Northern Kruger National Park – Pafuri

About the Birding

Pafuri is widely regarded as one of the best – if not the best – areas of the park for birding as a plethora of interesting species are found here but nowhere else in the park. The area is dominated by lush riverine forests along the Levubu River but, further afield, the prime habitat consists of dry acacia thickets, mopane woodland, and baobab savannahs. The nearest camp is Punda Maria, although the Pafuri Picnic site is a popular destination for birders visiting the park.

Birders are advised to leave Punda Maria when the gates open in the morning and drive straight up to Pafuri for a full day of birding. Alternatively, several upmarket camps are located along the northern banks of the Levubu River in the Makuleke Concession offering easy access to this exciting part of the park.

Water levels in the Luvuvhu River fluctuate in relation to rainfall but the river usually holds small numbers of White-crowned Lapwing and Saddle-billed Stork.

Scan the tall riverine trees for roosting Pel’s Fishing Owl, and check the dense overhanging vegetation for the African Finfoot and White-backed Night-heron. The Night-heron and Fishing Owl are best searched for after dark along the northern banks in the Makuleke Concession, where it is permissible to take a guided drive after dark if staying at one of the lodges. The riverine woodland is rich in species including the Retz’s Helmet-shrike, Thick-billed Cuckoo (summer), Burnt-necked and Green-capped Eremomela, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Broad-billed Roller (summer), Eastern Nicator, the Trumpeter and Crowned Hornbills, Narina Trogon, White-browed Robin-chat, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Bearded Scrub-robin, and Gorgeous Bush-shrike. Coveys of the comical Crested Guineafowl regularly emerge onto the roads in the early mornings and later afternoons to feed. A good place to look for many of the aforementioned species is at the Pafuri Picnic site where it is permissible to alight from one’s vehicle. The dense undergrowth and thickets support River Warbler and Thrush Nightingale in the summer months, both of which are best detected in March when they are most vocally active. Overhead, watch for the Mottled and Bohm’s Spinetail and a good place to look for these species is the bridge over the Luvuvhu River leading to Pafuri Gate.

Pafuri is an excellent area for raptors and birders should look for the African and Ayres’s Hawk-eagles, up to 4 species of vulture (White-headed, White-backed, Lappet-faced and Hooded), African Harrier-hawk, the Martial and Verreaux’s Eagles, and Bateleur. The scarce Dickinson’s Kestrel also occurs and is best searched for in the open palm savannahs along the S63. The localized Lemon-breasted Canary is also found along this route.

Time permitting, cross the Pafuri Bridge into the Makuleke Concession and follow the tar road towards the gate. Birders are reminded to remain on the tar road and not to follow any of the secondary roads into the concession, except on a guided game drive through one of the lodges in the concession. Search the dry mopane woodland for the scarce White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Racket-tailed Roller, Arnot’s Chat and the rare Three-banded Courser.

Key species:

Pel’s Fishing Owl, Three-banded Courser, Racket-tailed Roller, Arnot’s Chat, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Tropical Boubou, Crested Guineafowl, Senegal Coucal

About the Birding Site

The Kruger National Park covers 19,685 kilometres and is the 10th largest game reserve in the world. It has 3000 kilometres of road, 23 rest camps and a host of excellent picnic sites, walking trails, 4×4 routes, hides and massive dams. A remarkable new initiative involving the Kruger National Park is the creation of a fence free park that allows animals to migrate freely across national borders. In May 2002, Kruger, Coutada 16 (in Mozambique) and Gonarezhou (in Zimbabwe) formally merged into the 35 000 square kilometre Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, one of the largest game reserves in the world.

The big game viewing in Kruger rivals that of any reserve in Africa with large elephant, buffalo and lion populations being relatively easily seen. Every year over a million visitors tally up in the region of 520 bird species. Due to its great size, Kruger supports a unique combination of habitats with the added benefits of easy road access and comfortable amenities. The land to the north of the Luvuvhu River, and south of the Limpopo, was subject to a successful land claim and reverted back to the Makuleke Tribe in 1998 but remains under the wider protection of Kruger National Park as the Makuleke Concession though most of these areas are inaccessible to the general public except through a number of ecotourism operators that run lodges in these northern reaches of the park.

