All too soon it was time to say farewell to our Kruger crew. Vanessa and Ruth heading home and Lauren in her Jimny too. Our expert camp manager, Graeme, heading home with all our wild camping gear. And the Rise of the Matriarch crew heading west for our last few days of expedition.
Trying not to think about how we were nearing the end of this most incredible month of adventure we drove towards Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site.
I had never travelled to this part of South Africa but had heard it was quite special. And that it certainly proved to be.
We stayed across the road from Mapungubwe National Park at Mapesu Wilderness Camp. This fantastic spot to lay our heads for a couple of nights was set up overlooking the Mopane bushveld. Rutting impala, zebra, guineafowl and francolin and hyena providing our echoing soundscape.
Ruan was our guide for that first evening and we set off for a short sunset bumble. Only a few metres from the camp we came across 3 young cheetah siblings. It was a beautiful sighting. We then found the most wonderful Baobab tree to park under and set off on foot a short way up a kopje to watch the sunset. Sundowners and snacks and stunning light on the western horizon brought this day to a close. A quick pause to hug the Baobab we made our way back to camp and a delicious dinner.
Up bright and early the next day Ruan delivered us to Johannes at the gate to Mapungubwe National Park. Johannes is a cultural guide and he had an incredible morning planned for us. As we drove into the park on this chilly morning we were all awed by this simply magical landscape. Sandstone cliffs and Dolomite outcrops with grassy valleys in between and the whole landscape dotted with magnificent Baobab trees. Rock Fig trees clinging to stony outcrops. The only word I have is magical. Nothing I can say here or even in the many photos we took can do this place justice. You have to stand here to feel it. The natural landscape here is wild in a different way to most. The gods and the ancestors are close here. It is a spiritual experience to stand in this pure space.
Johannes parked the vehicle and we meandered our way slowly toward Mapungubwe hill. He stopped along the way to point out the evidence of the early civilisation that once was here. Evidence easily overlooked by the untrained eye.
As he wove his story, I could tell he was coming to some great point. And sure enough as he talked us through what had been uncovered since the 1100s about this area it turned out his father and grandfather were intimately connected to this place. This lent an even greater significance to what we were hearing and experiencing.
We climbed the 147 stairs to the top of the sacred hill, Johannes assuring us the correct rituals had been performed to appease the ancestors and ask their blessing for our brief sojourn. The views are breath taking and the air prickles with the ancient energy of rock, tree and connected human story.
What amazed me was just how advanced and extensive this civilisation was. Their social hierarchy. Their work with stone and metals. Their trade extending all the way up the coast of Africa into the Middle East and Asia. Now all gone with little physical evidence remaining. Certainly the spiritual energy remains.
After the cultural tour we enjoyed a breakfast box at the visitor’s centre and then wandered through the museum which houses the replica of the famous golden rhino amongst other finds from the excavations on Mapungubwe hill.
I think most of the ROTM crew found this particular morning quite a profound experience. I was certainly glad of a few hours in camp through the middle of the day to process.
A lovely afternoon game drive along the Limpopo River was followed by a sunset stop at the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo Rivers and the place where South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe share a border. Cute Klipspringer couples in the stony outcrops was my wildlife highlight from this drive.
Our guide for this afternoon and the following morning was Jethro, a gentle man with 33 years of guiding experience in this area.
The morning of our departure we tracked a radio collared cheetah with Jethro but she did not want to be found. Instead we found a lovely journey of giraffe, a bush pig (my first time seeing one), a pair of hairy hippo nostrils in the dam at our coffee stop and two African Wild Dog pacing through the bush. Bliss 🖤