Kruger's wild walks

2013-04-15 08:40

Even though going on safari - self-drive or with an operator - is a great way to experience the bush, if you want to get really up, close and personal with nature, a guided walk in the wild comes highly recommended. 

Of course, doing something like this is, ahem well, no walk in the park, and requires a good deal of guts, stamina and tenacity. However, if you can manage to muster all of the above, taking on the challenge is an experience that will remain with you for many years to come. 

We check out the Kruger National Park's excellent selection of wilderness and backpacking trails and give you all the information you will need.

Wilderness trails

There are currently seven wilderness trails in the Kruger National Park, located in different areas. Most of them can be found in the middle and south, while one is in the far north. 

Wolhuter trail

Established in 1978, Wolhuter is the oldest wilderness trail in the park, and remains one of the most popular. 

Where: It is situated roughly between Berg-en-dal, Ship mountain and Afsaal picnic site.

What to expect: The trail has a lot to offer in the way of scenery, wildlife and culture. It's spectacularly scenic wilderness area characterized by high granite outcrops with deep valleys as well as a flatter undulating landscape. A lot of relics from the past can also be found in the area, suggesting that it was a popular place for settlements and trade. Evidence of Bushmen and stone and iron age people can be found on the higher lying areas and rocky outcrops. It is also the heart of the region where Jock of the Bushveld and his master, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick criss-crossed on their adventures.

As for wildlife, rhino, elephant and buffalo are all common sightings, as are zebra, giraffe, kudu, waterbuck, blue wildebeest and warthog.

Departure point: Berg-en-Dal rest camp

Trail camp location: The trail camp of the Wolhuter Trail is situated midway between Berg-en-dal and Pretoriuskop in the southern section of the Kruger Park

Duration: Three nights, with two walking days in between. 

Cost: R3 900 per person

(Andre Delport/SANParks)

Sweni trail

Where: Mid-southern section of the park

What to expect: The trail follows the Sweni river, and is surrounded by open flat thorntree savannah, popular with large herds of game at certain times of the year. This, in turn, attracts an influx of predators, which is also considered to be the trail's main drawcard. During the two days spent on the trail, you get to experience the complex dance between predator and prey from grassroots level. Scary stuff, but exhilarating too! An abundance of bird life and spectacular night skies also add to the trail's charm. 

Departure point: Satara rest camp

Trail camp location: Sweni's trail camp is located on the Sweni river and is surrounded by open plains.

Duration: Three nights, with two walking days in between. 

Cost: R3 900 per person

Olifants trail

Where: Situated on the banks of the Olifants River, this trail is the most central of the seven, located in the eastern middle region of the park. 

What to expect: The trail offers guests the opportunity to explore remote gorges and valleys where the perennial Olifants River flows through the Lebombo mountains. There are also a few flat plains from which excellent game viewing can be done. One of the highlights of the trail is to see the confluence of the Olifants and Letaba rivers as they join to flow mightily into Mozambique. 

Departure point: Letaba Rest Camp

Trail camp location: On the southern bank of the Olifants River

Duration: Three nights, with two walking days in between. 

Cost: R3 900 per person

Nyalaland Trail

Where: This is the most remote of the seven camps, located in the far north of the park between Punda Maria and Pafuri. 

What to expect: If you are trying to add new birds to your bird list, Nyalaland is a good place to be. The area is one of the best in the country for bird watching and various localised species such as Verreauxs' eagle, Pel's fishing owl, grey-headed parrot, mottled spinetail and a lot more can be seen. This spectacular wilderness area is also home to the largest concentration of giant baobabs, making it an absolute dream-landscape for anyone whose heart beats for Africa. 

Animal sightings could include all of the Big Five, but also allows guests to see some rarer specimen, such as such as nyala, Sharps grysbok, eland, roan antelope, yellow spotted rock hyrax, elephant shrews and red rock rabbits.

Departure point: Punda Maria

Trail camp location: The camp is hidden in a secluded spot on the Madzaringwe River with towering cliffs of the Soutpansberg Mountains in the background. 

Duration: Three nights, with two walking days in between. 

