On a walking trail in northern Kruger’s Pafuri, is it an age-old ritual using the powdery bark of fever trees that brings the luck?
Words and Pictures: Petro Kotzé
He lightly rubbed the western side of a pale-yellow fever tree and touched his forehead. “The Makuleke believe it brings you luck,” said lead trails-guide Steve Faulconbridge. “It works every time.”
If there is one place where magic could happen, it must be here, in this place where thousands of powdery trunks create a surreal, gold-tinted world. According to Steve, this is the largest fever-tree forest in South Africa, and it was a spectacular sight to behold. One that made it easy to imagine the full-moon light on enormous elephants treading silently through the forest, Pel’s Fishing Owls swooping soundlessly overhead.
The fever-tree forest rests in the 24ha Makuleke Concession, described as one of the most enchanted areas of the Kruger National Park, in the remote Pafuri between the Luvuvhu River to the south and the Limpopo to the north. “It’s one of my favourite places to visit,” said Piet Theron, Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park international coordinator, when he contacted me to join a guided hiking trail.
I couldn’t resist. Few visitors to Kruger travel that far north. I’d only been as far as Punda Maria myself, and spent the night there before this hike, but that still left me a more than six-hour drive to Pafuri gate.
I had assumed that the Makuleke Concession would look similar to the area around Punda Maria Rest Camp, perhaps even drier and browner, with maybe the odd zebra to break the monotonous horizon. Possibly even a single file of elephants in
a distant mirage.
Information about the area is somewhat scarce and, as I travelled over the desolate road from Punda Maria, I had no idea I was about to spend time in the most biodiverse region of Kruger. Across the low-water Luvuvhu Bridge, the ‘gateway’ to Pafuri, is an area that protects as much as 75 per cent of the total biodiversity of the park, even though it comprises as little as one per cent of its size.
We met our guides on the bridge, a bit behind schedule as some of us were held up by a massive elephant bull enjoying a leisurely snack on the bridge. From here, we followed the guides to a ranger’s house where we left our cars, as this area can only be explored on guided walking trails. Groups are kept small, and the twelve of us were split into two camps.
“We walk every day according to the needs of the group, but it’s nothing too strenuous,” said Steve, “although there are a couple of special places that we try and get to on every trip.” He was careful to point out that, while some visitors leave disappointed if they don’t end up walking with any of the Big Five, the real pleasure of the visit is simply to soak up the environment. “Just enjoy whatever the trip throws at you.”
The story continues in our May 2015 edition. Pick it up in store from Monday 13 April 2015 or online from Zinio.
The story continues in our May 2015 edition. Pick it up online from Zinio.