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Mapungubwe National Park

Mapungubwe National Park is the hidden jewel of South Africa a place its visitors keeps a close kept secret, in my opinion Mapungubwe must be the most under rated national park in South Africa. With rolling hills filled with age old Baobab trees, spectacular views and a rich cultural heritage this is the ultimate bush break.

Mapungubwe is situated on the border of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, it is 28 000 hectares of untouched wilderness that will make you come back for more.

Limpopo Forest Camp - Mapungubwe National Park
Limpopo Forest Camp - Mapungubwe National Park
We had a 4 night visit to Mapungubwe hardly enough to experience what the reserve has to offer but we were ready to make the most of a short visit. We started our trip with a one night stay at the Limpopo Forest Camp situated in the riverine forest along the mighty Limpopo river surrounded by fig and fever trees you will become one with nature.

Each tent has a fully equipped kitchen, braai area, bathroom with a shower and a spacious bedroom with twin beds and a ceiling fan, if possible take an extra fan with it gets very hot in summer. The tents are serviced daily and are kept in excellent condition. Only issue we had at the tented camp was of course monkey's (because people feed them) and strangely enough mice that raids everything you leave outside.

There is a swimming pool to provide much needed relief from the at time unbearable heat.

Day 2 - 4 we spend at Vhembe Wilderness Camp, the camp consists of four stunning chalets with a bathroom and a patio overlooking the beautifully valley below you, the units are services daily and in excellent condition. There is a communal kitchen area with braai facility and gas appliances making this the ideal camp for a group and an excellent opportunity to make new friends with people that share your interests.

The camp is supplied by solar power that was very unstable during our visit, if a guest turns a fan on in their room the camp loses power, the least of your worries are lights when you have the African night sky filled with stars to gaze up at.

Vhembe Wilderness Camp
The view from your patio overlooking the valley.

Sun downers at the small pool at Vhembe Wilderness Camp
There is a small swimming pool at Vhembe Wilderness Camp, ask the guy at the camp as it is not advertised, nothing beats watching the sunset with a cold beer with a herd of elephants walking in the valley below you.

From Vhembe Wilderness Camp you are centrally located and going out for a morning or afternoon game drive from here is ideal, the park offers some of the best birding in South Africa as well as a large variety of game including the big five.

Go for a sun downer at the confluence view point, after a short walk up the hill you make your pick of the many viewing decks overlooking what is called the confluence, where the Sashe river that separates Botswana and Zimbabwe meet the Limpopo river that separates South African from its neighbours to the north. The views are out of this world with the African bush spread out in front of you as far as the eye can see.
Sunset from the Confluence viewpoint.

We did not have time to do any of the cultural tours they have on offer, the Kingdom of Mapungubwe was the largest ancient city and trading point in Africa, trading gold and ivory with China, India and Egypt 1200 - 1300 AD. This was a thriving community that existed long before the European settlers arrived in the Cape in 1652.

Items like the Golden Rhino of Mapungubwe was discovered in 1932 in a royal grave at Mapungubwe hill, the artifact is around 800 years old and currently on display at the British Museum.

Other then the rich cultural history tours you can go on an exiting 4x4 game drive, note these routes are ONLY for 4x4 vehicles. One can drive for hours without seeing another vehicle, this is what makes Mapungubwe so unique.

There is also a treetop walk that winds its way towards the Limpopo river build on stilts in between the massive trees that line the mighty Limpopo river, this is a great opportunity to take your binoculars and do some bird watching.

A true gem I would recommend Mapungubwe National Park to anyone for a great bush holiday.





Botswana

Not to far from the hustle and bustle of the city is a country filled with friendliness spectacular wildlife and the longest straightest road I have ever traveled, Botswana was our destination of choice for our next holiday and we could not be happier about it.


We made our way to Senyati Safari Lodge near the town of Kasane looking forward to some amazing trips in and around the Chobe National Park, a long drive is an understatement and the only thing I can really say put me off about Botswana was the amount of cattle, donkeys and goats on the roads, this is luckily replaced by Elephant, Lion and Buffalo as soon as you pass Nata. 


