This beautiful corner of Eastern Botswana, the Northern Tuli Game Reserve, with its fantastic vistas of flowing hills, dramatic landscape of colourful Mopane expanses with fingers of broken riverine bush, rocky inselbergs and sandstone formations jutting out like lone sentinels keeping guard over the rich animal and plant life speckled and dotted across the African vista; is the realm of royalty.
Driving slowly, bumping and grinding, over the large rocks in the two track path, with the sun on your back and the chorus of birdsong in your ears, to the place where kings lived and walked; where Cecil John Rhodes carved his name on a lone Baobab tree, a Bushman painted his masterpiece of the big hunt on the rock face capturing every detail as Courtney Selouse did in his diaries, the site of an old abandoned village where children sang and danced and woman sat weaving with Mcolwane from the local palm grove …
A skirmish between Boer and Brit with fortifications and spent ammunition still lying in the dust, or down to the Limpopo River which Kipling wrote about and where a small elephant got his nose, the thrill of following a lion on her hunt. The excitement of watching fifty or more majestic elephant walking in a straight line past you to a waterhole after a hot day so as to quench their thirst in the late afternoon, once there milling around and kicking up the dust to create a mirage of elephant bodies against the dusty and heavy red setting sun chasing the Quelea to make them rise and fall like dark rain clouds in their flight across the horizon to roost for the night. A place so fitting and worthy in all its beauty, glory, harshness and mystique as could only be interpreted, described and told by a old and wise elder to his offspring… a folktale… passed from one generation to another, next to red ambers and yellow-blue flames, casting shadows of light and dark on ancient trees and the sound and comforting warmth of a crackling fire, the call of jackal and hyena in the distant background.
You will be taken even further back in time and allowed to walk where the Bushmen walked and lived as the area was once occupied and utilized extensively by the them. They hunted on the rich game filled plains and along the river banks, inspiring them to produce scores of their great art depicting the magnificence of the Limpopo River Valley, the majestic Eland and other animals for decades to come. There are several sites within, and outside, the Northern Tuli Game Reserve where their unique and splendid art can be seen on the majestic sandstone ridges and under overhanging rocks adjacent to the mighty Limpopo and other rivers.
The migration of African tribal peoples from East and West Africa led to the settlement and establishment of permanent villages and settlements in the Limpopo River Valley around AD 500 and the Zhizo, people of Leopard’s Kopje and the world famous Kingdom of Mapungubwe were established and traded widely with its neighbours as far afield as East Africa, Arabia, and even India.
The first European explorers and missionaries arrived early in the 16th century and the area was used for hunting, trading and mission work among the tribes and peoples then living here. In 1890 a group of men under the direction of Cecil John Rhodes called the “Pioneer Column” were sent to annex Matabeleland and Mashonaland for the British Crown. These men established Fort Tuli (situated in Zimbabwe) in June of 1890. In this period, history again took a turn as the Bangwato and Matabele tribes of the area were involved in a power struggle for the land which finely saw Chief Khama of the Bangwato tribe in control of the area in 1895.
Cecil John Rhodes had a vision and dream of building a railway line from Cape to Cairo which would be built through the Tuli Block area. Cecil John Rhodes attempted to transfer the Bechuanaland Protectorate to the British South Africa Company however Chief Khama, Chief Batho'en and Chief Sechele travelled to England to put their case to the Queen in audience with her and were in so doing able to intervene and stop Rhodes with a proviso that only the Tuli Block be given to the B.S.A company for their use to build the rail link, later the Tuli Block would be divided into farms to protect the Bangwato and Botswana from the northward movement and expansion of the Boers out of the then Northern Transvaal area.
In more recent years active conservation and formalization of joint initiatives by landowners to protect the area’s natural beauty and wildlife started to take shape, and between the late 1950’s and 1960’s there was a conservation drive with farming operations winding down and bigger emphasis being placed on the wildlife and natural beauty of the area.
The Limpopo Game Protection Association was first formed in 1964 by some of the landowners and this was most likely the commencement and infancy of the Northern Tuli Game Reserve as it is known today. This joint conservation effort spear-headed by some very ardent and respected conservationists, and indeed owners, assisted with the conservation effort that has been very fruitful leading to its present day state of 36 freehold properties making up the Northern Tuli Game Reserve. The area covers an area of approximately 71173ha.
