Northern Kruger Park- the Mphongolo loop

On our second day in the northern part of Kruger National Park, based in Punda Maria, we travelled south along the H1-7 road towards Shingwedzi camp. On the way there is a wonderful drive along the Mphongolo loop which follows the Mphongolo river. This 20 kilometre loop offers one of the most productive drives in the Kruger Park.

“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.” ~ Mark Twain

Mphongolo means a very spiritual person who often relies on intuition for decision making.

There are many windows through the trees that give you a view down to the Mphongolo river and each time you look through nature’s window you may see something unexpected and special.

“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” ~Ram Dass

It is strange how some scenes have a profound effect on one. It must have been 40 years ago when I cut out a picture from a magazine of a bushbuck in a dry sand river bed similar to this one with a buffalo bull standing in the river bed. The large fig tree created a nostalgic background. I love the enormity of the scene where even a massive buffalo bull is small in the scene. The sand riverbed is big with massive trees rimming the banks. It was quiet and the buffalo bull was listening for the slightest dissonance above the gentle rustle of the leaves.

The Mphongolo river has plenty of water in its deep bends. Wherever the river hit a section of sandstone it meandered around it. At each bend, on the outside edge of the riverbed, the water travelled fastest so dug deepest into the river bed. This left relatively deep pools of water even after the river had stopped flowing. The Mphongolo river is know to be home to many Nile crocodiles.

Looking down onto this section of the river, we saw a small pod of hippos in the water and a pair of Woolly-necked storks foraging in the shallows. An adult Woolly-necked stork has glossy black upperparts and wings, with a tinge of purple and copper, except the lower underparts, which are white. This stork has a distinctive woolly white neck which reaches the back of the head. One of the interesting aspects of looking at this river bend was that at first you did not see anything. With patience and quiet, slowly and carefully mother nature began to reveal herself.

Down near the river’s bend a kudu bull appeared. He was thirsty but alert and would stop every few paces to look and listen and smell. Having assessed the situation correctly he had a peaceful drink at the river before melting back into the bush where his family must have been foraging.

Where the river bends around an obstacle, the outer bend is usually deeper. We found an adult Grey heron hunting in the deeper section of the river bend. I am always amazed how apparently casual most Grey and Goliath herons are when wading in the crocodile infected waters of southern Africa. I have never heard a plausible explanation for this behaviour. Crocs will happily take doves and Egyptian geese from the river bank if they can but they don’t seem to attack herons.

You will seldom find a bird flying towards you. This Grey heron must have been spooked by something and the only way out was to fly along the river towards me.

A relaxed female waterbuck chewing her cud. She belongs to the large family of bovids, which are plant-eating hooved animals with horns and a four-chambered stomach. Bovid’s diet is mainly grass and foliage. These ruminants regurgitate and re-chew their food (chew the cud).

A Pearl-spotted owlet. They are often seen out in the open in the mornings. The pearls on its forehead were quite noticeable. It looked at us sternly for a few minutes before flying off to a quieter spot. This is one of the smallest owls in southern Africa. It is “earless”, meaning is does not have prominent tufts of feathers on either side of its head which can be seen on the much larger Spotted and Cape Eagle-owls. The Pearl-spotted owlet has white spots on its head not bars as seen on the African Barred owlet. The Pearl-spotted owlet also has brown streaks on its chest whereas the African Barred owlet has barring on its chest.

Further along the river we saw a family herd of elephants drinking water from the narrow rivulet flowing meandering along the riverbed. Some family members were foraging on the bushes along the river. Again the size of the scene is dimensioned by the relatively small size of the elephants.

“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking of how things may be, see them as they are.” ~ Samuel Johnson

Further along, a pair of southern Africa giraffe were ambling along the river bed. Presumably they were looking for a bend with pools of water and enough space for them not to be ambushed while they are drinking.

The epitome of peace. All we could hear were Ring necked turtle doves, starlings and the cackle of the odd Egyptian goose. Some members of the elephant family were drinking while the older members just stood patiently waiting for the others to finish. The water was not deep enough for them to bathe in. If it had been I am sure some of them would have been swimming too.

This loop is known for its lion, leopard and hyaena sightings. We heard from fellow travellers that they had seen lion but we could not find them. Often a special sighting is only available for a few minutes before the animal has moved back into the bush.

I hope these few scenes give you a sense of the variety of wildlife that can been seen along this gravel road. The weather was overcast but it was warm and the bush was verdant. Thankfully, there was plenty of water for the wildlife. Once we had finished the Mphongolo loop we ventured further down to the Shingwedzi camp. This is a must for our next trip to the northern Kruger.

“The curious world we inhabit is more wonderful than convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

If we were to stay at Shingwedzi camp, we could easily access the Mphongolo loop, do the loop to the Bateleur Bushveld camp, travel down to Mopani camp and follow the Dipani road from Mopani camp back to Shingwedzi camp which takes you past the Lebombo mountains and along the Shingwedzi river.

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” ~ Henry Miller

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

3 thoughts on “Northern Kruger Park- the Mphongolo loop

  1. Thanks Mike for another bushveld reveal from your latest photographic safari to the beautiful northern Kruger. I see you used an image of Wooly-necked Storks foraging in the shallows instead of Abdim’s.

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