Pafuri—it’s a legendary destination, and I’ve always wanted to visit. It’s also pretty far off the beaten path and not the sort of place you pass by incidentally. The stars aligned in December, and I finally got a chance to visit Return Africa’s Pafuri Camp. This property was once run by Wilderness Safaris, but the flooding Luvuvhu River leveled much of the camp in 2013. Return Africa rebuilt and reopened the camp on the northern bank of the river a little over a year ago.

Now I understand why many nature lovers consider Pafuri their favourite place—the landscapes, the remoteness, the birding, the beauty and the untamed wilderness are all hard to top. Here are five great things about Pafuri:

 

#1) It’s Wild & Remote

Pafuri is a region as far north as you can get in Kruger National Park. It abuts Zimbabwe to the north and Mozambique to the east. Part of the area is a private concession belonging to the Makuleke people who once lived in the area. They won the concession back from the South African government in a historic court battle in the 1990s. Although it’s still part of Kruger National Park, only guests of the private lodges in the Makuleke Concession can traverse beyond the one paved road that leads from the Luvuvhu River bridge to the Pafuri park gate.

Featured Lodge: Pafuri Camp

 

#2 Lanner Gorge

Lanner Gorge is spectacular, probably one of the best views in all of Kruger. It’s an expansive view of the Luvuvhu River as it cuts deep through a rocky valley. There’s something to see in all directions, and it’s a great spot for landscape photography and sundowners. This amazing feature is off limits to everyone except those staying in the private concession, so it’s likely you’ll have the place to yourself. Far off in the distance, our guide Calvin pointed out a baobab forest that looked incredible–a concentrated grove of hundreds of baobab trees. He said the only way to reach it is on foot. What an adventure that would be!

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#3 Fantastic Birding

Pafuri is as far north as you can get in South Africa. Many topical species reach the southern terminus of their distribution here. Similarly, many southern species occur here too. So, the diversity is amazing. Birders know the area as one of the best spots to find the rare Pel’s fishing owl. The best time to see them is during the dry season when they stay near reliable fishing holes like the deeper pools of the Luvuvhu River. Although I ticked a few lifers from my bird list, I wasn’t lucky enough to see a Pel’s during my wet season visit. I did however see this pair of Verreaux’s eagle owls. We stopped on a night drive to watch a lion drinking from the waterhole and only then noticed the owls perched high above. Summer is fantastic for migrant birds at Pafuri too, and the air is thick with the calls of all the cuckoos. 

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#4 Crooks’ Corner

The area has a fascinating history. During my visit, I was reading T.V. Bulpin’s The Ivory Trail, an account of the infamous outlaws and ivory smugglers that resided here through the early 1900s. The confluence of the Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers marks the international boundaries between South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. This area is known as Crooks’ Corner because outlaws found it a useful place to evade capture. They simply crossed the border to avoid which ever country’s law enforcement happened to be looking for them at the time. In fact, legend has it that Bvekenya, the famous ivory poacher who set up permanent camp at Crooks’ Corner, actually pried up the beacon marking the international boundary and simply moved that to suit the situation rather than moving his camp. It was exciting to see the foundations of some of the buildings mentioned in the book and hear our guide Calvin talk about all the archaeological artifacts that he has seen while walking through the bush.

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#5 Fever Tree Forests

The incredible fever tree forests in this area have a definite fairy-tale feel to them. They seem almost primordial. The filtered light is fantastic for photography. Unfortunately, when I visited it was too muddy to drive the road through the biggest fever tree forest, but we visited a smaller version on foot. As if I need a reason to return to Pafuri!

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