Kruger National Park: Mopani Camp
Mopani Camp in the northern Kruger National Park is great for camping and there’s more to see and do than you might expect, writes Villiers Steyn. Also discover Shipandani – one of only two overnight hides in the Kruger National Park.
Choose a route for a game drive
56 km, 2 hours and 40 minutes
For a chance to see a leopard on the Tsendze River, head south from Mopani on the H1-6 tar road, for about 12 km (12 km, 25 minutes).
Turn left onto the S50 gravel road and slowly head north. Stop at the Nshawu waterholes (they’re numbered 1 to 4) and look for elephant and tsessebe. In summer you have an opportunity to see green malkoha (also called green coucal) at the Nshawu Dam (14 km, 45 minutes).
After about 14 km, turn left on the S143 Tropic of Capricorn loop. It’s my favourite road in the region for ostriches, rare buck such as tsessebe and roan antelope, and elephant bulls with enormous tusks.
Scan the plains around the Tihongonyeni waterhole with your binoculars for eland, tsessebe and roan antelope. You might also see giraffe, blue wildebeest, zebra and black-backed jackal out here (14 km, 60 minutes).
Drive back to camp along the southern stretch of the S144 and the H1-6 tar road (16 km, 30 minutes).
Out all day
130 km, 6 hours
Head north along the H1-6 tar road all the way to Shingwedzi (63 km, 3 hours). Be on the lookout for buffalo at the Bowkerkop waterhole just north of Mopani and for spotted hyena near the João waterhole at Shingwedzi.
Have a sandwich at Shingwedzi and then drive back to Mopani along the S50 gravel road (±67 km, 3 hours). Keep your eyes peeled for nyala near the Kanniedood Dam. On the way back to Mopani, expect to see kudu, buffalo and elephant.
61 km, ±2½ hours
If you don’t want the late-afternoon sun in your eyes, it’s a good plan to drive the early-morning route the other way round – clockwise, in other words.
If you want to take a different path, turn right onto the S142 gravel road just south of Mopani. Drive to the Shipandani hide and look for blacksmith lapwing, three-banded plover, green-backed heron and black crake where you cross the Tsendze River.
(5 km, 10 minutes). You should also see hippo from the hide.
Then drive the full length of the S142 Shongololo loop and look for Sharpe’s grysbuck, waterbuck and zebra (36 km, 90 minutes). Drive back to camp via the H1-6 road (20 km, 45 minutes).
What else is there to do?
Walk the Mopani Trail
The Mopani path in the camp takes about 45 minutes to complete. It’s a fairly easy walk that starts next to the cafeteria, but it’s stony in places, so little ones might find it hard.
It’s best to wear long trousers to protect your legs against scratches in the long grass.
Every couple of metres there’s a green sign with information about frogs, snakes, butterflies, malaria, hippos, waterfowl and the plants. The path is clearly demarcated with yellow mopani leaves spread out like open butterfly wings.
You might see hippos, crocodiles and African fish-eagles at the Pioneer Dam. Keep a lookout for cobwebs on the last part of the trail.
Be surprised on a sunset game drive
Field guide Hennie Combrink picks me up just after 4 pm at Tsendze camp (about 10 km south of Mopani) before we go and pick up two more guests at Mopani. On our way there we see an enormous herd of buffalo crossing the H1-6 tar road. We head north. At Bowkerkop, Hennie tells us how important the baobab on the koppie is: “Various bird species nest in the baobab, from LBJs to giant southern ground-hornbills.”
On the S143 Tropic of Capricorn loop we spend 45 minutes at the Tihongonyeni waterhole. It’s like 7de Laan, because here everybody hangs out together: blue wildebeest, zebra, elephant, eland, tsessebe, warthog and ostrich all graze in a radius of about 50 m! We also see giraffe and black-backed jackal.
We see a tawny eagle, black-shouldered kite and steppe buzzard. The highlight, however, is a Montagu’s harrier flying low over the grass in search of prey, probably rodents.
Cost: A sunset game drive costs R140 per person and takes about
3 hours. You can be picked up and dropped off at Mopani or Tsendze.
Sleep in the Shipandani hide
Shipandani is one of only two overnight hides in the Kruger National Park. It’s smaller than the Sable hide at Phalaborwa gate; it can accommodate only six people.
The hide looks out over a pool in the Tsendze River. The highlight is the hippos waking you up with their nurk-nurk noises at 1 am after they’ve finished grazing.
If you have a powerful torch, see if you can spot the rare and retiring white-backed night-heron on the opposite bank of the river.
The best time to overnight in Shipandani is in autumn or spring, because in the oppressive summer heat the mozzies will carry you off piece by piece and in midwinter the nights can be very cold. Next to the hide is a fenced braai area and toilet.
Cost: R325 for the first two people and R160 extra per person (maximum six). Book in advance with SANParks (the hide can be booked for only one night).
How does it work? You get the keys, bedding and a gas light at the Mopani reception office. Bring your own food, water and wood. You may occupy the hide half an hour before the gates close and have to be out half an hour after the gates open.
Tzendze: Camp in peace
Previously there was nowhere to pitch a tent between Letaba and Shingwedzi, but SANParks has solved the problem by building the rustic Tsendze camp about 10 km south of Mopani.
It’s only for campers and doesn’t have a shop, restaurant, pool or other amenities. There’s also no electricity.
•Stands: Tsendze’s stands are excellent. They’re big, level and private. Some of the stands have little shade, however, and there are no power points. It’s also
one of the few places in the
park where stands are allocated.
If you want privacy, ask nicely at Mopani’s reception for stand 3, 4 or 26; for shade ask for stand 6; and if you’re camping in a group, stands 27 and 28 are best.
If you’ve ever wondered how big a mopani can grow, go take a look at the one on stand 14!
•Ablution facilities: Solar panels provide enough electricity to keep the bathroom lights shining at night, and gas geysers heat the water for the showers. There are two ablution blocks in the camp and both are well maintained and cleaned. The highlight is the four outdoor showers at each ablution block.
•Other facilities: The two public camping kitchens look different from the typical park kitchen. Each has five double-plate gas cookers and five basins in two long lines opposite one another.
The kitchens are finished with wooden beams and big hardwood pillars, and fit in with the earthy look. Each kitchen has a gas fridge to keep your milk and cheese cold.
•Visitors: Tsendze doesn’t have a lawn, but naturally long grass and old leadwood, mopani and apple leaf trees.
This natural garden has five owl species you can hear at night: Verreaux’s and spotted eagle-owls, pearl-spotted owlets, southern white-faced scops-owls and barn owls.
Don’t get a fright if your gas lamp lures moths the size of your hand! Take your headlamp along
if you go to the bathroom at night, because there are lots of scorpions around.
I don’t do camping
Then you had better book a rondavel at Mopani. Problem is, these rondavels have no view and all look the same. The cheapest rate is R575 a night for two.
(Note: Prices accurate in March 2010)