7-12 July 2007
Trying to get away early morning in winter is not as easy as you think. The bones are cold, the packing is slower as the hands are frozen, but the minds are racing to get on the road to experience yet another visit to the bush. Limpopo here we come!
As we enter the little town of Alldays, in the far North, a buzz hit us, as the Springbucks were playing the Aussies and everyone was in a huff to get biltong and some kind of cool refreshment in their hand, as here it was HOT! We needed to find our own big screen to watch this battle, before we continued our journey to the orange coloured sandstone hills and mountains of Mapungubwe, the home of the haunting Adansonia digitata, aka Baobab or Upside-down tree. I say haunting as they look like huge brown ghosts amongst the yellow, orange and green Mopani woodland in the outstretched country side of the far North.
As the Park was fully booked, (as they always say), we stayed in the Balerno Bush Lodge,19km from the Park, which was an amazing experience on its own. My hubby and I unpacked and had an afternoon snooze to recover from driving and getting up early. It was so nice and warm at the lodge, with cozy, sunny spots to sit and relax in the garden. I watched a grey headed bushshrike trying to catch a female rainbow skink with her blue tail, basking in the sun on one of the huge rocks surrounding the lodge. Much to my surprise a stripe-bellied sand snake appeared and was parked motionless in the footpath to the entrance of the lodge. Funny to see a snake in winter, maybe because it was such a hot day or maybe it was hungry. Yes it was hungry, as five minutes later it had a frog, much larger than the snake’s mouth I must say. It took the snake twenty five minutes to swallow the frog whole! One thing about this snake, it is only mildly poisonous, but it is one of the fastest snakes, it strikes like lightning!
About eleven on Monday, I arrived at reception at Mapungubwe and the pace was slow and calm. Paid with my Wildcard and drove in. What a shock! The seriously, bad unattended dirt road to the Treetops walk was a nightmare! My poor vehicle, I couldn’t take it! You just had to go at about zero km per hour, as driving at 40 as suggested by the Park was totally impossible and actually dangerous. It took me nearly two hours to get to the walk, because of the road. The baboons obviously took over at the hide and again no attention is being paid to the filth and dirt. Not a good experience at all. I saw a small herd of eland on the opposite side of the Limpopo River and a few whitefronted bee eaters darting around the water.
Today I also decided to sit quietly and read up about the trees on the walk. The tree that caught my interest was the Nyala-berry or Xanthocercis zambesiaca. Locally this tree is known as a Mashatu tree. The tree can reach heights of up to thirty metres and is evergreen with a massive trunk and a rounded canopy, which produces the most amazing shade. Kudu, impala and baboons are very fond of this tree for its shade and also for the fruit it supplies.
According to my reference source – Roger and Pat de la Harpe, the word Mashatu is not a Tswana word, but comes from a Tsonga word, meaning python. This tree also grows in Zimbabwe and they speak Tsonga and an age old relationship can be traced between the people of this area. The python apparently favours this tree and that is most probably the reason for its name. The Venda people again know the tree as the “Wedding Tree” and many a wedding ceremony has been conducted under it.
There are so many gigantic trees on the banks of the Limpopo River, as well as in the Park, that one can write pages and pages about them. The Apple Leaf or Lonchocarpus capassa, also known as the Rain Tree, is known to cry or rain and therefore is highly prized by several tribal groups. The beautiful butterfly tree or Mopani, the massive Sycamore fig trees all form a part of this amazing place of ancient tree giants, with the Baobabs reigning as the majestic kings of tree world.
On my two hour drive back I came across a family of elephant, eating away on some green shrub, standing out amongst the grey, black and brown of the surrounding vegetation, as it is seriously dry in the Park. The few impala that I saw, were very dark in colour, but were chewing away on something and ignored the black bellied korhaan that made a big noise when I passed it.