Birding is best in the summer months (November to March) with the arrival of summer migrants but a remarkable number of birds can be seen in the winter months (May – July). Birding is fantastic throughout the park but the northern area is host to a number of species that are on the edge of their southernmost range and do not occur elsewhere in South Africa. A birding trip to Kruger National Park should be on the agenda of any birder in South Africa.

The northern parts of the National park (including the Makuleke Concession) are blanketed in dense mixed woodland (Punda Maria) and dry rugged Baobab and Mopane country (Pafuri). On the eastern boundary, the extensive Mwambiya Sandveld that is more characteristic of the Mozambique lowland plain pushes into the reserve. However, the overall topography of the northern sector is dominated by the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers that reach their confluence at the eastern boundary before ultimately flowing into Mozambique. These rivers are flanked by dense riverine woodland and forest providing habitat for a wealth of species.

While the central and southern regions of the park are generally more rewarding for wildlife, there is little question that northern Kruger is for the birds. Northern Kruger boasts an extremely high diversity and density of bird species, including several notable species that reach their southern distributional limit here. Several ‘Birding Big Day’ teams have recorded in excess of 260 species in a 24-hour period, highlighting the incredible diversity of this region. Top among the extensive list of species to be found here are the Pel’s Fishing Owl, White-crowned Lapwing, Saddle-billed Stork, and White-backed Night-heron along the major rivers; Thick-billed Cuckoo, Retz’s Helmet-shrike, Gorgeous Bushshrike, Crested Guineafowl, Tropical Boubou, Black-throated Wattle-eye, and Ayres’s Hawk-eagle in the riverine woodland and forest; and Meves’s Starling, Grey-headed Parrot, Three-banded Courser, Arnot’s Chat, and Racket-tailed Roller in the dry woodland. Several days are recommended to explore this area as many species occur in low density.

Key species:

Pel’s Fishing Owl, Three-banded Courser, Racket-tailed Roller, Arnot’s Chat, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Tropical Boubou, Crested Guineafowl, Senegal Coucal

Other Related Information

To reach the Punda Maria restcamp in Kruger National Park, take the N1 to Polokwane (Pietersburg). At Makhado (Louis Trichard) link up with the R524 and follow this route for ±140km. That will take you to the gate. Allow between 5 to 6 hours for the trip to the gate. Punda Maria Rest Camp is 10km away from the gate. Allow about 20 minutes for the drive to the camp, however, if you want to enjoy the game viewing possibilities give yourself more time! Pafuri is 60km to the north of Punda Maria.

Other related information:

Recommended accommodation nearby:
SANPARKS offer a range of accommodation options within Punda Maria Rest Camp including 50 electrified tent or caravan sites, 7 safari tents, 22 bungalows and 2 family bungalows. The camp also features a small picnic area for day visitors, a fuel station, and a small convenience shop. For more information or to make a reservation, please visit

The nearest BirdLife Recommended Accommodations are:

Ecotraining – Makuleke Concession
Address: EcoTraining camp, Makuleke concession, Northern Kruger National Park
Tel: +27 (0)13 752 2532
Cell: +27 (0)71 895 8658
Fax: +27 (0)13 752 4791

Pafuri – Return Africa
Address: Return Africa Pafuri Collection, Makuleke concession Pafuri, Kruger National Park
Tel: +27 (0)11 646 1391

Local guide information:
A number of guided activities are available through SANPARKS and bookings are made directly at the reception in Punda Maria Restcamp or the lodges within the Makuleke Concession.

Several BirdLife South Africa Community Bird Guides operate in the northern Kruger National Park including:
Christopher Nethonzhe – +27 (0)76 302 9383
Khotso Snymes – +27 (0)78 365 8102
Lungile Mteyane – +27 (0)76 376 0435
Samson Mulaudzi – +27 (0)83 662 9960

Text prepared by:
Daniel Danckwerts (Rockjumper Birding Tours)

Key species:

Pel’s Fishing Owl, Three-banded Courser, Racket-tailed Roller, Arnot’s Chat, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Tropical Boubou, Crested Guineafowl, Senegal Coucal

Contact details:

SANParks – Punda Maria Rest Camp
Tel: +27 (0)13 735 6873
Fax: +27 (0)13 735 6894
Cell: +27(0)82 802 0066