A river runs through it!

The northern reaches of Abelana Game Reserve are considerably different to the rocky outcrops and koppies of the south and are marked by the 10km stretch of the river that dissects the reserve – the Selati.

At around 140km in length, this seasonal river rises on the western slopes of the Wolkberg – a subrange of the magnificent Drakensberg located near Tzaneen in South Africa’s Limpopo province. The Selati flows through Abelana before making its way to the Olifants River just south of Phalaborwa – our closest town. It also forms a natural boundary with the neighbouring Mashishimale Community, which owns Abelana Game Reserve.

Although mostly dry for the majority of the year, there is permanent water along the Selati’s course through Abelana Game Reserve thanks to the positioning of wiers. This has created a home for hippos and crocodiles and prime game-viewing and birding spots to boot. It’s also provided the perfect location for Abelana River Lodge – our new luxury lodge that’s due to open on 23 February this year.

There’s something incredibly special about the Selati as it winds its way through Abelana. For a start its banks are home to beautifully thick, riparian forests boasting an array of tall, riverine trees found nowhere else on the reserve. Figs, nyala trees, ana trees, tambotis, jackalberry, knobthorns, leadwoods… all are abundant along the river’s edge, providing food and shelter for a range of animal species.

The local baboon troops roost here every night and can be seen foraging along the banks during the day. You’ll also find their smaller cousins – the vervet monkeys – searching for roots and fallen fruits in the leaf litter that covers the forest floor. This is also prime leopard territory. This apex predator loves hanging out during the heat of the day in the uppermost branches of figs and marula trees, from where it can spot potential prey and perhaps even plan an ambush! So remember to keep scanning the branches during game drives along the river – you never know what you might find in the treetops!

Because of the shade the forest provides, herds of impala and other plains game are regularly seen along the river’s banks. Kudu love it here, as do waterbuck and giraffe.

In between weirs the river is reduced to pools of water and its rocky bed is exposed. With the summer rains these pools are the colour of the rich, red earth and are full to the brim with life, from freshwater mussels, fish and frogs to insect larvae. The weirs double as bridges and are a great place to stop and birdwatch or just take in the amazing scenery along the river.

The river is a lot deeper in front of Abelana River Lodge, making it ideal for the hippo pod that lives there. You’ll also see crocodile cruising up and down and on the banks, and hear the distinctive cry of the African fish eagles that perch in the canopy above, watching for signs of fish in the waters below.

The birdlife here is prolific, with African spoonbill, saddle-billed storks and yellow-billed storks seen hunting for frogs and small fish along the edge of the water. If you are lucky you may even spot a Pel’s fishing owl that’s known to frequent the stretch of river in front of the lodge. Whichever way you view it, from a game vehicle or from the private deck of your suite at Abelana River Lodge, the Selati is absolutely picture perfect.

If you’d like to find out more about Abelana River Lodge, please get in touch!

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