The Makuleke is northernmost section of the Kruger National Park. It is something of an open secret among safari aficionados, a diverse and dramatic region that is perhaps the park’s most beautiful, yet kept wonderfully quiet thanks to its remoteness and community run concession status.
Also known as the Pafuri Triangle, its shaped is formed by the winding Limpopo River to the north and the Luvuvhu River to the south, perennial watercourses whose confluence at Crook’s Corner marks the meeting point of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Depending on the water levels – and the crocodiles – it is quite possible to stand in all three countries at once.
The Luvuvhu is a magnet for elephants, nyala, buffalo and eland who abound along its lush banks. The floodplains either side are flanked with fairy-tale fever tree forests and swamps which give way to rocky kopjes, plump baobab trees, sandveld and acacia woodland. A short way upriver is the beautiful Lanner Gorge.
Big Five game viewing may not come as easy up here as it does on the savannahs of the southern Kruger, but the incredibly varied environment is more rewarding to explore. Walking safaris are a forte of the area, which make for a more exciting and intimate experience of the wilderness, and the Pafuri is regarded as one of South Africa’s prime birding spots with over 450 species recorded here, including numerous raptors and many ‘specials’ such as the rare Pel’s fishing owl.
The human heritage here too is of interest, from the late Iron Age archaeological remains at Thulamela to the present. Under the Apartheid South Africa government in 1969, this land was forcibly taken from the Makuleke people so that it could be integrated into the greater Kruger National Park. The land was returned to the tribe in the 1990s, but instead of resettling, they chose to create the current concession. This has protected ancestral land while contributing to the community financially, the small number of lodges and camps here employing local people and gaining exclusive access to the area for their guests.