Punda Maria, the Kruger National Park’s northern-most rest camp, is a unique place rich in character, history and natural beauty.
In 1919 Captain JJ Coetzer, after serving in the military in East Africa, was appointed to a new ranger post in the north of the then Shingwedzi Game Reserve. He named his base, at the Shikokololo fountain at the foot of Dimbo Hill, Punda Maria – a combination of punda milia, Swahili for zebra, after the first animals he encountered in the area, and his wife’s name, Maria, who reportedly loved wearing striped dresses.
The original lattice-and-mud, white-washed walls and thatched roofs of the accommodation units constructed in 1933 are still used to house guests today. The interiors of the units were modernised in the 1980’s without altering the exterior appearance, preserving Punda Maria’s wilderness outpost atmosphere. The camp also offers two comfortable family cottages and seven two-sleeper safari tents, as well as a large camping area at the foot of the hill. Facilities in the camp includes a small shop, restaurant, filling station, laundry, swimming pool and a hide overlooking a flood-lit waterhole next to the perimeter fence. Guided drives and walks are available and the self-guided Paradise Flycatcher Trail that meanders through a piece of natural vegetation on the hillside within the camp allows an opportunity to get close to the small animals and numerous birds that call Punda Maria home.
The area around Punda Maria is exceptionally rich in plant, animal and bird life and is renowned for its scenic splendour.
Mahonie Loop is one of the prettiest drives in the Kruger National Park. The loop goes around Dimbo Hill, passes three waterholes and crosses several small streams. Even though the entire route is less than 30 kilometres in distance, there’s so much to see and enjoy that it usually takes several hours to complete.
To the south-east of Punda Maria, in the direction of Shingwedzi, Dzundwini hill rises from the surrounding mopane plains. Dzundwini Loop passes between the hill and a series of fountains that attract good numbers of game, especially during the dry season, and a short cul-de-sac takes one high up onto the hill to a scenic vantage point.
Close to camp, on the S60 heading towards Pafuri, lies the long, flat hill of Gumbandebvu, regarded as sacred and haunted. The hill is named after a chief who’s daughter, Khama, was reputed to have had the gift of rain-making.
No visit to the North of the Kruger National Park would be complete without a pilgrimage to Pafuri. This is one of the Kruger’s most unspoilt areas and is regarded as one of the best birding locations in the entire country. The Pafuri Picnic Spot is a peaceful place to enjoy a leisurely meal or cool drink, watching the waters of the Luvuvhu River flow slowly past, with only the constant twittering of colourful birds, the call of a fish eagle, the bark of a baboon or the snort of a hippo to break the silence.
Thulamela, located on a hill overlooking the Luvuvhu River at the end of the short Nyala Loop, was a 16th century citadel from the same culture responsible for Great Zimbabwe. Artifacts found on the site is evidence of trade between this sophisticated hierarchical society and places as far afield as India, China and West Africa. Guided tours of the ruins can be undertaken from Punda Maria.
At the confluence of the Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers three countries meet – South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Because all kinds of smugglers, bandits and poachers from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s could evade capture by the law-enforcement authorities of these countries by simply slipping across the borders, the area quickly became known as “Crook’s Corner”.
If you long to touch the wilderness, if you want to experience the Kruger National Park at its uncluttered wildest and if your pioneering spirit wants to drift back to more romantic times, then ensure that you include Punda Maria in your Kruger Park itinerary!