The Mopani Rest Camp is located in the northern reaches of the Kruger National Park, about two thirds of the way up the park’s length. As you might expect, the rest camp derives its name from the area’s especially abundant Mopani trees that seem hell-bent on annexing the place for themselves. If a patch of ground is not already occupied by a road or a building, then you will almost certainly find a Mopani tree staking a claim, leaving no room at all for even a token covering of grass.
But, while the Mopani trees might be the theme of the camp, the undoubted star of the show is the quite-picturesque Pioneer Dam and the associated viewing deck. With its hefty crocodiles, pockets of drowned trees and the obligatory searing heat, Pioneer Dam has an undeniable Lake Kariba feel to it. One could certainly be forgiven if afternoons were spent sipping G&Ts on the deck rather than driving around the reserve looking at Impala and wishing that they were somehow more catlike.
Ordinarily, locations that are easy to access and offer grand views, as is the case with the Mopani deck, don’t produce good photographs. Either the scenes are too expansive to recreate effectively in a photo, or there are so many images availed on the internet that they no longer hold any artistic value.
Fortunately, though, the Mopani Rest Camp has a secret. Just as you approach the end of the viewing deck, a set of stairs leads off to the left into a thicket. The stairs seem somewhat out of place, apparently leading to nowhere, but from their footings, an inconspicuous path cuts through the bush and out to a set of boulders. The boulders are perched on the shoulder of the hill and afford an even better view of Pioneer Dam than the deck itself. It is also likely that by choosing the boulders instead of the deck, you will have the pleasure of photographing the sunset alone.
Frankly, I’m far from qualified to comment on whether or not Mopani is the best sunset location within the Kruger National Park, but if it isn’t, then the alternative will have to be an outright prize winner.
As an aside, 7 km from the Mopani Rest Camp lies the Mooiplaas waterhole. The waterhole is little more than a windmill, a water tank and a puddle, but I maintain it is one of the finer landscape photography locations in the park. What makes it so appealing is that the waterhole is on an open plain and the roads are such that you can photograph the scene from two orientations. Having the freedom to choose your angle is a rare luxury in a park littered with “Do not alight from your vehicle” signs.
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