The Engelhard Dam, Letaba (Sand) & Makhadzi River Confluence Close to Dam Wall on S62

We managed to get one night's accommodation at Letaba Camp, one of my favourites, not least because of the wonderful family of Bushbuck that roam the camp as though they were pet dogs ... and as much as it is against the rules it's quite impossible for many of us not to offer these friendly creature a tit-bit of vegetarian origin.

The restaurant area offers a magnificent wide-angle view up and down the Letaba River (Letaba means sand in Sotho language) and it is rare indeed that there are no elephants and other animals to be seen from this vantage point while enjoying a beer or whatever takes your fancy. On our arrival in the late afternoon there were about 3 Waterbuck on the sand bank to the right of the camp where there were also a number of tall reeds ... the 3 waterbuck miraculously became 17 as evening came in and the Waterbuck, so well camouflaged by the vegetation, suddenly appeared from the reeds. They slowly headed off towards the far bank with the occasional one seeming to bed itself down in the sand for the night.

The Letaba is the main tributary of the Olifants River which it joins just before the Olifants River Gorge about 6 kms from the border with Mozambique. It is this gorge that is severely under threat from increasing the height of the Massingir Dam wall in Mozambique.

After the single night's accommodation we needed to head back north and were able to complete the Tsendze River S48 loop and also the Tshongololo drives S142 while heading for Shingwedzi. Before that we spent a couple of hours exploring the drive on the S62 sand road, a drive of about 10 kms to the Engelhard dam lookout point which rose some 80 metres above the river level (the river is at 220 metres above sea level and the look out point close to 290). There are 2 very interesting diversions off this road ...
The Makhadzi River (meaning father's or chief's sister in Venda language)  rises about 25 kms north east of Letaba before it joins the dammed portion of the Letaba River, some 2kms off the road (waypoint 365). The backwater created is very inspiring and mysterious.
African Green Pigeon The Matambeni bird hide about a 3 km drive to the hide that overlooks the Letaba River at waypoint 367. Image is of an African Green-Pigeon  seen close to the Bird Hide.
Lions feasting at Buffalo Kill Letaba Kruger National park The previous night Gareth joined "The Night Drive" and viewed the lion kill described ... here's his account of the lions eating the Buffalo. By the time we reached the "kill" the Buffalo had been dragged an extra 5 metres into the bush from when we first saw the dead animal. This was done to protect the kill from Vultures sighting it from above and also to get more peace and less interruption from visitors, while dining. We saw 2 Vultures circling overhead and no doubt more would be arriving ...
large elephant tusker Letaba Kruger National Park

The drive from Letaba Camp (waypoint 358) to the S62 turn-off runs very close to the Letaba River for 2 kilometres offering a number of lay-by views of this spectacular riverine scenery. The bridge crossing the river is about 7 kms from camp and the S62 turn off is 1 km further and turns east at waypoint 359. On the way we got a great close-up view of one of the larger "Tuskers" with magnificent tusks browsing in Mopane.


Three banded plover We stopped at the low level crossing over the Makhadzi which was still flowing quite well despite it being so late in the winter, waypoint 360. Upstream was a large pool and a series of riffles and pockets downstream. We were able to watch a Common Sandpiper take drifting nymphs from the flowing water and a pair of Three-banded Plovers were also feeding.
Engelhard Dam Letaba River Kruger National park The Engelhard Dam at waypoint 361. Note the floating weed backed up against the dam wall. This reminded me of an article I wrote for one of my water gardening sites  a couple of years ago ... here's it is.

Aquatic Plants Gone Wrong ...

I went to the Kruger National Park and discovered a very interesting fact about a "marginal aquatic" plant that is creating a potentially devastating impact upon crocodile populations.

I don't think many of you have crocodiles in your pond but this is a fascinating story for anyone interested in ecology as all pond keepers are I am sure. The story concerns an invasive riverside plant called the Triffid Weed (Chromolaena odorata) which originates in South America.

The sex of unborn crocodiles is apparently determined by the egg temperature during the incubation period. The cooler the temperature then the greater the ratio of females to males and vice versa. It is possible therefore to get a complete clutch of either female or male crocodiles. A significant impact on this ratio can be made by as little as a change of between 1 and 2 degrees Fahrenheit (0.5 to 1 degrees C). The incubation temperature for almost all crocodiles wherever they live is close to 30 degrees Centigrade (86 F).

In the Lake St Lucia region of Eastern South Africa the accidental introduction of Triffid Weed is creating a situation where traditional crocodile nesting sites are now experiencing more shade and therefore lower incubation temperatures.

The result is high ratios of female to male hatchlings which is threatening to wipe out crocodiles in that region. No it is not April 1st and the threat is being taken very seriously. Read more about this at

On our trip it was fascinating to observe larger fish catching smaller fish in the shallows of rivers at night ... what a life these fish must lead. Of course the crocodiles fed on the larger fish as we also witnessed.

More About the Triffid Weed

Invades wooded kloofs, savannahs, and watercourses smothering all existing plants. Its a scrambling shrub up to 4 metres high and pale green in colour. The leaves smell strongly of turpentine or paraffin when crushed. The plant produces white or pale blue flowers mainly in July. The Triffid produces lots of small hairy straw-coloured fruits containing a single seed and are carried long distances by wind. It is a declared weed as also are ...

Red Water Fern

Water Lettuce

Water Hiacynth


Engelhard Dam from lookout point Kruger National Park This view is looking southwards ... notice the vast flat expanse of brown Mopane bush.

It's possible to get out of the car here at waypoint 362 and the view down to the large concrete Engelhard Dam is impressive. A closer view of the dam can be had a waypoint 361 but the size is better observed from the lookout point. This dam is named after Charles Engelhard (1917 to 1971) who donated the funds to the Kruger national park so that the am could be built. He became involved in South African mining industry and died during a medical operation in New York.

Makhadzi river backwater Kruger Park After leaving the lookout to return to the main road north, at waypoint 363, we took the drive down to where the Mkhadzi joined the dam creating a significant backwater in which we noticed a series of floating balls on the far bank edge. It was presumed these were holding up nets which were possibly being used to sample life within this peaceful backwater. You'll see the balls in the left centre portion of this image.

Elephants grazing Engelhard dam Waypoint 366 marked the turn off to the Matambeni Bird Hide at waypoint 367. The view was across the stretch of the Englehard Dam over a sandstone outcrop of rocks. As almost always in this section of the Kruger elephants were grazing on the far bank which is parallel to the S46 road which is a 10 km question mark shaped loop drive out of Letaba Camp leading into the S93 road to Olifants River.

Waypoint 368 is where we started the Tsendze River drive.