The Great grey-green greasy Limpopo

Then Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories were set in the areas he knew and loved – Africa and India.  In the story “The Elephant’s Child”, said Child wants to know what the crocodile has for dinner. To do so, the Kolokolo Bird said, with a mournful cry, ‘Go to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, and find out.’

The Limpopo River is at times a massive waterway running between the Kalahari Desert and the Indian Ocean; it is at times a dry watercourse.  It is the second largest river in southern Africa (after the Zambezi) and forms a huge arc from about 50 miles west of Pretoria, northwards to the Botswana border, along the southern edge of Zimbabwe and east into northern Mozambique.  It flows into the Indian Ocean near Xai-Xai.


If, like the Elephant’s Child you wish to know what the crocodile has for dinner, there is no better place to investigate than the area near where three countries meet. The Limpopo flows from the west, the Shashe flows from the north, and at 22°S/29°E they merge.  At this point South Africa lies to the south, Zimbabwe to the east and Botswana to the north.  The rivers and the land surrounding them form part of the transnational Mapungubwe Park.  Here you will find fever trees (so-called because of their bilious green bark), and you will find crocodiles.

The Park is named after the UNESCO World Heritage Site in South Africa. Mapungubwewas the largest kingdom in southern Africa until its demise in the 14th century. The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape includes the remains – almost untouched – of  palacesites and a large part of the settlement which dependedon them.  In Botswana, there is an area of privately held game reserves known collectively as the Thuli block.


There are few roads across the border at this point.  In very dry conditions, it is possible to drive across the Limpopo at Pont Drift.  Under these conditions, you may see the crocs sunning themselves on sandbanks in the middle of the river.  Hippos re not unusual.When the river is flowing, the only option is to leave your car on the South African side of the river and to make the journey in a cross between a basket and a cage, suspended above the sometimes raging waters. Sometimes elephants can be seen crossing the great grey-green greasy Limpopo by the score.

Other wildlife in the area includes lions, cheetah, leopards, antelope from the tiny duiker up, hyenas and wild dogs.   And birds.  Southern Africa is home to about 900 species of birds, and this area has over 350.  It is a visual delight and a wildlife paradise.  Hard to get to, but worth the effort.

PS.  The Elephant’s Child learned to his cost that the crocodile will at least try to eat for dinner any living creature that strays near its river bank. At that time the elephant only had a fairly short nose, but by the time the tug-of-war was over, the elephant’s nose was considerably longer.


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