Mutale Falls Camp

The place: A spectacular hillside in the Makuya Nature Reserve, overlooking the Mutale River and northern Kruger

Co-operative: Mutale Falls Tourism Primary Co-operative Limited

Beneficiary villages: Mutele B, Mukoma , Domboni , Makuya, Bennde Mutale, Musunda, Gunda, Lambani and Nkotswi

The people: VhaVenda

Best known for: Challenging 4X4 trails, the Big Five, birds, baobabs, knockout scenery

The heart of Mutale Falls Camp is the Mutale River – the same one that ‘swims’ through Lake Fundudzi to the south, a tributary of the Luvuvhu. Here it snakes its way below the camp’s stunning eyrie, surrounded by bushveld spiked with baobab trees. One of only two tourist camps in the Makuya Reserve – the 16,000 hectares forming the northern border of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park – Mutale Falls attracts the adventurer. Those who battle the 4×4 15-km road in from Makuya Gate generally come for the thrill, as well as for the rich birdlife and endless horizons of breathtaking wilderness. Like Letaba Ranch, Makuya no longer has a fence separating it from Kruger National Park, so shares Kruger’s species and related activities. The Big Five are around, but not that easy to see given the dense bush – except down by the rivers. There are other thrills, however: one recent guest had been searching for a Pel’s Fishing Owl for 27 years, and finally spotted one in a tree in the river just below camp. And then there are the views that will make you gasp.

Five safari tents on wooden decks perch on top of cliffs overlooking the Mutale River far below. Each tent has two three-quarter beds, and an en suite bathroom with hand basin, flush toilet and shower. A communal kitchen and dining area bring guests together to admire the expansive views. Crockery, cutlery and pots are provided, as well as a gas hob, fridge and freezer. There’s a small braai area a few steps above, tucked into the forest. Solar and paraffin lanterns provide light at night. Guests are advised to bring wood and drinking water, and to take precautions against malaria.

Local Viewpoints – There are several elevated spots from which to survey the jaw-dropping panoramas nearby. At World’s View, stop for a picnic or sundowner at the cliff-edge where “you can see tomorrow,” the views stretch that far — east into northern Kruger, north and south.  Luvuvhu Gorge offers another awesome vantage point, its sandstone cliffs dropping steeply down to the Luvuvhu River. Not far from camp is a lovely waterfall where quite a few couples have pledged their troth. Camp guides told us the story of a recent proposal: the would-be groom had written “Will you marry me?” in the sand on the riverbank below, and when his beloved read the message from the top of the falls, she climbed down and wrote one word next to his question: “Yes.” And then the tears flowed.

River Walks – Camp guides can take you down for hikes along the river, depending upon your whim and fitness. Given that it’s a Big Five area, no solo hiking allowed.

Awelani Caves – A worthy stopover before arriving at or after leaving Mutale Falls Camp is Awelani Lodge, also managed by TFPD – a tranquil sanctuary 12 kilometres from Kruger’s Pafuri Gate on the R525 and home to a set of ancient caves with rock paintings and old granaries. Local Venda people inhabited the caves for centuries, as recently as the 1970s. Guests staying over at Awelani can request a candlelit supper/braai in one of the biggest caves, with the Milky Way appearing through the sandstone crevasse overhead.

Fishing – Day permits are available at Makuya Gate for fishing in restricted areas in the reserve, for tiger fish (catch and release), tilapia and barbel. You must bring your own equipment.

Pafuri, KNP – Arguably Kruger’s most beautiful section, Pafuri is a place to visit at least once in your life, preferably repeatedly. Highlights there include the drive along the Luvuvhu River, where you’re apt to see lots of elephants, crocs and hippos as well as an array of northern Kruger’s renowned birdlife. The riverine forest along the river, and the golden-green fever tree forest nearby, are magical. Picnic by the river at the Pafuri Picnic Site, with vervet monkeys patiently waiting for a handout. Not far off lies Crook’s Corner, where Cecil ‘Bvekenya’ Barnard, the legendary elephant hunter/poacher, and his peers often evaded the law by crossing international boundaries – now those of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Pafuri is also home to the dramatic Lanner Gorge; from the top of its cliffs you can stare off into several different countries.

Thulamela – All that visibly remains of this ancient kingdom are a series of dry-packed stone walls and foundations of former royal homes and common areas. But it’s still wondrous. The kingdom, carbon dated to 1240-1640 AD, was a flourishing trade centre and part of Great Zimbabwe culture. Definitely worth a visit; inside Pafuri, but tours are booked/start at Punda Maria Camp, KNP (013-735-6873).

Sagole Baobab Tree – Baobab trees – Adansonia digitata — have for centuries fascinated travelers, and been used by local people for a variety of food, drink and remedies. South Africa’s overall largest baobab – the Sagole Baobab in Zwigodini village east of Tshipise, Venda – has a trunk diametre of 10.47 metres,  a crown diametre of 38.2 metres and is 22 metres high. No one can confirm its age exactly, but estimates cite well over 1000 years. Worth a short stopover off the R525 on the way to Masisi and Mutale Falls Camp; entry fee is R30 at the gate.