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Freedom in the wilderness

6 June 2008

Why should "Kruger's new east", as it's being hyped, be part of your next park itinerary? JAZZ KUSCHKE crossed the border into Mozambique's Limpopo National Park to find out. Along with Kruger and Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, it makes up the vast Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park.

"BULL," breathed Johan Klopper, stopping the vehicle. About 100 metres ahead, a lone elephant ambled out of the dense mopane woodland.
In Kruger, you could have driven up to him, cautious in your approach, of course, but the odds are he'd let you get close enough to see the whites of his eyes. In Mozambique's Parque Nacional Do Limpopo (Limpopo National Park), there was no chance of that. Andhe let us know it, swaying his heavily tusked head from side to side as he considered the Landy before ghosting off into the trees.

"A local," chuckled Johan.

As chief 4x4 guide for Transfrontier Trails, he knows the bush east of the Kruger fence - the South African border - and its animals better than most.

"The Mozambican ellies don't like people too much. And if you drive a diesel..."

Apparently, they associate the sound of a diesel with pain and death. That's what the soldiers drove during the bush war of the 1970s and 1980s.

The Peace Parks Foundation was formed in 1997 to facilitate the establishment of transfrontier conservation areas in Africa and around the world. These parks are structured on three basic principles: cross-border co-operation and management; the sustainable economic development of communities; and the conservation of biodiversity.

Peace Parks is working towards developing a viable Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Proclaimed In December 2002, the park is a joint Initiative between Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. When fully functional, it will cover an area of more than 35 000kmĀ², including the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique, Kruger in South Africa and Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou National Park, Majinji Pan Sanctuary and Malipati Safari Ares.

It's hoped this will not only aid in the re-opening of original animal migration routes, but that visitors will be able to drive across the international borders within the boundaries of the park without cross-border formalities.

Besides game-viewing, visitors can also enjoy Mozambican food, music and dance, as well as tackle adventure activities such as fishing for tiger-fish, lake cruises, kayaking trips and 4x4-overlanding trails.

At half the size of Kruger, most of Limpopo National Park is divided into concessions. They're responsible for marketing, maintenance and general improvement of their areas and, in keeping with the Peace Parks spirit, must create jobs and make a profit for the park.

It was in Transfrontier Trails' 30000 hectare sector that Johan and I came across the grumpy jumbo patrolling his home range. And he doesn't live there alone. A large part of Transfrontiers' concession consists of what used to be a fenced sanctuary for game that's being restocked from Kruger.

When their fences were dropped, most of the initial 4 000 translocated animals remained in the area. Besides elephants, we saw lion, giraffe, kudu, waterbuck, zebra, impala and a crocodile on our game drives.

But it was on walks from the base camp - the luxurious Machampane Wilderness Camp built under towering fever trees on the banks of the Machampane River - that I got a real feel for the place.

Under the guidance of Janco Scott and Brenden Pienaar, we identified fresh rhino signs in the mopane shrubveld, tracked buffaloes along the river and got feather-recognisingly close to a green-backed heron.

Doing the Machampane Wilderness Trail, you return to the comforts of Machampane every night. But on their three-night, four-day Lebombo Hiking Trail, you camp in the bush. It's run on either a backpacking or a backpacking basis, which allows you to carry only a day-pack to the next campsite.

For those who prefer a steering wheel to hiking boots, Transfrontier Trails runs two multi-day overland trails: the 10-day Big Five Rivers trail, which takes in Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou, and the Shingwedzi 4x4 Eco-Trail. Both are guided, self-drive trails.

This is quite a drawcard, as you also camp wild on its Rio Elefantes three-night, four-day kayaking trip from the confluence of the Olifants and the Shingwedzi rivers below Massingir Dam to the confluence of the Olifants and Limpopo rivers.

The trip epitomises what the Limpopo National Park is all about - freedom in a wilderness area.

Johan says what he saw in the east included lion, elephant, baboon, crocodile, giraffe, kudu, waterbuck, Ngunl cattle, blue wildebeest, impala, grey duiker, steenbok, black-backed jackal, African rock python, striped sand snake, baboon spider, whip spider, golden and garden orb-web spiders, tigerfish, grass carp, Mozambican tilapia, fish eagle, various vultures, various herons, various eagles, corn crickets, commando ants and mosquitoes.

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