The Northern Tuli Game Reserve falls within the glorious summer rainfall region of Southern Africa with its warm days and cool African nights and has a semi-arid tropical climate, creating those perfect blue skies with fluffy white cloud.
The area’s rainfall is received predominantly in the form of late afternoon thundershowers, between the months of November and March and in the winter months a high- pressure cell over the central area of Southern Africa creates fine dry weather perfect for an early game walk and lazing by the pool.
Daily temperatures range from between 5°C min to 42°C max. The Northern Tuli Game Reserve is situated in the south eastern hardveld and has a slightly higher rainfall than the rest of Botswana.
The tree savannah dominated by Mopane, Knob Thorn, Purple Pod Terminalia and Leadwood trees; create a splendid backdrop of rich earthy browns and yellows at the beginning of the dryer and cooler months, that puts to shame even the most creative and talented artists mix and hues of colours. It is pure joy to take the time to sit and allow all your senses to soak up your surroundings.
You will then notice the diversity of plants which are present in varying proportions, including Shrubs like the Sickle-Bush and Brandy Bush, as well as an array of grasses like Buffalo Grass, Finger Grass and Love Grass. For those who are a little more adventurous or get carried away in sheer awe and bliss of being in the African bush, you can get down on your hands and knees, or even lie on your stomach to explore … exploring the little secrets like the Bushman’s crimson red velvet mites or the march of the army ants.
The area’s geological history and makeup is as fascinating, in keeping with the rest of the Northern Tuli Game Reserve’s appeal. It forms part of the Karoo super group and is underpinned by Sandstone and Karoo sediments dating back approximately 190-280 million years. At around 100 - 183 million years ago there were volcanic eruptions initially induced by the breaking up of Gondwanaland causing large amounts of lava to be ejected, the remnants of this phenomenon can clearly be seen in the capping of basalt over the sandstone along the Limpopo River. There are also numerous Dolerite dykes in the area as a result of glacier movement during the Post-Achaean period.
A short walk along a Quartz ridge is a must for all! Children are usually blown away by the “gem” stones just lying around on the ground.
With the exception of flood plains, areas adjacent to rivers, water courses and natural depressions where the deeper and richer soils are found, the majority of soils in the area are shallow and poor with little structure due to the parent material and arid nature of the region. These soils have low percentages of organic materials present thus enhancing the lack of proper soil formation, high permeability and low water retention which leaves the area prone to erosion and distinct vegetation differences are notable if you look carefully.
The Northern Tuli Game Reserve forms part of the Limpopo drainage system. The mighty Limpopo River runs from west to east and is situated on the southern side of the Northern Tuli Game Reserve bordering South Africa.
There are two large feeder rivers, which flow into the Limpopo River in this area; namely the Shashe and Motloutse Rivers. The Shashe River forms the reserves north-eastern boundary with Zimbabwe and flows in a south-easterly direction joining the Limpopo at the point where the three countries meet. The confluence area is a must see for all tree lovers as there are some of the largest specimens of Leadwood and Apple-leaf trees to be found. The Motloutse River also flows in a south- easterly direction, and in some areas, forms part the reserves western boundary. Both the Shashe and Motloutse are seasonal sand rivers, and with the Limpopo, form the life-blood of the Northern Tuli Game Reserve as deep pools of permanent water are present in these rivers for most of the year, making it possible for animals to thrive in the reserve throughout the year.
The Northern Tuli Game Reserve is a true haven for animals and birds, with 48 mammal species present in the reserve (some being on the red data list). Game numbers in the reserve total approximately twenty thousand animals including ~ elephant, fifteen large herbivore species and the large cat species, all of which naturally occur in the area. There are no fewer than three hundred and fifty different birds that have been identified in the area with a number of specials, such as the Pel’s Fishing Owl and the Egyptian Vulture.
Game species that once existed in the reserve, but had vanished from this African landscape due to a number of reasons, are being re-introduced by the landowners and there are a number of long term studies and initiatives under way in the area; including a project where the endangered African Wild Dog have been reintroduced. Guests to the area are invited by the various lodges to view and participate in these initiatives, learning about and experiencing these animals in their natural habitat with local scientists.