7. PUNDA MARIA REST CAMP
CLOSEST GATE Punda Maria SITES 61 BEST FEATURE The floodlit waterhole and hide SPECIAL SIGHTINGS Elephants, nyalas, thick-tailed bushbabies
Shingwedzi rest camp in the northeast is also wonderful, but the floodlit hide really sets Punda Maria’s campsite apart. It’s the only camping option in the far north of the park, and also Kruger’s cheapest. Game can prove sparse here but nyalas, kudus, buffalo and elephants (particularly the big tuskers) love this region. It’s also one of the best areas to search for yellowbilled oxpeckers (once thought extinct in South Africa, but returned to the park in the 1980s). There’s a walking trail through the camp, a swimming pool and ellies are frequent visitors to the waterhole right in front of the campsite. It’s lit up at night, which is how my neighbour managed to spot a slinking leopard who came for a drink just after sundown. The best sites to the left of the hide have views of this waterhole but get snapped up quickly. Luckily, everyone has access to the hide to enjoy the game that comes to visit. There are resident baboons and vervet monkeys, and everyone will warn you about their mischief. The thick-tailed bushbabies provide no respite, either, as they orchestrate the chaos at night. DO THIS Drive north when the gates open at sunrise and spend the morning at Luvuvhu Bridge for the best birding. Have breakfast at nearby Pafuri picnic site and drive through the fever-tree forest to Crooks’ Corner, where three countries meet. One can spend several hours in the picnic area with purplecrested turacos, tropical boubous, trumpeter hornbills, Meves’ starlings, Narina trogons and several different species of sunbird and firefinch to entertain you. The Mahonie Loop just outside camp is also the best in Kruger to see the diminutive suni antelope.