December 9th 2019 |
South Africa | by
Makuleke is little known, even among safari specialists. Test it if you like. Call six safari companies and see how many can place it. One might be able to, and a couple of others might ask if you meant Marakele, but I’m confident most won’t know where it is or why you would go there.
This dramatic wildlife area, bordering both Zimbabwe and Mozambique, is in the far north of Kruger National Park, and is a wedge of land between the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers. It is owned by the Makuleke tribe and while visitors are limited, animals move freely in what Wikipedia refers to as “a natural choke point”.
With gorges, fever tree forest and ancient baobabs, its habitats are very different to Kruger’s better known Sabi Sands and Timbavati areas. There is good wildlife in the dry season, from June to November, including large herds of elephant and buffalo, hippos, crocs, and wonderful birdlife. But perhaps best of all is the tiny number of visitors, so seeing other people and vehicles is rare.
There is a choice of camps, with the cantilevered suites at The Outpost offering dramatic views from their elevated position above the Luvuvhu river valley.
The tented rooms at Pafuri Camp are also set alongside the Luvuhu. While wildlife drives and walks are available there’s a strong temptation to simply enjoy an ‘armchair safari’ enjoying the variety of animals that pass in front of the verandahs. A number of Pafuri Camp’s tents are suited to families with second bedrooms for children.
Excellent wildlife viewing from the tents at Pafuri Camp
Another nearby choice for families visiting this area is Baobab Hill Bush House. Previously a ranger station, it’s now a four bedroom homestead offering ideal accommodation for families or friends seeking privacy and comfort in the bush.
Daily flights from Johannesburg make Makuleke more accessible than its visitor numbers suggest, and it combines easily with another hidden gem, the Tuli block just across the border in Botswana. I love surprising people with this combination which offers out of the way places, excellent wildlife and super value for money.
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One response to “Makuleke – Secret Kruger National Park”
One of the founders of Aardvark Safaris, Richard comes from a background working in both Africa and travel. Shunning the exciting world of quantity surveying (with apologies to all exciting quantity surveyors out there)
One of the founders of Aardvark Safaris, Richard comes from a background working in both Africa and travel. Shunning the exciting world of quantity surveying (with apologies to all exciting quantity surveyors out there) Richard spent the first ten years after university flitting between summers on a river somewhere in the world as a raft guide, videographer or canoe instructor, and winters in the Alps as a ski guide, or the Operations Manager for a ski company.
His claim to fame (in his own mind) is that during his time working on the Zambezi River, based in Victoria Falls, he was one of the members of a group of kayakers who made the first moonlit descent of the rapids in the Zambezi Gorge. In addition he spent time in Botswana and Zimbabwe making promotional films for safari companies, and met the other Aardvark Safaris’ founder John Spence.
Richard is a keen sportsman but though he has tried many sports including football, volleyball, kayaking, canoeing, skiing, snowboarding, telemarking, bouldering, mountain biking and bmx-ing he’s not particularly accomplished in anything. With the ability to swim, ride a bike and run, he was gripped by a midlife crisis a few years ago and trained for enough hours to annoy both family and work colleagues and eventually became an Ironman triathlete, completing the 2.5 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 26 mile run in something just over 14 hours. He also recently podium'ed as 3rd placed Grand Vet in a downhill mountain bike competition (and no there weren't only three in his category).
Having founded Aardvark Safaris with John in 1999, Richard travelled intensively throughout Africa for a number of years before his children grew old enough to start asking why they weren’t invited. Since then he’s travelled with his wife and kids to Mauritius, Kenya, Namibia, Zambia, Malawi and South Africa. With a wide breadth of geographical knowledge (in Africa at least) and having arranged safari holidays over the years for many of our clients, Richard is a good person to talk to about almost all of the countries we offer, no matter who you are or with whom you’re travelling.
Favourite African experience
I particularly enjoyed the look on my wife’s face when she realised the beautiful breakfast set up under an acacia tree in the middle of the African plains was for us – we were the VIPs that the chef (in full whites) and camp team were waiting for!
It changes. Right now it’s warthogs. I love the way they stick their tails in the air as if radio controlled. Annoyingly they seem to always run away from you though, meaning a good photo seems almost impossible to get.
Favourite three camps
I saw three different leopard on a single wildlife drive from Mombo Camp in the Okavango Delta and on our return to camp there was a porcupine displaying its quills under the boardwalk. The density and quality of wildlife, together with rooms where ‘you can almost see from one end to the other on a clear day’ makes Mombo one for the memory banks.
[caption id="attachment_22991" align="alignnone" width="600"] Family of leopards, Okavango Delta, Botswana, Mombo camp[/caption]
I love the quirkiness of the rooms at Kaya Mawa on Lake Malawi; they're all different to each other and blend in with the granite outcrops fabulously. More an inland sea than a lake, the waters are great for freshwater snorkelling and diving – not only do you get great fish viewing, but you’re not sticky with salt afterwards.
[caption id="attachment_26437" align="alignnone" width="600"] On the shores of Lake Malawi, Kaya Mawa[/caption]
Stopping at three camps doesn’t feel right; I could go on for pages. However if I have to finish I’d end with Greystoke Camp in the Mahale National Park on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. You have a sandy beach in front of you, with forested mountains rising 600m behind you. In the forest are groups of habituated chimps whose interactions are as thrilling as the scenery is stunning.
Oh no, what about the pastel colours at Wolwedans in Namibia, the quirky rooms at Shipwreck Lodge, watching whales from Princesse Bora on Ile Ste Marie, or a sunset across the Luangwa from Nsefu Camp? Can’t we make it your ten favourite camps?
There can’t be many jobs where people want to buy what you sell. I can’t imagine people go into the service department of their local garage happy to plan their service and then part with their money. That’s what we get though; people who are excited about arranging a safari holiday and who just need us to use our knowledge to match them with the myriad of options for them in Africa.
It’s lovely to get so many people saying ‘thank you’ when the planning is complete and the decision made. It’s even better when they come back from Africa with the holiday having exceeded their expectations, thrilled by what they’ve seen and done and bubbling over with excitement. We share all the feedback we get around the offices and I know each of us gets a big thrill when the trips we’ve helped arrange work well and a bit of vicarious pleasure reading each other’s nice feedback too.
It’s a top job and there are few things I’d swap it for, and those I would I’m not skilled enough at (see the previous comments regarding my sporting prowess!)
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Wow is beautiful