The Kruger Park is so much a feature of the Limpopo province that it was hard to avoid! After a great cultural visit at Lake Fundudzi, we found ourselves heading back to the bush.
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Unlike our first self-drive stay in the Kruger Park, this visit was going to be a little different. Anyone who follows our travels will probably have noticed a familiar thread popping up when it comes to us and the bush, and that is how passionately we feel about experiencing the bush on foot! At Mtomeni Safari Camp, we were to spend three nights in an unfenced wilderness camp with two specialist guides on site ready to take us out into the bush on walking safaris. Man, it was going to be heaven!
Our introduction to Mtomeni Safari Camp
Like Fundudzi, Mtomeni Safari Camp is also on the African Ivory Route which meant that as well as having an amazing experience, our visit would be supporting tourism initiatives amongst the local communities; the best kind of holiday. It is situated in the Letaba Ranch provincial reserve, a game area neighbouring the Kruger that shares an unfenced boundary with the Kruger Park. The Great Letaba River runs through the reserve and the camp is situated on its banks. Although Letaba Ranch is well-known for its large herds of elephant and buffalo, like the rest of the Kruger Park at the time of our visit it was also experiencing severe drought conditions.
On arrival at the camp, we were introduced to our guides - Edwin, a birding specialist, and Richard who specialises in tracking. After the warm welcome and introductory talk, with particular mention of how we were to exercise caution around the unfenced camp at night, there was nothing left to do except settle in and enjoy another amazing evening in Africa. That, and make sure we got an early night for our 5am start the next morning!
Onwards into the bush
As I mentioned, getting out on foot in the bush is one of our favourite things to do. There is nothing more thrilling than being amongst game on foot, and to be moving slowly enough that you can appreciate all of the smaller and more subtle sights and sounds. We were out of camp before sunrise, with Edwin leading the way.
Like sections of the Kruger Park, the vegetation in vast areas of Letaba Ranch is dominated by mopane trees. As we walked, Edwin made sure to point out interesting sights and took time to stop and explain the role of the smaller things we were seeing in the greater ecology of the area. He is also a wizard when it comes to bird calls and we were able to add plenty of ticks to our ever growing bird list thanks to his know-how!
Limpopo in summer is hot. And I mean that in the most extreme sense of the word. The kind of heat that stops any breeze in its tracks, bakes the ground, blinds the eyes and brings the cicadas' song out in deafening pitch. This heat means that the only suitable activity between the hours of 10am-3pm is either a cold shower or to lie as still as possible in some shady spot and wait for the hours to pass. I alternated between both!
In fact, that first afternoon was still too hot to attempt another walk so Richard and Edwin took us out on an evening game drive instead. At least the movement of the open-backed vehicle would stir up some kind of breeze and make that activity possible! They drove us to some beautiful viewpoints around the reserve. We also had a great elephant sighting, but I think it was too hot for anything else to be out and about and so it was a relatively quiet game drive. No problem, because as we well know being in the bush isn't only about the big game sightings. We were happy to be there, enjoying another incredible sunset over the peaceful African bush.
Big game on foot
Because of the limited sightings we had experienced near the camp, Richard and Edwin decided to drive us out some distance the next morning for a walk in an area well-known for its predator activity in the hopes of spotting one of the Kruger Park's big cats. This meant an even earlier start - never before had I so routinely set my alarm for well before sunrise! We set out once more on foot with Richard reading the tracks as we went.
Barely minutes into the walk we came across two hyaena pulling at the bones of an old elephant carcass. Although they were quite skittish and didn't hang around for very long, it was a very exciting sighting and the first hyaena that Edwin had seen on foot. What a way to start the excursion!
We felt very privileged to be out on the walk with two very experienced guides. Edwin continued to be an incredible source of knowledge about the birds we heard or saw, identifying the species of some LBJ before I'd even had time to raise the binoculars to my eyes. Not that I'd have been much help to him identifying them like that anyway!
It is truly amazing what kind of information tracks in the sand can give you. Richard shared stories of the night's activities - the snuffling feeding mission of a porcupine, the slow progress of a tortoise and then, pointing to a barely perceptible mark near our feet, the spot where a lion lay to rest. He also walked us safely past two elephants and negotiated a mopane thicket where a daga boy - an old lone buffalo and the most dangerous of their type - was hiding, the fresh tracks and steaming dung having given his presence away early on.
Farewell to the greater Kruger Park
We had an amazing time at Mtomeni Safari Camp in the greater Kruger Park area. The best part was that although the camp can accommodate a small group, our timing worked out that we were the only guests there during our stay. Our very own piece of spectacular African bush! And what a way to end our time in Limpopo and in and around Kruger Park, undeniably one of South Africa's most special wilderness areas. From here, it was time to begin our progression south and to the west - into the Free State and Karoo en route to Cape Town!
We'd like to thank Richard, Edwin and the rest of the staff at Mtomeni Safari Camp for hosting us during our stay. We'd also like to thank the great staff at Transfrontier Parks Destinations for giving us the go ahead and making our visit possible. The African Ivory Route has a mix of very special safari and cultural stays and is a great place to start for anyone planning a trip into Limpopo.