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

Berg-en-Dal beauty

The Kruger National Park is inherently a part of South Africa’s DNA, much like biltong and boerewors. In the next few issues, two of our regular contributors, Anton and Natasha Schutte, will take a closer look at their favourite rest camps in this jewel of Africa. First up is the Berg-en-Dal rest camp in the southwest corner of the park.

If a visit to the Kruger National Park is not on your bucket list, you should update your list. It is important to remember, though, that it’s about more than just the Big Five and those picture-perfect sightings in the Kruger. Most visitors drive through the park with the visitors’ map book at hand, on their way to all the Big Five hotspots, utterly unaware of the subtle changes in the park’s ecosystems as you move from rest camp to rest camp. And it is precisely here, in the seemingly invisible, where the true charm of the Kruger lies.

In 1970 a massive research study was commissioned, focusing on studying the park’s varying fauna and flora. This study, which took place over several years with the botany section led by William Gretenbach, recorded more than 3 000 unique botanical areas. In 1983, a report entitled “Landscapes of the KNP” was published in the scientific journal Kudu. The report, which contained complete detail of geology, plants and animals, identified 35 different ecosystems in the park, which covers 19 485 km².

This study was significant in terms of decisions regarding the location of rest camps and waterholes in the park. Berg-en-Dal rest camp is sited in one of these unique biomes, representing a key ecological part of the KNP. Deep in the most mountainous region of the park, one finds the Malelane mountain/bushveld biome. It is situated in the most southwestern part of the park and boasts the highest mountain peaks, which include Khandzalive (839 m), Tlhalabye (630 m) and Matjulu (627 m). The biome falls in the highest rainfall area and is one of the cooler camps to visit during the hot summer months.

The Berg-en-Dal rest camp was developed in the late 1980s and needs little explanation as to how it gots its name. The area has a very long and interesting history. During construction of the camp, Stone Age and Iron Age remains were found, dating back hundreds of years. These valuable artefacts are now on display at the camp.

In the late 1800s, the area was world-famous among hunters. Excessive hunting almost completely ruined the area and, together with the outbreak of the rinderpest, President Paul Kruger declared the region a protected area in 1884. And so the Sabie Game Reserve, between the Sabie and Crocodile Rivers, was born. This was the forerunner of the Kruger National Park. However, things remained dire initially, before Paul Kruger appointed Colonel James Stevenson-Hamilton as head ranger to turn things around. One can write books about this nature lover’s contribution to conservation, but let’s get back to Berg-en-Dal.

About 5 km outside the town of Malelane – which boasts an airstrip for easy access – is the Malelane gate which provides access to the KNP. From this gate, you take the H3 and after about 2 km, you turn left onto the S110 tar road. In this section, you should already pay close attention since leopards are often spotted. Bird watchers can be on the lookout for the large predatory eagles that nest here. The trees on this road mainly consist of Magic Guarrie (Euclea Divinorum) and various Weeing Bushwillow (Combretum Collinum) species. The sweet grass that grows here at the foot of the mountain valley attracts several plains game – sightings of rather large zebra herds have been reported.

Rhino respect

About 10 km further, you are greeted by the rhino plate at the Berg-en-Dal entrance gate. This is the first sign that this camp honours this endangered species. The unique information centre at reception is quite a treat, with a wealth of interesting information on both white and black rhinos, as well as the rest of the world’s rhino species.

From an accommodation perspective, Berg-en-Dal offers 92 rondavels in which between four and eight people can sleep. The hardy brick chalets may not be everyone’s idea of luxury, but they are neat, clean and comfortable with excellent braai facilities. There are also two guest houses with several bedrooms. Campers can choose you can choose from 82 lovely, shady stands. With a bit of luck, you may get a spot next to the fence. Remember, in the Kruger you do not book a specific site, so try to set up camp early in the morning to secure a good stand.

The camp has a large swimming pool that offers reprieve during the hot summer months, plus a laundry room, filling station and shop that provides almost everything from wood, food, clothes and drinks to memorabilia and gifts for the family. There is even a mailbox for those folks who still believe in writing letters and sending postcards.

