilderness Safaris has historically been the natural choice for the South African tourist, and their Pafuri Camp was a masterpiece – a 4-star lodge on raised wooden beams and each A-frame luxury tented chalet with its own private view of the Luvuvhu. Animals would literally walk under the lodge, unhindered, to access and return from the river. The place is wild and wonderful. We have seen a crocodile kill over lunch and had lions hunting under our chalet at night. We once had to scare a leopard off the walkway returning from a late dinner, and have watched a Pel’s fishing owl from the lodge over drinks. The quality of the offering was world-class, warm and professional, and the Makuleke people who staff the lodge are friendly and accommodating. Unfortunately, the same January floods that crippled Nyalaland destroyed more than half of the Pafuri Camp. See before and after shots of the dinner area (Panels B versus C) and the bar/pool area (Panels D versus E). We believe the intention of the company is to rebuild the lodge – and Wilderness Safaris are awaiting the finalization of an insurance claim before proceeding. We, and many other fans, are hoping for the best here.     

Fortunately, Wilderness Safaris still actively runs the Pafuri walking trail. These walking trails are similar to those of SANParks – but with some very distinctive differences and some magical touches of class. The current trails are being guided by the competent and entertaining Willem and Marianne (Panel F), and a base camp has been established that sleeps 8 guests in 4 double tents, some distance west of the Luvuvhu/Pafuri-Gate road. The wilderness experience is tangible, and visitors to the camp, both small and large, are commonplace (Panel G). Here, under the care of the catering staff and your guides, you can explore the Makuleke concession for 4 days/3 nights and get a good idea of the magic and majesty of the area.      

Lastly, the Outpost offers a more exclusive (and costly) getaway. We have never had the opportunity to explore this offering – but it has a similarly good reputation as other operators in the concession area. Apparently the accommodation there offers a most impressive vista of Lanner Gorge. 

We trust this short series on the Pafuri triangle will inspire a few intrepid adventurers to make the journey north to this literal gemstone of a destination.

Pafuri – Part 7
27 Dec 2013
 
     

Pafuri – Part 7

There are several noteworthy landmarks in the Mukuleke concession - we discuss three of particular interest here. The first (top panel) is the spectacular Lanner Gorge. The Gorge is approximately 11km long, and has Cretaceous gravels at the top and Permian shales at the bottom. In between are Jurassic and Triassic sandstones. Dinosaur fossils are abundant within the sandstones. Access to the Gorge lookout is limited to a handful of concessionaires in the Pafuri triangle, and South of the Luvuvhu (via foot) - to participants of the SANParks wilderness trails.  

The second (middle panel) is a view of the Thulamela ruins from across the Luvuvhu river. The Pafuri area, along with the nearby Mapungubwe, is of particular anthropological importance. Around 1550 (AD), African groups returned from across the Limpopo river and the Greater Zimbabwe to found numerous settlements, including that of the Thulamela on the Southern bank of the Luvuvhu. Thulamela was only one of many ancient walled cities. The Thulamela culture is estimated to have ended around 1650. The Thulamela ruins are visible to SANParks tourists from the recently re-opened Luvuvhu river drive. One can explore the same as a participant of the SANParks wilderness trails, or by special arrangement.

The last (bottom panel) is crooks corner – the confluence of the Luvuvhu and the Limpopo rivers, and the border of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. During the 1900's, it was a common meeting point for dubious characters to exchange contraband, hence the name ‘crooks’ corner. It is accessible via the generic Kruger Park network of roads. This particular road, the S63 dirt road, also first takes one through some staggering fever-tree forests.

Next week in the final installment of our review of Pafuri, we will discuss the various accommodation offerings one has when visiting the area as an overnight tourist.

Pafuri – Part 6
20 Dec 2013
 
     

Pafuri – Part 6

The Makuleke concession was recognised as a Ramsar listing on the 22 May 2007 – assuming the importance and associated protection of a wetland of international importance. The Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international co-operation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands.

Prominent wetland features of the Pafuri triangle include riverine forests, riparian flood plain forests, flood plain grasslands, river channels and flood pans. Flood pans are depressions in the flood plains which are intermittently filled from floods and rains. These are important because they hold water into the dry season, thus acting as a refuge point for wildlife and water birds during both winter and summer months. There are 31 flood pans in the area. Here is a photo in HDR of the edge of one such pan, taken at sunset in early November 2013.

Pafuri – Part 5
13 Dec 2013
 
     

Pafuri – Part 5

Many attractions lure the intrepid naturalist to the Pafuri triangle - not the least of which is the rich flora. The area has both semi-arid vegetation including many large baobabs as well as rich riverine forests with large Nyala trees. Also impressive are the aggregations of fever trees. A visit to a fever tree forest is always a surrealistic excursion, as one is transported into a pensive world with luminous green fever tree trunks as far as the eye can see and a discernible transformation in the now stippled and humid bush ambience.

Pafuri – Part 4
6 Dec 2013
 
     

Pafuri – Part 4

What makes Pafuri special is its incredible biodiversity. Due to its proximity to Zimbabwe and Mozambique, the area was heavily poached by the time the Makuleke people reclaimed their land in 1998. The area now supports a healthy density of nyala and impala – and carnivores are naturally attracted to the same. The area is also known for sighting of the scarcer bush pig and Eland. The permanent waters of the Levuvhu make for big game concentration in the dry winter months. The region is well-known for large herds of elephant and buffalo being resident most of the year. Sightings of wet and muddy older male buffalos against a striking backdrop of green subtropical flora are commonplace. These older males have been excluded from the breeding herds, and are colloquially referred to as ‘Dagga Boys’ – dagga being the word, across many Nguni African languages, for mud. The photo is of one such a freshly-caked beast.

Pafuri - Part 3
29 Nov 2013
 
     

Pafuri - Part 3

The Pafuri triangle is probably best known for its diversity of birdlife – with over 250 species being recorded in most years. Many bird species are endemic to the triangle and many serious birders are attracted to the area for this exact reason. The common targets are typically the reclusive Pel's Fishing-Owl, the rare Racket-tailed Roller (6 breeding pairs are currently known to exist in the concession) and the Three-banded Courser. Serious twitchers will also be looking for Böhm's and Mottled Spinetails, the Crimson-breasted Shrike, the Southern Hyliota, the Grey-headed Parrot, the Black-throated Wattle-Eye flycatcher, the White-browed Sparrow Weaver, the Yellow White-Eye, Meve's Starling, the Tropical Boubou, the Bat Hawk and so many more. This picture is one of our favourite birds with arguably the most impressive hairdo – the crested guineafowl.

Pafuri - Part 2
22 Nov 2013
 
     

Pafuri - Part 2

If one heads north from Phalaborwa through the Kruger park, one faces approximately 200km of merciless Mopaneveld before reaching the Pafuri Triangle and the Makuleke concession. Much as the Tsetse fly was responsible for the saviour of many wilderness areas, this barrier of unrelenting monotonous vegetation keeps many tourists from venturing so far north. Even hardened botany enthusiasts have been known to have apoplectic fits of boredom and despair while running the Mopane gauntlet.  Of course, one can enter the park at Punda Maria gate or Pafuri gate and lessen the ordeal, and face some hours on other roads. 

Once you pass the famous Baobab hill, you enter into another world entirely however. The climate is now subtropical, the vegetation type varied and the topography fascinating. This 24 000-hectare area is recognised as one of the most diverse and scenically attractive areas in the Kruger National Park. This picture is of the Levuvhu river, and its surrounding hills and vegetation.

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