So after four hours of hopping, jumping and shaking in my Ranger (T-Bone, I hope you remember, Pardus mentioned it) I was back at the gate and headed for the lodge. My body ached, tomorrow I will try to see the other side of the Park.
T-Bone waiting for yet another adventure to the Parks!
After breakfast on Tuesday we were taken on a tour of the Park which has been set aside for hiking and for the historic value of the place. We drove on a sandy, two track road through the veld, to an area where hills and huge rocky outcrops were dominant. We stopped at a large overhanging cliff and found a water drip. According to our guides, there is always water dripping from this rock, no matter how dry the surrounding area becomes. The previous owner of the land built a little dam for the water to remain, for the wild animals to drink from. We saw many elephant tracks around it and realized as the little dam was empty, they must have been there earlier the morning. We also saw San rock art, one small elephant drawing.
To our delight, but it was also a bit scary, our guides called out that we must get back to our vehicles, as some elephant were approaching the water. A huge female elephant, with her trunk up in the air, smelling us, walked cautiously past us and then four smaller ones and a very small calf actually ran past us. The wind came from us and they were very upset, as they could smell us clearly. They went to drink, but as the water was very little and they were very jittery, they left and disappeared into the bush.
We left to see an area, which were found long ago by the previous owner and the University of Pretoria did some research there to vouch for the authenticity of the rock art. These were not drawings, but were cut into the walls of the rocks. We saw a rhinoceros and a spiral shape cut into the rocks. While standing there, many questions and thoughts fill your mind, how old are they, what tools did they use, was it San people or maybe people before them? This place really boggles your mind. From there we drove to an area which looked like a flat piece of land, surrounded with hills, the floor of the area is like a huge flat rock and we could easily drive on it with our vehicles. One huge Baobab tree dominated the vegetation and a few Marula trees stood empty without leaves or fruit. We were shown, small round holes made into the flat rocks, as well as a part that looked like smaller stones that were packed for a hearth or cooking place. We found lots of iron rocks and pot shards lying nearby. Again many questions were asked, but very few were answered. We just don’t know!
Wednesday, my husband and I were lazy and only left for the park at twelve. This time we decided to check out the other parts of the park, but oh my goodness, the roads, what a disaster! No normal vehicle will be able to drive on these dirt roads. Anyway we shook and jumped on and found a beautiful pair of Verreaux’s (black) eagles, first resting on one of the many cliffs, but then soaring through the sky so that we could see the white on their backs, only my second sighting of them since 1978. What a treat!
At a watering hole we came across a group of baboons drinking and what made it special was the two klipspringer with them. They were shy, but as we were very quiet, they drank and grazed a while on the greenery around the pond. A pair of Egyptian geese had some chicks and they did not like the presence of the baboons at all and told them so in no uncertain terms with their calls. A whole flock of redfaced mousebirds came to drink at the pond, with some Meyers parrots and lots of blue wax bills, while a grey heron stood sleeping on one leg. You must remember here, everything that moves counts!
After we had coffee and biltong sandwiches, we left the pond reluctantly as we thought some elephant would perhaps come to drink. We drove on the road next to the fence parallel with the Limpopo River and to our utmost surprise a very big leopard appeared in the road. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Luckily my husband was there! The leopard stopped, waited, looked at us, shook its tail twice and was gone! I really stopped breathing for a bit. That was so amazing.
On our way back to the gate we came across a big herd of Oryx, with very small calves and they were playing and running around giving us a good show. Then luckily, to my husbands delight, two big elephants. A male and female eating in the Mopani woodlands, calm and peacefully crossing the road in front of us and then trumpeted as they turned their backs on us. It really was a wonderful day!
Mapungubwe is a place of thoughts, a place of questions, a place full of energy and many secrets! A Park where you have to work hard to earn your sightings, but very fulfilling and you really want to go back to it. It is amazing to be in this place that has more untold stories than any author can imagine, surrounded by hills, rocks and mountains, trees and rivers that were there from the beginning of time…