Large trees provide ample shade around the small restaurant where you can sit and look for waterbirds that have made the Matujulu Dam their home. The Pied Kingfisher regularly catches fish here, and the rare Dwarf Bittern makes an occasional appearance. White-backed herons also nest here and rare birds such as the African Finfoot and Orange-winged Pytillia have been spotted. Be sure to pack your hiking boots for the Rhino Hiking Trail which covers a large part of the camp. It is a convenient hiking trail along the fence, with rich birdlife and elephants strolling next to you on their side of the fence. The hiking trail is wheelchair friendly and has regular Braille information boards containing interesting snippets of information and the area’s history.

There is also a memorial plaque in honour of a young ranger, Charles Aldridge Swart, who lost his life in 1998 near the Matjulu watering hole. While guests were relaxing next to the water during a night drive, Charles moved to the Matsulwane Bridge to listen to the night sounds. With his rifle on his lap, a leopard jumped on him, and before anyone could help, the young ranger lost his life. Captain Albert Makuleke followed the leopard’s trail and discovered that it suffered from severe tuberculosis and had not eaten for a very long time. It was decided to put down the leopard.

Several aloe species bloom in the winter months, and no Scarlet-chested Sunbird can resist these beautiful orange flowers. The chirping of White-browed Scrub Robins wakes you up in the morning, in time to hit the road to explore the area. At the southwestern foothills of this area, visitors can admire a high concentration of bushman drawings, dating back 1 500 to 3 000 years. This attraction is only accessible by booking a spot on the Bushman Walking Trail at reception.

There is a self-driving road around the Berg-en-Dal rest camp, and although it contains fewer gravel roads and loops than other camps in the Kruger, this short stretch of road will entertain you all day. Pack your coolbox and explore the Majulu loop around the camp while marvelling at the picturesque mounds and valleys. Look out for klipspringers and rheebuck (reed buck), which only occur in this area of the Kruger. Rhinos and elephants are abundant around here, and although the area is not known for predators, they are spotted from time to time (especially leopards and wild dogs). Scarce antelope species such as the sable antelope and bastergemsbok (hybrid gemsbok) can also be found in the area.

The S110 Matjulu detour loop (Matjula is Shangaan and means “Place of the Zulus”) is located in the heart of the southern biomes. The waterhole near the road attracts many species, especially in the dry winter months. It is an ideal place to enjoy a sundowner as it is not too far from the camp (only 4.3 km). Be careful not to get so lost in the beautiful surroundings at the waterhole that you miss the gate closing time – remember, you can get a hefty fine! The Matjulu lookout point (627 m) is just past the waterhole, with an unrestricted view of the breathtaking landscape. The longer route, the S120 Steilberg Road, is an early-morning favourite as the the golden light of the sun hides behind the hills and offers outstanding photo opportunities. The route is 8 km long and takes about two hours to complete. The granite hills, with fertile clay soil, create the perfect conditions for trees to thrive.

The Wolhuter Hiking Trail was the first of its kind in Kruger National Park and is named after Harry Wolhuter, one of the park’s early rangers. He wrote the book Memories of a Game Ranger which tells the story of his narrow escape after an attack by two lions. It is located between the Skipberg and Afsaal picnic areas, and bookings are managed from the Berg-en-Dal rest camp. This route is a must for any hiker worth his salt. Skipberg is a collection of massive rock formations that form a solitary hill that looks like a ship’s hull (hence the name, of course). It forms a striking contrast with the surrounding area and can be optimally appreciated on this hiking trail. Berg-en-Dal is certainly not your typical rest camp in-between the fevered rush to find the Big Five. Oh, no! This particular camp takes you on a journey back in time, with the unique environment and millennia of ancient events such as the quest to find a trade route to Delgoa Bay and the gold rush of the 18th century.

When you drive back to the Malelane gate and start noticing the farms and industries, you once again realise – with deep gratitude – how important important it was that people like Paul Kruger and Stevenson Hamilton worked to this area for posterity. Thank you, Oom Paul!

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