Cost: R3 900 per person

Napi Trail

Where: This trail lies in the south of the park, between Pretoriuskop and Skukuza. 

What to expect: Both the Mbyamithi and Napi rivers flow through the area, offering incredible scenery for walks along the riverbanks with stunning large trees. Vegetation consists mainly of broad leave woodland and tamboti thickets. Large open patches host unique plants such as the spectacular summer impala lily. Seasonal pans in the area allows for lots of big game sightings, especially white and black rhino who love to wallow around in the mud. The area is also great for aquatic bird watching. 

Departure point: Pretoriuskop Rest Camp

Trail camp location: The Napi Trail camp lies nestled in riverine bush at the confluence of the Napi and Biyamiti streams.

Duration: Three nights, with two walking days in between. 

Cost: R3 900 per person

(Rod and Jen Bell/SANParks)

Metsi-Metsi Trail

Where: This wilderness trail is situated in the south eastern side of KNP along the Nwaswitsontso river near Tshokwane picnic site.

What to expect: The Lindanda plains attract huge herds of herbivores at certain times of the year and offer hikers a chance to walk amongst high densities of game. Black rhino are well represented in this area as well as the more common white rhino. Predators such as cheetah and lion are also fairly common. The Nwaswitsontso river also forms part of the trail and provides for spectacular scenery. Birds unique to plains habitats such as ostrich, kori bustard, lappet faced vultures, secretary birds and black coucal can be seen.

Departure point: Skukuza rest camp

Trail camp location: The large open camp is situated on a tributary of the Metsi Metsi river at the foothill of the Nwamuriwa mountain.

Duration: Three nights, with two walking days in between. 

Cost: R3 900 per person

Bushmans Trail

Where: The trail is located in the south western part of the park, and also happens to be the southernmost wilderness trail. 

What to expect: Deep quiet valleys and high rocky outcrops with spectacular views. Heavy presence of elephant and rhino has resulted in a well marked network of natural game paths and allows for structured and comfortable walks. The trail offers visitors the opportunity to see Bushman paintings up close and learn more about the San people and their art. 

Departure point: Berg-en-Dal

Trail camp location: The camp is uniquely hidden between a series of massive granite kopjes providing a very pleasant atmosphere.

Duration: Three nights, with two walking days in between. 

Cost: R3 900 per person

While all the trails may offer different landscapes and experiences, there are a couple of rules, regulations and tips that remain the same for all. 

General rules 

Start and finish: Wilderness trails start on either a Wednesday afternoon to a Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon to a Wednesday morning. The trail ranger meets the group at 15h30 in a designated parking area in the respective rest camp.

Age: People between the ages of 12 and 65 years may participate per trail. 

Group size: Groups are limited to eight persons per trail.

Fitness level: Some of the trails cover distances of up to 20km a day, therefore participants should be reasonably fit and confident that they would be able to keep up with the guide. 

Trail ranger: It is of the utmost importance that hikers follow the trail rangers rules throughout, as they are responsible for the group's safety and wellbeing. 

Malaria: Taking malaria tablets is required for all trails. 

Catering

Simple but wholesome meals are provided on the trail. Typically they will be prepared by a cook on either an open fire or a gas stove. Trailists with special dietary requirements are requested to make prior arrangements and they will be accommodated if possible. Apart from coffee, tea and drinking water, beverages are not provided and guests are expected to bring their own. 

What to bring

Clothes-wise, hikers should pack items that are comfortable, durable and provide sufficient protection against sun and insects. Neutral colours, like khaki are preferable and bright colours should be avoided. A hat, rain jacket and warm clothes for evenings also come highly recommended.

Comfortable hiking boots are required for the trail, but visitors can wear sandals in camp. 

Cameras, binoculars, walking sticks, sunscreen lotion and reference books are optional, but a decent flashlight is of the utmost importance for moving around at night.

Atmosphere

The whole point of going on a wilderness trail is to escape the rush and craziness of everyday life. Therefore the park requests that cell phones, music players and generators not be brought on the trail. 


Read more on:    weekend escapes  |  travel south africa  |  lifestyle
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