Punda Maria Restcamp
Punda Maria lies in the northernmost part of the Kruger National Park, eight kilometres from the entrance gate of the same name. Originally established in 1919 as an outpost from which to catch ivory poachers, it is one of the first established (built in the 1930s) and least busy of the main camps. It retains a wonderfully tranquil, "old world" atmosphere, and many of the original white wattle-and-daub structures are still in use.
The name appears to be a play on words made by the first Ranger, Captain J.J. Coetser, who modified the Swahili name for the (then abundant) zebra of punda milia for his wife Maria.
Whilst no longer the most prolific for game, this area offers outstanding birding and encompasses the Sandveld region often described as the "botanical garden" of the Kruger.
It is a highly significant historic area- the former major trading Kingdom of Thulamela is close by, and Rangers from Punda Maria can organise trips to visit the remains of this recently discovered archaelogical site (see the left hand column of this page for details).
There are numerous plant species which occur that are unique to the area. Game species most likely to be sighted include impala, zebra, buffalo, elephant, eland and sable.
The area is a paradise for birding, with many species not found elsewhere in the Park.
There is a cafe, a shop and a mini-ATM (funded from the till) in the Camp, but no petrol station.
Accommodation is in 22 two- and three-bedded Bungalows, all of which are equipped with showers and air conditioning. There are two Family Bungalows with 4 beds each; these have a kitchenette and a lounge/ dining room. There are 7 two-bedded Safari Tents with their own cooking and washing facilites, and tent and caravan sites are available.
Game can prove sparse but kudu, nyala, buffalo and Sharpe’s grysbok thrive in this habitat. Wild dog, elephant and lion are also frequently recorded. The Mahonie Loop is also the best venue in the Kruger to see the diminutive suni antelope. A trip to Pafuri will produce plenty of nyala and impala, and possibly some bushbuck.
In the camp (particularly on the Paradise Flycatcher Trail) Yellowbellied Greenbul and Terrestrial Brownbul (Bulbul), Bearded Scrub Robin should be looked for. Birding throughout the camp is excellent. Birds of prey are common overhead. Verreaux’s (Black) Eagle is sometimes seen, while in winter the White-necked Raven is a regular visitor.
The Mahonie Loop, the 25km circular route around the camp, is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding birding drives in the Park. You should give yourself plenty of time to cover the distance, travel with the windows down and stop frequently, particularly listening out for calls.
On a good day one could record several of the following ‘specials': White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike, Arnot’s Chat, Crowned Hornbill, Grey-headed (Chestnut-bellied) Kingfisher, Crested Guineafowl, Gorgeous Bush Shrike, Grey-headed Parrot, African and European Golden Oriole (both summer), Eastern (Yellow-spotted) Nicator, Stierling's Wren-Warbler (Barred Warbler) and Dickinson's Kestrel. Narina Trogon has also been recorded on the loop, but is shy and elusive.
On the drive from Punda Maria to Pafuri via the Klopperfontein Dam, Racket-tailed Roller and Southern (Mashona) Hyliota have been recorded. This is also one of the best areas to search for Yellow-billed Oxpecker. This species was absent in the park for many years, but returned in the 1980s and their numbers are still increasing. Buffalo are the preferred hosts.
The camp is situated in sandveld. The sandy soil means the area is well drained and several natural springs occur. The plant communities are very complex. No single tree species dominates, but several species are restricted to this ecozone. Visitors should search for white syringa, mixed bushwillow, silver cluster-leaf, baobab, pod mahogany, sickle bush and weeping wattle. Grazing is sparse to moderate sweet grass.