Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

Pretoriuskop- a golden oldie!

In our previous issue, Anton and Natasha Schutte explored the rich history of the area around Pretoriuskop. However, this rest camp is not only known for its history. It is, in fact, a popular destination for seasonal campers, and ideal as a weekend getaway from the city.

Besides Berg-en-Dal, Pretoriuskop is one of the rest camps closest to Johannesburg or Pretoria. If you hit the road early on a Friday and drive through the Malelane gate, this is the rest camp of choice for a quick weekend getaway.

If you do decide on a weekend visit, you will get home pretty late on Sunday night, but as Natasha always says, “the weekend is only over when the Carte Blanche jingle fills the lounge!” Be careful when planning your return trip though, and do not be fooled by the Numbi/Phabeni gate routes which look like shortcuts on the map. These routes take you through the country side and can become quite busy as many residents return home on Sundays.

Pretoriuskop is located on the westernmost side of the park, and, in addition to its status as the oldest rest camp in the Kruger National Park, is also in the top three in terms of size. Kruger rookies are often told that Pretoriuskop does not have a rich animal life due to the area’s sour grass, and while there may be some truth to this, one has to wonder where the myriad of tracks around the rest camp come from…

What does the sour grass mean in terms of animal movement? In short, the fact that Pretoriuskop is in a granite eco-zone with sour grass means that the so-called specialist grazers, such as zebras and wildebeest, avoid the area since the grass is not sweet enough. However, a lot of other plains game can be spotted, and the area boasts a special bird life, which includes the Brown snake eagle and the tiny African barred owlet.

This sour grass granite biome starts about 9km from the Numbi Gate and the surrounding area is characterised by quite a few tall hills. The Shabeni Head (759m) is not far from the camp and towers above Manungu (689m), Sitfungwane (691m) and Skipberg (662m). Pretoriuskop boasts the highest rainfall in the game reserve (approximately 765mm per year) and is viewed as the camp with the most moderate temperatures – which makes it ideal during in the hot Lowveld summers.

The high summer rainfall does, however, mean the vegetation is dense and the grass can grow to two metres tall. This makes game viewing more challenging during summer, but in the winter months when the grass has thinned you can easily find rhino, buffalo, kudu and large herds of baboons around the camp. Lion and leopard are also frequently spotted on the hills near Pretoriuskop. Various unique antelope species, including the beautiful sable antelope, Lichtenstein hartebeest and the extremely rare roan antelope (bastergemsbok) are all great attractions. You will also find many smaller species such as dassies, klipspringer, oribi and red duiker.

The are many picturesque routes around Pretoriuskop. Closeto the camp is the S14 (Fayi loop), offering panoramic views and stunning landscapes – so keep your camera handy! When you’re done exploring the dirt roads around the camp, you can drive the historically significant Voortrekker Street (H2-2) where wilddog and cheetah are frequently spotted. With a little luck, you might just see why the cheetah is the world’s fastest mammal since they regularly hunt on these plains.

Another road to explore is the main H1-1 tar road leading to Numbi gate. Here you can turn right onto the S1, where there is an active lion pride. The large Mestel Dam attracts game aplenty, which makes it ideal for that early-morning coffee and rusk pitstop. The S3 is a bit further along, but the Big Five are often spotted here. The Transport Dam on the S66 is very popular, and the Shitlhave Dam offers a great backdrop for a late sundowner as it is conveniently close to the camp.

For adventurous visitors, there is the Madlabantu 4×4 Trail. The name is Zulu for “Man eater” and the 42km route starts at the Fayi loop, just outside Pretoriuskop. It passes through the Nsikazi River, which is known Big Five country, and ends further north on the Napi road where you will find the Mtshawu Dam near the towering Shabeni Head. The route is also used for overnight hiking trails, so do not be surprised if you see people walking in the veld. It takes about six hours to complete by car and only six 4×4 vehicles are allowed at a time. Note that this route is climate sensitive and dry river crossings can turn into mud baths during the rainy season. On our last visit to Pretoriuskop the route was closed, so inquire about its status when you book (at reception or through SANParks).

If you fancy driving around all day, you can explore the S22, where you will see the Stevenson-Hamilton Memorial Tablet. The Renosterkoppies Dam – another lovely lookout point – is only a stone’s throw away. This is home to fairly large herds of klipspringer, making it an ideal place to get close enough to these skittish antelope for a photograph.

There is a hyena den in the area and large herds of zebra and blue wildebeest regularly drink at the dam. If you want to drive a little further, the Byamiti loop (S114) with its many low-water bridges offers ample opportunities to photograph a wide variety of waterbirds. Pretoriuskop is the park’s oldest rest camp, and the residence of the first ranger in the Kruger, Harry Wolhuter. His hut can still be seen there today, and it’s worth taking a look at some of the photos at reception which give a glimpse into the area’s long history. The camp has one of the most beautiful swimming pools in the park, with large shade trees and tables where the whole family can unwind and have a picnic.

Most of the trees in the camp are clearly marked and the bird life is truly something special. The colourful African green pigeons love eating the fruit of the many wild fig trees, and the red-breasted sunbirds cannot resist the flowers in the well-kept garden close to reception, where you could also spot Red-headed weavers and Black cuckoos. The continuous “tuu, tutut,tu-tut” of the Bush shrikes will drive you mad since you can hear them all day long, but you will be very lucky if you spot one. During summer, Pretoriuskop and the surrounding area is one of the best places to spot the Pennant-winged nightjar with its beautiful long wings.

A large variety of accommodation options are available, from self-cateringto campsites with and without power. There are also family cottages and two larger guest houses. This rest camp could do with a bit of renovation work, but the large convenience store is always well-stocked and there is an ATM and restaurant. Game drives and several day-long hiking trails can also be booked at reception. A highlight for hiking addicts is the Napi Wilderness Route, a luxury three-day route offering ensuite tents, five-star catering and daily sundowners. This can be booked through SANParks and will definitely tick all your Kruger hiking trail boxes. Since Pretoriuskop is not one of the defined “popular, game-heavy areas” of the Kruger National Park, it often overlooked as a destination, but in that lies its charm for many people. This grandfather of Kruger camps offers so much more than the eye can see at first glance, so take the time to explore the4x4 and hiking trails in this piece of paradise – we promise you will return home with a warm heart and a head full of memories.

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