Monday, June 10, 2013

Northern Kruger - The Outpost Pre-Indaba Exploratory


Faith Johnson, product and sales manager at New Frontiers Tours, and Lyndsay ventured into the Northern Kruger pre-INDABA this year. Lyndsay is compiling her trip report now, but in the meantime, take a look at Faith's feedback and ask your New Frontiers consultant how to best incorporate The Outpost into a great South Africa safari.




NORTHERN KRUGER: TRUE WILDERNESS - MAY 2013

Posted by Faith Johnson, New Frontiers Tours, on 10 May 2013
 

It was with great excitement that we headed to one of my most favourite wilderness areas in the country - the Pafuri in the northernmost section of the Kruger National Park. Having passed through years earlier, I could still recall the variety of landscapes and the sense of isolation in an area that borders Zimbabwe and Mozambique and is home to the Makuleke people. The Makuleke Contractual Park is a concession run by the community and comprises 26 000 hectares of diverse terrain which is of remarkable geological and natural heritage interest. Rocks dating back over 250 million years and human habitation linked to that of the Great Zimbabwe ruins makes this a really interesting addition to your Big 5 safari.
The Outpost
The devastating floods in the beginning of 2013 destroyed the neighbouring Pafuri Wilderness camp along with the airstrip, and several roads still remain impassable. Thankfully The Outpost survived the ordeal due to its elevated position and it is this location that offers the most spectacular panoramic views of the river and bush below.
Access is via a 40 minute charter hop from Phalaborwa with the professional Kingdom Air. You now land outside the park on a local airstrip and will get transferred by minibus to the lodge - another pleasant journey of 40 minutes through local villages. The permanent closure of the Pafuri airstrip inside the park makes very little difference to this lodge in particular, seeing as it was situated about 45 minutes away anyway, but do warn clients to 'freshen up' prior to leaving Phalaborwa and that there will be a park entrance fee of approximately R50 pp which they'll need to settle directly as they enter the park.
The lodge is very simple in design - cool concrete, strong steel beams and open plan design allowing for uncluttered exposure to the wilderness around you. Pockets of comfy relaxation areas, dining areas and a full length swimming pool make for the hub of the lodge while the 12 suites extend to each side of this (3 to the left and the remaining 9 to the right). It is the 9 to the right of the lodge that offer the better views and the very end 'honeymoon' suite (room 12) is the most dramatic, with an extra 'open' side allowing for 270 degree unhindered views stretching across the floodplains of the river below. The suites are very simple in design, offering a mosquito net clad king/ twin bed, couch, desk with chairs and open plan bathroom (with both shower and freestanding stone bath). The most dramatic feature to the rooms is the openness - the special screens allowing you to see out while not in and mechanically retractable to allow you to open/ close them should the weather turn or if you'd prefer to feel cosier and less exposed to the elements. A few luxurious softs are needed like an extra blanket on the couch, a bit of reading material and perhaps some bath salts as you could quite easily spend all your time in your suite staring out at those views!
It is the friendly and very efficient staff that add the warm touches to the lodge. Run by the Makuleke, it is refreshing to hear local stories from staff who have manned the lodge for years and know the area intimately. Our guide Alweet (or Alli as he prefers to be called) was the epitome of laid back, knowledgeable and hugely engaging host and I can honestly say that he was the highlight of our stay.

The other very important aspect is of course the wildlife and thankfully this in abundance. The remote area and lack of traffic from others vehicles means you are literally alone in the wilderness - just you and an incredible variety of birdlife, smaller creatures and the Big 5 too (although you quite happily forget about ticking off lists here). You bumble your way through fever tree forests, pass by ancient baobabs and walk through dense Leadwood forests; you get to view the Limpopo River and spectacular Lanner Gorge all the while viewing both the big and the small. Excursions to visit the ruins of the walled city of Thulamela as well as the local Makuleke village can be pre-arranged while unfortunately Crooks Corner (the meeting point of the 3 countries) is off limits until the road has been rebuilt.

This is a solid 4* property, unpretentious and suitable for a really wide variety of clients. It's not a child friendly place due to its elevation and it is the peace and tranquillity of being in a real wilderness area which reinforces this. Food is wholesome although not fine-dining, the massage my colleague had on her deck was really good, but there is no spa. Access is now much improved with these charter hops and although it could be sold as a standalone safari experience, I'd be wary to sell it this way, only because its uniqueness is not in chasing after the Big 5. The lodge hops makes it easily combinable with other lodges in the Kruger (either a Timbavati/Thornybush lodge where you could do the 2 road transfer to/from Phalaborwa or a Sabi Sands lodge where you'd connect all the way through by charter). It is also accessible via self-drive, with a circuit including Mapungubwe/Mashatu - see my Limpopo feedback from April 2012. I'd probably suggest clients get the more structured and game heavy experience out the way first and use this to relax and enjoy nature at its very best!

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