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

Letaba – Always a Winner!

As the year draws to a close, the annual prizegiving ceremonies in the movie industry. We always try to guess which camps in the Kruger National Park will receive the top awards, but it remains a difficult task! However, one category we never have any doubts about relates to the trophy for versatility – which, in our minds, will always go to the Letaba rest camp, ideally located midway between the southern and northern borders of the park.

If had to describe the Letaba rest camp and the surrounding area to someone who has never been there, the words ‘diverse versatility’ come to mind, followed by ‘idyllic’ (especially during the beautiful, lush summer months). Letaba means ‘river of sand’ in Sesotho – quite apt since the camp boasts a beautiful view over a large part of the riverbed and the Letaba valley. During the winter months, the massive sandbank is quite charming, but it is even more special when it becomes a vast body of water after good summer rainfall.

Long before the Kruger National Park’s creation (in the 1800’s), the Letaba area was inhabited by a group of Sotho-speaking Ba-Phalaborwa people. They were mostly cattle farmers with expansive iron-smelting experience – but more about them later. For now, let’s explore the camp and its surroundings. Letaba is located about 50km from the Phalaborwa gate, which means it’s  conveniently central if you want to explore the north of the Kruger. Surrounded by various eco-zones and geographical locations, you will have loads to do and experience. Directly around the camp, you will mostly find mopani veld on granite but as soon as you drive toward the river, the dry field turns into beautiful trees and a green landscape that makes you wonder if it is summer or winter.

The camp itself is so well laid out that you don’t even need to drive around for game viewing. Here, you can view the wildlife from your veranda at your chalet, which means a Letaba breakaway ensures ample relaxation. A few years ago, visitors often saw lion and cheetah kills right on their doorstep at the restaurant area (especially during the intense drought that hit the Lowveld from 2010 to 2015). The game came to drink at the water still left after the long winter months, making them sitting ducks for opportunistic predators! So, keep your binoculars and camera handy – you never know what might unfold right before your eyes during breakfast!

The cute bushbucks hide from predators in the camp and are very friendly (still – never feed them!), while the monkeys are also very active in the camp. If you like walking, the camp is perfect and boasts a large variety of trees, neatly marked with nameplates. See how many tree species you can spot on your morning or afternoon walk and read up on them – that way, your Kruger holidays become so much more meaningful. We adore the many Natal Ashwood, Appelblaar, palms and large feverberry trees that attract hundreds of birds and other animals to the park.

Camp classics

The Letaba camp is a melting pot of activity, with tree squirrels running and scratching everywhere, while the massive fruit bats at dusk keep you on your toes. At night, the camp comes to life in a symphony of sounds – Nightjars, Pearl-spotted Owlets, African Scops Owls, frog choirs and thick-tailed bush babies create the perfect atmosphere. We love to take our flashlights and explore the nightlife in the camp for a completely different experience! And what would camping in the Kruger be without the roar of a lion or the laughter of a hyena in the distance? There are approximately 60 stands for campers – but be quick with your bookings during the winter months, as it fills up very quickly! Remember that stands are not pre-allocated, and the so-called first come-first serve principle applies – so if you want to find a spot next to the fence, you’d better show up early! The beautiful sparking pool is centrally located and packed when the mercury rises into the low 40’s during the summer months. If camping is not your thing, you can choose from smaller and larger chalets (with river views).

During our recent visit (in October 2023), we were delighted to see that the camp shop – which burned down a few years ago – has been rebuilt and carries ample stock (including fresh fruit and veggies). Should you not feel like cooking, the large restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating is very convenient. Here you can sit and sip on coffee or an ice-cold beer, with a beautiful view of the river… and the food is rather delish, too! But regardless of how excellent the camps are, we don’t go to the Kruger for accommodation and restaurants, do we?

A major attraction at Letaba is the elephant museum, with the ivory tusks of six of the Kruger’s largest elephants – the so-called Magnificent Seven on display. The museum is well laid out and excellently maintained, with in-depth exhibits that highlight the evolution, biology, behavioural patterns and ecology of the African elephant. Here, you can stand next to the skeleton of an elephant and see how big they really are, and you can even see what a real elephant heart looks like! Did you know that elephants have a very slow heartbeat (about 30 times per minute)? This is probably why they are always so calm, peaceful and unbothered by the world around them! And did you know that an elephant’s skin is about 2.5cm thick?

Another must-do activity in the area is visiting the Masorini Ruins, about 38km west of the camp. As mentioned earlier, this area was the home of the ancestors of the Ba-Phalaborwa people, who made a living from iron smelting. The Smelters (as they were known), made a living on the lower terrace of the Masorini and the Forgers in the higher areas simply because they had a higher position in society. Today, Masorini is a restored village with stone walls, whetstones and what remains of the foundry, including a smelting furnace dating back to the 19th century. There are also some implements from the Stone Age.

Article and photos by ANTON & NATASHA SCHUTTE, Sunset Adventure Travels

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest

You might also like

A TRUCK CALLED WANDA

With wanderlust virtually embedded in their DNA and a yearning to travel flowing through their veins, the Browns named their trusty Hilux Wanda. Together they

Read More »

A TRUCK CALLED WANDA

With wanderlust virtually embedded in their DNA and a yearning to travel flowing through their veins, the Browns named their trusty Hilux Wanda. Together they

Read More »