Making dreams come true

The Kruger National Park has many hidden gems begging to be explored. One such treasure is RETURN Africa’s Pafuri Tented Camp located in the most northern private concession, the Makuleke Contractual Park. We took the Land Cruiser Prado VX-L to explore.

As a kid, I travelled through the Kruger National Park regularly with my folks and late grandparents. And it was here — in what is today one of South Africa’s biggest tourist attractions — that my love for the outdoors and wildlife was ingrained into my DNA. One of the most beautiful areas we ever visited was the region just north of the Luvuvhu River, and for many years I’ve tried to remember the exact location of some of the amazing landscapes and scenery paired with rare game sightings. This area is also a birder’s paradise with many going specifically to find the elusive Pel’s Fishing Owl.

Makuleke Contract Park - The beauty of Pafuri Tented Camp

The beauty of Pafuri Tented Camp

So, when an opportunity to visit the Pafuri region (the Makuleke Contractual Park) came our way, we grabbed the opportunity. The Makuleke area was forcibly taken from the Makuleke people in 1969 and the community was relocated to an area further west so that their original tribal areas could be integrated into the greater Kruger National Park.

In 1996, the Makuleke community submitted a land claim for approximately 23,500 hectares in the northern part of the park. The land was returned to the Makuleke people who chose not to resettle on the land but rather to engage with the private sector to invest in tourism and creating jobs, leading to the birth of several game lodges in the Makuleke Contract Park. One of these jewels is the Pafuri Tented Camp, part of the RETURNAfrica Group, on the banks of the Luvuvhu River — an absolute gem in the perfect location.

The exquisite interior of the Pafuri Tented Camp situated in the Makuleke Contract Park

Our trusty steed on the road to the north of Kruger was the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado VX-L, which took us from Johannesburg up north to Makhado, where we headed east on the R524 through Venda and Thohoyandou (meaning the “Head of the Elephant”), the name of one of the VhaVenda Kings. The road from Makhado to Thohoyandou runs alongside the Soutpansberg Mountain range and the Prado handled the twists and turns with ease. Loads of vendors are dotted alongside the road providing a great opportunity to stock up on mangos, avos and a variety of nuts.

Rediscovering the fever tree forest

We entered Kruger through Punda Maria Gate and two hours later arrived at Pafuri Tented Camp. Over the next couple of days, our entertaining and extremely knowledgeable guide, Hlahla, reignited my love for this area. He timed my return to the fever tree forest perfectly, arriving one afternoon just before sundown, after being treated to a sighting of a large herd of buffalo and eland, as well as hyenas and their pups. My childhood memory was not wrong, and it was indeed as spectacular as I remembered. As the clouds rolled in, obscuring the setting sun, it transformed the forest into a somewhat eerie, but beautiful scene that would not be out of place in a Lord of the Rings movie.

A baobab tree in the Makuleke Contract Park filled with large white flowers that opened as the sun went over the horizon.

Our final destination was a giant baobab tree that must have a circumference of more than 30m. At the time of our trip, the baobabs were lush and green, covered in leaves. As we sipped our sundowners, Hlahla pointed up and we saw that the tree was filled with large white flowers that opened as the sun went over the horizon. Just 40 minutes earlier, this tree had been green and now it was dotted with white flowers. Nature had once again pulled out all the stops.

Exploring Kruger National Park in style with the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado VX-L

Behind the wheel of the Land Cruiser Prado VX-L

Dubbed the Prince of Africa, the Toyota Prado comes from a lineage of superb off-road capability, 4×4 prowess and the legendary Land Cruiser DNA. The current facelift of the updated 2021 Prado will most likely be the last in this generation (the fourth) and we expect to see a brand-new version of this vehicle in 2024.

The Land Cruiser Prado VX-L comes with everything and the kitchen sink, ticking all the boxes from comfort to capability. With adaptive cruise control to blind-spot monitoring, as well as lane keep assist, there isn’t much more that drivers can ask for from a safety perspective.

From a connectivity point of view, the infotainment system with its 9-inch display audio touchscreen can be linked to any smart device by either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. It also includes audio-visual navigation in case you forget your cable to connect your smart device.

The dashboard of the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado VX-L

Since 2021 the Prado has been fitted with the 2.8 GD-6 150kw and 500nm diesel burner. Toyota claims fuel consumption at 7.9 litres/100km and during our trip, which included some off-road driving, we managed an average of 9.2 litres/100km. CO2 emissions are down to 209 g/km. Fuel capacity is 150 litres with an 87-litre main tank and 63-litre sub tank. Maximum braked towing capacity increased to 3,000kg on 2.8 diesel models.

Having driven the new 2.8 now for the second time on a long trip, I was curious to see if I still enjoyed the drive. And what a pleasure it was, with the pronounced difference brought about by the new engine now mated exclusively to a six-speed automatic gearbox. Never missing a beat and offering ample power supply while confidently finding the correct gear even on passes and when overtaking, I can see myself using this vehicle in my daily commute or taking it into the far reaches of Africa.

There is a wide range of accessories available from both Toyota dealers and your local 4×4 fitment centre. If you’re planning to take it overland, I’d suggest investing in a decent set of all-terrain (AT) tyres as the factory fitted tyres are a bit soft. Having said this, be prepared to lose on the fuel economy side with ATs.

Exploring the Kruger National Park's Makuleke Contract Par in a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado VX-L

I particularly enjoyed the Multi-Terrain Select System that allows myriad options, including Rock, Rock and Dirt, Mogul, and Loose Rock, as well as Mud and Sand modes. While we couldn’t try out every option, the rock-climbing ability was proven with success. It simply goes where you point it without any objection.

Sometimes viewed as a lazy off-roader’s gimmick, I found the panoramic view monitor especially useful as it offers a full scope of your surroundings. Using all four cameras, it allows excellent vantage points when you need to see what’s in front or to your side. Finally, the crawl control function — although it sounds like gremlins are trying to break your drive-train — and the ability to raise your suspension makes this an incredibly capable off-road companion.

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