Pafuri. Even just the sound of the word as it unfurls on your tongue conjures up something mystical, magical, faraway. Most people will never be lucky enough to experience it. Because although intrepid day-trippers crossing over the Luvuvhu river from the south are permitted to drive the semi-circular tar road to Pafuri Gate, all they’ll glimpse is a distant ridge or two, the odd baobab and thickets of white syringa. Occasionally a gravel track beckons, but each has a no-entry sign next to it. And that’s the thing: to unlock the secrets of this hallowed place, you have to stay here.
Luckily Pafuri’s old ranger’s house has been transformed into a self-catering villa: Baobab Hill Bush House. Its four bedrooms make it spacious enough to pack in a large family or a bunch of friends. Some of the old Parks Board-issue mid-century fittings remain, artfully combined with stylishly rustic safari touches.
With no cellphone signal or WiFi, Baobab Hill is truly an escape from the urban grind and its frenetic connectivity – it’s hard to think of a more perfect place to do absolutely nothing. The verandah’s marshmallow-soft couches are perfect for lazing about with coffee. There’s also a covered boma, and seating around a fire pit for dinners – as well as a long dining table in the roomy lounge in the unlikely event of the weather being less than perfect. With a well-equipped kitchen, it’s a house just made for leisurely entertaining – though if you don’t feel like cooking yourself, a chef can easily be arranged.
While it might be tempting to while away entire days reading or playing cards while emerald spotted wood doves chortle from the trees, that would be a great pity – because there is so much to explore here. Although there’s a game viewing vehicle at your disposal, Pafuri’s extraordinary biodiversity is best experienced on foot – in the company of an experienced, rifle-toting guide. Unlike driving, walking in the bush is a thoroughly immersive experience – allowing you to experience its tapestry of sights, sounds, smells and even textures up close, with the nearby animals less likely to be disturbed by your presence. It’s not unlikely that you’ll see heavy hitters like buffalo and elephant on your morning walk, but you’ll also be introduced to other things, too – perhaps an endangered wild foxglove or klipspringers atop a gorge.
The mercury can easily nudge 40˚C in the summer months so Baobab Hill is best visited in autumn, winter or spring. Regardless of what time you visit, though, a soak in the plunge pool and ceiling fans in the rooms will be sure to offer respite from the heat.
What we love!
• The outstanding birding: you’re more likely to see a Pel’s fishing owl here than almost anywhere else in SA.
• And the baobabs! These stately sentries dot what was once an early trade route when Baobab Hill was an early ‘outspan’.
What you need to know…
• The house is self-catering but a catered option is available – a wonderful treat after doing one of the walking trails in the area.
• Baobab Hill is a 6½–7 hour drive from Joburg, but you can fly in directly on a charter flight to the Pafuri airstrip.
• It is a wonderful destination for experienced safari-goers who will appreciate the prolific birdlife and biodiversity in the varied ecozones of the Pafuri Triangle.
Reviewed by Alexander Matthews