The highly-recommended Timbavati Road is the most direct route between Orpen and Olifants and Letaba in the northern region.
It is one of Kruger's best drives following the Timbavati River for almost 50km through a diverse mix of thornveld and mixed woodland into mopaneveld over a series of different geological zones – granites, gabbro, ecca shales and basalt. The name Timbavati is derived from the Shangaan for “brackish water”, yet this tributary of the Olifants River is a reliable water source for game in the central region of the Kruger.
Since the removal of the fence dividing western Kruger from the private reserves in the Timbavati area animal numbers have increased steadily and because the road passes through so many different geological zones the plant and animal life is very diverse.
Hornbills can outnumber the impala where the road winds between thornveld and mixed bushwillow woodland, south of Timbavati Picnic Site. Rollers are more common in the thornveld further away from the river where the bush-shrikes dominate. The landscape becomes more broken north of Timbavati as the road and river pass through Olifants rugged veld and the south-western mopaneveld.
One of the top 10 sites for wildlife photography is Leeubron Water Hole, located on the S39 where the Kruger’s legendary “white lions” have been seen drinking.
The turn-off to Timbavati picnic spot is marked by a fine specimen of a baobab tree and is a good spot to stop off and rest. It overlooks the reedbeds and sandbanks of the Timbavati River and is at the southern tip of the Olifants rugged veld, bordering on marula and red bushwllow woodlands. Elephant are often spotted quite close to the site. As is the case with all other picnic spots, the feeding of wild animals has become quite a problem. Duiker will walk out of the river bed to accept handouts, while birds such as the francolins and glossy starlings have all become beggars. The site has ablution facilities and cold drinks and firewood can be purchased. Gas cookers can be hired as open fires are strictly forbidden.
The road north to Olifants Rest Camp can be very rewarding for game, especially in the pockets of thornveld between the woodlands. The kori bustard, which is the heaviest flying bird in the world can be viewed here. A must stop is at the bird hide at Ratel Pan which overlooks the Piet Grobler Dam. The Roodewal and Goedgegun Water Holes are also sometimes rewarding.
Roodewal is a big, red dolerite dyke that juts out of the lowveld floor above a well-shaded water hole. The rocks are part of a north-south ridge that divides the mopaneveld to the east from the mixed acacia woodland to the west. Hereafter is a noticeable decline in game numbers as the woodlands give way to mopaneveld.
The Drive 1 is 170 kilometers (106 miles) long.
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