Upon arrival at Senyati you immediately know you have come to the right place it is like the theme song from "The Lion King" starts playing in your head automatically, booking on hearsay, I am always a little skeptic about the perception created by the stories you have been told and the danger of utter disappointment is always in the back of your head. Well this was all but the case, Senyati is a nature lovers paradise, excellent facilities, great camping sites, chalets and a bar with a view like no other in the world.


Built on stilts the bar overlooks a man made waterhole with small "spring" in the middle, every day hundreds of elephant come down to the waterhole to quench their thirst all of them vying for a spot to get to the cold fresh water coming from the centre of the waterhole. There is a underground bunker that leads to the edge of the waterhole giving you the opportunity to see these wild animal up close and personal and of course make your camera work overtime.

Left: An elephant bull enjoying the refreshing water from the waterhole in front of the bar at Senyati Safari Lodge. Canon 7D, F2.8, 1/160, ISo 250.


Kasane the closest town is a thriving tourist destination settled on the banks of the Chobe river, hippo's in the background and the sound of the iconic fish eagle in the distance will make anyone forget about the busy life back home.

Enjoy a lunch at the famous "The old House" restaurant or a quick snack and a beer at "The Coffee Buzz" both restaurants offer a wide range of local cuisine and excellent service. Dinner at Chobe Safari Lodge offers you an amazing buffet with a range of dishes with an amazing view overlooking the mighty Chobe River.

                                                                               
Book a boat cruise with Kalahari Tours based in Kasane in my opinion the best tour operator in the area, options include a shared boat with other guest we opted for a private boat and guide as it offers a bit more privacy and flexibility to do what you want at a slightly higher price.


The boat trips brings you up close and personal with nature, elephants cool off from the Africa sun within touching distance from you, hippos and crocodiles almost litter the water and bird life that an enthusiast will cherish forever with rare species like the African Skimmer that is only found on this small stretch of the Chobe river.


              Below: Elephants enjoy a swim on a late 
               afternoon boat cruise.  Canon 7D, F5.6  
                                 1/800, ISO-1250.                              
Other than a boat trip you can visit the Chobe National Park in your own 4x4 vehicle or by booking a game drive with many of the tour operators in the area. The reserve stretches over 120 000 hectares of African bush with a wide variety of game and bird species to be seen.


To access the park you would need a 4x4 vehicle as the roads are mainly two track sand roads, pack a picnic basket or take your gas braai "BBQ" and make a breakfast at the Serondela Picnic Site located next to the Chobe river.


Make sure to take your camera and binoculars as there are some amazing photo opportunities to be had, I would recommend a digital SLR with a 300mm Lens or bigger, good quality Tri-Pod, wide angle lens and a lot of patience. As a very passionate wildlife photographer I can without a doubt say that the Chobe had more photo opportunities in a day than any other place I have ever been in Africa. The amount of game around the river coupled with the incredible scenery makes it any wildlife photographers dream, you never know what is around the next corner and photo opportunities are endless.


Below: An incredible sighting of African wild dog
or as they are known in Botswana "Painted Dogs"
                 Canon 7D, F5, 1/800, ISO-400
If you are seeking for an adrenaline rush Victoria Falls is a short 80km drive from Kasane take a walk and look at the largest water fall in the world, sit on the edge of the falls in Devils Pools, jump off the iconic Victoria bridge (of course with a rope around your ankles) or do some extreme river rafting on the mighty Zambezi river.


If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground and like a change of scenery try your hand at some tiger fishing, these fish are pound for pound one of the strongest freshwater fish I have ever caught. Book a fishing trip with one of the many guides in Kasane or go the more daring route and fish from the bank. 

Fishing from the bank is not recommended because of the large population of Nile Crocodiles in the river. I believe the Chobe around Kasane is still one of the most under rated tiger fishing spots in Botswana.


I would highly recommend a visit to Chobe and Kasane, it is a true paradise for any nature lover, wildlife photographer or adventurer.


                                               Juvenile African Fish Eagle taking off, Canon 7D, F2.8, 1/1000, ISO-100

                                              Namibian Fisherman on the Chobe. Canon 7D, F2.8, 1/1000, ISO-200