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Tracks of Giants

Parque Nacional do Limpopo

Parque Nacional do Limpopo

As I have said before, it’s all downhill from here – both literally and figuratively. Since leaving the Tuli region in eastern Botswana, we have dropped over 1 200 meters in altitude, and as we head for Mozambique’s coastline with less than 500kms to go, we now have a strong sense we are heading for home.

The ride across the far northern regions of South Africa through Musina and on towards Pafuri was largely uneventful, although a night we spent at the Tshipisi Holiday Resort was a somewhat fascinating experience for the team. Those that have visited this hot spring will know what I am talking about – during the winter months, the resort has become a hugely popular hangout for South Africa’s caravan set, and hundreds of them encamp in a manner that resembles a small rural town last seen in a bygone era.

We reached Pafuri in four days and what a joy to be back in this magical part of the Kruger National Park. We were again so warmly hosted by Wilderness Safaris at Pafuri Camp, and the stay here was made all the more memorable with Tess, Sharon and Liam joining us. It was also unfortunately where Carol and Ida left us to return home. It’s great having family members and they certainly brought something special to the group. Many thanks to Patrick Boddam-Whetton, Rob and Landi Burns and their staff at Wilderness Safaris for taking such good care of us.

From Pafuri, it was on to Parque Nacional do Limpopo (PNL) (, Mozambique’s newest national park. Adjoining Kruger National Parks eastern boundary, its land-use classification was changed from a hunting concession to its current status in 2001, and then more notably, it was incorporated into the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP) in 2002.

While the PNL does not as yet enjoy the tourism status or receive the exposure of the numerous other well-known parks we have passed through, there is no doubt about its significant conservation standing. At 11 000 sq kms, it is a sizable protected area forming a vital component to the GLTP, but for the conservation world, the process and pace of development are what are being so eagerly watched. Currently managed under joint supervision between the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) and Mozambique’s Ministry of Tourism, establishing a wilderness area of this size offers serious challenges. Of these, the re-settlement issues concerning the local communities that have long been living in the region have become the primary focus. It’s one of conservation’s age old tussles – protecting national parks versus land use options of traditional communities. The managers of PNL have a novel solution – those living around the inside edge of the park, which is approximately 10 000 to 12 000 people will remain in a strictly controlled buffer zone, while the 8 000 or so living in the core of the park will be resettled to villages on the outer perimeter. If management can achieve this successfully, they may have a template for future parks across the continent.

The other major challenges include protection of the biodiversity and establishing a viable ecotourism network. With so many people still within the Park’s boundaries, poaching rates are high and other forms of resource utilization such as fishing and logging pose serious long term threats. If these cannot be successfully resolved, attracting visitors becomes problematic. The good news is that the wildlife is returning – elephant numbers have now reached over 1 200, buffalo, kudu, giraffe and sable have returned in varying numbers and the predators are beginning to settle – this includes various lion prides, as many as 30 cheetah and increasing forays by wild dogs from neighbouring KNP.

While traversing the Park, we were extremely fortunate to have Antony Alexander, the Project Manager for PNL and Billy Swanepoel, the Technical Advisor to the Wildlife & Protection Programme accompany us. Both have been seconded by PPF, and along with the Park Warden, Baldeu Chande from the Ministry, they are the ones driving the entire future of PNL. The current successes and achievements within PNL can be largely credited to this team and their ground staff, and they need to be recognized for this. I have visited and worked in most of the national parks across the region, and none are faced with challenges of the magnitude found in PNL – their focus, dedication and vision is admirable. We also owe Antony and Billy massive thanks for their time and input while travelling with us and to Baldeu for allowing us time to meet with him at the park HQ.

For those travellers in search of the less trodden routes, look no further than the PNL – it has challenging 4 x4 routes with some incredible campsites (all are basic, which adds to the allure) and a number of walking options (email: [email protected]). While not plentiful, there is sufficient wildlife, the birding is good and the scenery awesome. But best of all, it’s one of the few national parks where you can spend days on end without fear of bumping into hordes of other visitors – during our crossing, on only one occasion did we have another group camping alongside us.

Yesterday, we left Massingir Dam on the very southern edge of the park following a route through various private wildlife concessions along KNP eastern boundary. It will take us four days to Maputo where we meet up with our trusty ‘keeper-of-the-film’, Nick Chevalier, and Wojtek Orzechowski, a great friend from Plettenberg Bay. Both will be with us through to the end – Nick filming and Wojtek making sure we don’t get lost at sea. We then leave Maputo on a dhow to cross the bay to Santa Maria on the northern tip of the Maputo Special Reserve, and then it’s a beach walk for a week or so to Rocktail Bay in South Africa.

With the weather warming, it’s an exciting thought that in a few days time we will be swimming and surfing in the ocean. And after all the mud and dust over the last few months, having warm, soft beach sand between the toes gets the pedals turning faster.

It’s really hard to believe that we are now so close to reaching our goal. The Namib crossing way back in early May seems an age ago, as does the first time I put thoughts to blog. Hitting the road day after day while remaining focused on the conservation issues has become an enjoyable way of life, as has rusks and peanut-butter with early morning coffee, porridge and peanut butter for breakfast, Provita and peanut butter for tea, and bread and peanut-butter for lunch. I have even had peanut-butter in my coffee and on dried mango, and Ian McCallum has tried it with bully beef.

But despite the most incredible journey, thoughts of home and creature comforts have become more than idle chatter. And running out of menu ideas is only one of many signs that it is time to think of the end. There are now daily reports of zips packing up; washing clothes no longer has the desired effect; all our cutlery behaves as if Uri Geller has been at work; the pots, pans and kettle cannot get any blacker; Mandla, Martin and Lihle have all gone and there are no replacements; Sharon has exhausted all channels of communication with officialdom; Johnny has packed and unpacked the Avis vehicle over 200 times; Anton’s willingness to patch punctured tyres is now outweighed by his longing to go surfing again; Frank reckons we are spending more money on beer than on fuel, and our wives, partners and kids are now gatvol!

And as we enter the last stretch, we are extremely mindful of everyone that has contributed to TRACKS in some way. A massive and heartfelt thank-you to our sponsors, donors, supporters, family, friends and all those that have followed us or contributed in the print media and on the websites and Facebook – your assistance and encouragement has been one of the most vital ingredients.

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