It is hot! The landscape has been an unending dreariness of dry thorn bushes with barely a pimple of a koppie to break the monotony. The ‘off the beaten track’ route that I chose is nightmarish with kilometres and kilometres of car-eating potholes. I panic. Have I really made my long-suffering husband drive for five hours of hell to indulge my ‘Out of Africa’ notion, a self-catering getaway at the intimate and unfenced Limpopo Forest Tented Camp in Greater Mapungubwe, a place so remote and off the grid that not even Google maps knows about it?
Finally, we turn into a gravel road … and the landscape changes. We begin to encounter my favourite tree, the baobab, and all is well in my world because I have never met a baobab that I don’t like. Each one of these immense giants has their own distinct character, silent sentinels that have dominated the landscape for eons, making them, in my opinion, the undisputed kings of the bush.
A single plastic boom pole, a tiny guard hut, and a warthog family wallowing in a mud pool on the road are the only signs indicating that we might be near to our destination. The short drive to the camp is an unexpected surprise as we enter a lush and verdant woodland forest, a secret garden filled with an abundance of wildlife, great and small.
The unfenced camp is a delight! Eight spacious safari-style tents, each with their own private boma, nestle in pairs at the base of four large nyala trees surrounded by a sea of grass so green that it hurts your eyes. And in the middle of the camp, the welcoming azure blue of a swimming pool. I have chosen well.
It is unbearably hot! After a quick and sweaty unpack we forego a game drive to wallow in the pool, the only part of the camp that is fenced. A woodland kingfisher joins us, flitting in and out of the water. A stately impala ram walks sedately along the fence, he pauses to inspect us, and decides we are not worthy of his attention. Vervet monkeys play a sliding game down one of the tent roofs but stop to inspect us from the safety of the branches above. They soon find us quite dull and return to their game. A family of banded mongooses peer out of the long grass, the elders chitter to their young, no doubt warning them about these strange beasties in the water. From the comfort of the water we are offered a unique perspective of the inhabitants of this secret garden in the green season, or maybe, it is the other way around?
As the last of the light fades, a cacophony of birds bid the sun a good night, a signal for us to retreat to the safety of our boma. Wine glasses in hand, we lounge around our campfire savouring our seclusion in this remote wilderness. The firelight is mesmerising, flickering and chasing shadows across the boma wall. A slow, plaintive and drawn out ‘WHOoooOOP’ breaks the silence of the African night. It’s a hyena! A healthy dose of fear trickles down my spine, the boma wall suddenly seems quite flimsy and insubstantial. I take a large, calming gulp of wine and remind myself that it looked perfectly robust during the daylight and, wine soaked human isn’t really a favourite hyena dish, is it?
At dawn, we are woken by the satisfied grunts of a mamma warthog and her piglets’ squeals of delight as they root in the grass outside our tent. We enjoy our morning coffee from the comfort of our bed, observing their antics. The birds commence their dawn greeting and dainty bushbuck graze on the lush green grass. It’s blissful, a perfect way to start the day. Over the next few days we remain the only humans in this green season secret garden. I can understand why, it’s fiendishly hot! We escape the heat by moving between the cool shade of the nearby Maloutswa Pan bird hide, viewing the abundant wildlife, and the swimming pool where we are the ones who appear to on view.
And all too soon it’s time to pack up and leave the magnificent solitude of this secret garden to return to the city, but we are stuck! There appears to be a turf war going on between rival vervet monkey gangs. At stake is the short path between our tent and our car. There is nothing to do but grab a cold drink and watch this rather democratic process unfold from our tent. Each gang selects an emissary, choosing the largest-looking guy to send into the confrontation. He postures, standing on his hind legs to appear as large and imposing as possible. He charges forward a few meters, pauses, and howls abuse at the opposition before beating a hasty retreat back to the group where he is greeted with congratulatory, or maybe they are conciliatory, murmurings and intensive grooming. It is now the other gang’s turn to send forth their champion. After a while the two gangs move off to feed, I’m not sure if they lost interest or if someone did win this skirmish, but for us it is also time to move on … and to leave behind this lush secret garden that turned out to be the ultimate destination.
Good to know…
GOOD TO KNOW:
It is hot, really really hot! The green season at Limpopo Forest Tented Camp is very brief – the rest of the year it is dry and arid, and still quite warm during the day.
Limpopo Forest Tented camp is unfenced and forms a part of SANPark’s greater Mapungubwe National Park. The area where the camp is situated is separated from the main park by private lands and is quite small with most of the property consisting of reclaimed farm lands. The check-in is at the Mapungubwe Main gate and then you have to drive a further forty-odd kilometres around the park to get to Limpopo Forest Tented Camp.
Take everything that you will need as there are no shops nearby. The nearest towns are Alldays seventy kilometres away, and Musina a hundred kilometres away. And don’t forget to refuel!
And whatever you do, don’t follow our route via Swartrivier to Alldays, rather drive up through Musina, the road is infinitely better.
Cell phone signal is non-existent.
DISCLOSURE: I have no commercial relationship with SANParks or any of its affiliates. All photographs, experiences and opinions expressed in this blog post are my own.