The Valley of the Olifants
The region of Limpopo known as the Valley of the Olifants (The Valley of the Elephants) stretches from the Paul Kruger Gate of the Kruger National Park, includes the area of Park to the North of that gate, and extends North to a line drawn from the Pafuri Gate in the extreme North of the Park to Soekmekaar following the line of the escarpment to the Blyde River Canyon. Here is the true lowveld, largely unspoilt for hundreds of years, a vast area full of the splendour of Africa’s wild life. The whole area is being incorporated into the Gaza-Kruger-Gonarezhou Park, a trans-frontier conservation area stretching over 35 000 square kms and involving Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
The Valley of the Olifants is not only rich in wildlife, but offers a spectacular scene of mountains, rivers and dams. Witness the movement of vast herds of antelope and buck crossing the vast open plains. Here can be found wandering herds of elephant – there are some 8000 in Kruger, prides of lion, all the big five in fact. This is Africa, where vast numbers of mopane trees dominate the veld. In the North the mopane bushveld is interrupted by the dominating sight of the baobab, the upside-down tree. The mountains in the North are smaller and dotted about in the vast plain. To the West are the more dominating Soutpansberg mountains, while the Drakensberg escarpment is far to the south-west. On the plains in the North can be found herds of rarer antelope such as eland, roan, tsessebe, nyala and the magnificent sable.
On the eastern side of the Valley of the Olifants lies the northern part of the Kruger National Park. This part of the Kruger Park has several rest camps, but this northern area is wilder than the South. The rest camps are fewer and the distances between them greater. But this does not detract from the magnificence of it all – indeed it makes the bushveld even more wild and wonderful. The camps in the northern sector (Mopani, Shingwedzi and Punda Maria) all have filling stations but accommodation facilities are rather less sophisticated than some of the camps in the South.
Situated in the very South of the Valley of the Olifants is the town of Hoedspruit (Hat Creek), well known as the main airbase of the South African Air Force. This beautiful unspoilt part of the Valley is surrounded by several large private game reserves – Balule, Klaserie, Timbavati and Thornybush to name but a few. These reserves border the vast National Park to their East and generally speaking there are no game fences between them and Kruger. It is essential to book ahead to stay in any of the lodges at these camps, and accommodation can be expensive but in most cases is extremely luxurious. These are the game lodges to visit if you want to rub shoulders with Hollywood stars.
At Blyde River and Swadini there are Aventura Resorts – these are large and comfortable resorts offering many different activities. There is comfortable accommodation and a restaurant with bar facilities. All Aventura resorts have fresh water swimming pools.
Along the cliffs of the escarpment and plunging down to the Valley of the Olifants can be found more than 500 species of birds – more than half of South Africa’s total bird species. In the Hoedspruit district alone are many of South Africa’s rarest and most beautiful birds. Sunbirds galore can be seen feasting on the Coral tree blossoms in early Spring. Here can be seen the rare Knysna Lourie and the Purplecrested Lourie. The Valley of the Olifants is truly a birdwatcher’s paradise.