Where Uni­corns Roam

SLOW Magazine - - Contents - Text: Nicky Fur­niss Im­age © RETURNAFRICA

“What would you like to see on the game drive?” It’s the stan­dard ques­tion be­fore head­ing out for a morn­ing or evening drive. And no mat­ter where I am – Bushveld, fyn­bos coun­try, or desert – I al­ways re­ply: “A pan­golin and an aard­vark, please!” The rangers usu­ally smile and say some­thing along the lines of: “An aard­vark, maybe, but I have been a guide for 20 years and I have never seen a pan­golin.”

Calvin de la Rey, our guide at Pa­furi Camp in the Makuleke Con­ces­sion bor­der­ing the far north­ern corner of the Kruger Na­tional Park, re­acted in much the same way. He gave me that scep­ti­cal smile, but said he’d try. Adding that if I liked trees, he could al­ways guar­an­tee me a few of those . . . An African Uni­corn It was a pretty un­event­ful drive, and we were just trad­ing “get-to-know-you” ques­tions over sun­down­ers, when an­other game ranger drove past and whis­pered some­thing in Calvin’s ear.

“Pack up quickly!” he shouted. “Ev­ery­one on the ve­hi­cle and hold on tight”. “What is it?” we asked. “Some­one saw a pan­golin.” “Stop mess­ing with me!” I laughed. “I’m not!” he shouted as he put his foot on the ac­cel­er­a­tor.

That evening I saw my very first pan­golin – a uni­corn an­i­mal if ever there was one. Be­ing reclu­sive and noc­tur­nal makes it al­ready hard to find, but add to that the fact that it’s the most poached an­i­mal in the world, and you’ll un­der­stand that com­ing across one in the wild re­ally is like find­ing that prover­bial nee­dle in a haystack.

He was beau­ti­ful. A per­fect ex­am­ple of el­e­gant sym­me­try and prac­ti­cal­ity – the likes of which only na­ture can cre­ate. It was dark and you would have needed some mighty im­pres­sive pho­to­graphic equip­ment to fully cap­ture him, but I don’t need a photo to re­mem­ber this en­counter – the time I fi­nally met a uni­corn of the African bush.

Un­der­stand­ably, Pa­furi Camp will now al­ways have a spe­cial place in my heart. But then, it is set in such a unique part of South Africa, that it’s easy for it to find a space in most peo­ple’s hearts, pan­golin or no pan­golin.

RETURNAFRICA spe­cialises in walk­ing sa­faris and they of­fer a num­ber of op­tions rang­ing in du­ra­tion from a few hours to sev­eral days out in the bush. You have a choice of rough­ing it in a sleep­ing bag un­der the stars; com­ing back to the com­fort of tents and bucket show­ers at their walk­ing camp; or even just opt­ing for short walks from the lux­ury of the main camp – for those who want to ex­pe­ri­ence the bush on foot but don’t want to forgo the com­forts of G&TS and three-course meals to do it. Tree Fever If you are one of the lat­ter types, and only do one walk while you are here, opt for the Fever Tree For­est. With its el­e­gant, straight trunk and its distinc­tive top-to­toe dust­ing of bright yel­low pow­der, the fever tree is eas­ily one of South­ern Africa’s most beau­ti­ful trees. So you can just imag­ine the ef­fect of mass­ing thou­sands of them in a swathe of for­est that runs for kilo­me­tres – it is ut­terly breath­tak­ing. It is a photographer’s par­adise, es­pe­cially as its moods change through­out the day, and be­cause it is fre­quented by a host of game, from herds of eland and ze­bra to ba­boons and buf­falo. Nearby Reed­buck Vlei forms part of the Makuleki Wet­lands, an im­por­tant Ram­sar site for mi­grat­ing wa­ter birds. On a good day, you could see hun­dreds of yel­low-billed storks here, as well as spoon­bills, var­i­ous types of geese, herons, and even pel­i­cans. The Baob­abs Are Watch­ing As well as its fever trees, this far north­ern corner of the coun­try is also well-known for its baob­abs. You’ll vir­tu­ally trip over them as you ex­plore the con­ces­sion, with each one seem­ing to dwarf the one be­fore it. None, how­ever, even come close to the Big Baobab of Pa­furi – a spec­tac­u­lar be­he­moth of a tree that has been watch­ing over this land­scape for hun­dreds, if not thou­sands of years. It would have watched over this land when few, if any, hu­mans walked it; it would have wit­nessed great floods and droughts; and it would have cast a wary eye over the shenani­gans of the poach­ers and out­laws who en­camped up here in the early 20th cen­tury to evade the long arm of the law.

Most fa­mous among th­ese out­laws was Bvekenya (“the man who swag­gers” in Shangaan), a no­to­ri­ously suc­cess­ful ele­phant hunter who favoured this part of the coun­try due to the con­flu­ence of the bor­ders of three coun­tries – South Africa, Mozam­bique, and Zim­babwe – where the Lim­popo and Lu­vu­vhu Rivers meet. It made bor­der-hop­ping all the eas­ier, from whichever coun­try’s law­men were on their way, into ei­ther of the other two whose law­men weren’t. Lit­tle won­der that this bor­der in­ter­sec­tion is known – even to­day – as Crook’s Corner.

Th­ese days, the gi­ant baobab mainly watches over tourists and an­i­mals, in­clud­ing a whis­per of moths who rise up in a won­der­ful flurry of or­ange wings when you wan­der past.

To feel a lit­tle bit like what it must be like to be a gi­ant baobab, it’s worth hav­ing an evening sun­downer stop at Lan­ner Gorge. The gorge is a spec­tac­u­lar mon­u­ment to the power of na­ture, as the Lu­vu­vhu River has carved out its steep sides (in some places as high as 150 m) over mil­len­nia. Di­nosaur fos­sils have even been found here.

Stand­ing atop a rocky out­crop, glass of wine in hand, look­ing down into the gorge, ev­ery­thing seems small and dwarf-like and for a brief mo­ment, you feel a lit­tle like an an­cient baobab. Of all the places you could root your­self to spend the next few hun­dred years, I doubt there are many more spec­tac­u­lar than Pa­furi – for trees and hu­mans alike.

For more info, visit www.mtbeds.co.za, or call +27 11 921 0280.

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