SANParks broadens horizons with new unfenced visitor experience

Cape Town - South African National Parks is broadening their horizons by opening up new possibilities for adventure-loving travellers, as they've inaugurated a new trail in the Kruger National Park where visitors will be able to camp in the bush. 

Previously, most visitors' accommodation were restricted to fenced-in camps. But with the launch of the Mafunyane 4x4 Eco-trail earlier this year, visitors to the Kruger's beautiful north-western area around Punda Maria are now able to sleep outside the fenced areas in complete wilderness.

After opening in April 2016, the Mafunyane 4x4 Eco-trail underwent a few 'test runs' by avid Kruger Park honorary rangers, official rangers and media. When the trail opens for the public during the next Kruger dry season, organisers hope that it will provide an intimate insight into the northern regions of the park, which is often over-shadowed by the popular southern section. 

Although this is not the first trail of its type in the Kruger, the new Mafunyane trail hopes to join the ranks of the well-loved Lebombo trail in visitors' must-do books. The new Mafunyane can be seen as an extension of the Malopeni trail, which only allows visitors access to one overnight camp on the Letaba River. 

According to Karien Keet, Phalaborwa Section Ranger, the trail is situated in a part of the Kruger where other, normal visitors very seldom come.

Kruger ranger and Kruger’s Conservation Management official Vanessa Strydom also says the Mafunyane trail is truly something special. “As a visitor, you always keep on the roads, in line with the parks rules,” she says. “But then you start wondering… what are in those ‘no-entry’ areas. What are they hiding there…” This is exactly what the new Mafunyane 4x4 Eco-Trail aims to share with visitors – a deeper insight into the Kruger's most-secluded parts. 

What is the Mafunyane trail?

The Mafunyane 4x4 Eco-Trail is a four day, three night, self-catering guided adventure activity in the north-western section of Kruger National Park between the Olifants and Luvuvhu Rivers. 

The trail route covers a distance of approximately 270km and all participants are required to drive their own 4x4 vehicles, with provisions for the four-day trip, including tents and camping gear, sufficient supply of water, firewood and food. 

Although the trail is self-drive, it requires an official, professional trail guide to lead the trail and also provide the necessary interpretation en route. 

(Photo: Gabrielle Venter)

Want to go? Here's what to know: 

The Mafunyane 4x4 Eco-Trail operates during the dry season from 1 March to 30 November, meaning the trail will be open to visitors again from 1 March 2017. Bookings for next year's trail season can be made via SANParks' Central Reservations

Only 5 vehicles plus the guide vehicle are allowed on the trail at any one time. A maximum of 4 persons is allowed per vehicle. 

The trail departs from Phalaborwa Gate every Thursday afternoon at 12:00 and ends at Punda Maria Camp on Sunday morning. 

No children under 12 years unless arranged prior to departure.

Road conditions vary from reasonably good to sections with steep inclines, the crossing of streams and rivers and muddy sections during or after rain and therefore only 4x4 vehicles with proper 4x4 trailers or caravans are allowed.

When it rains, roads become a slippery mess. The route is closed during the heavy rain season, but the odd thundershower during the dry season will make your off-road adventure all the more exciting... 

Overnight sites have a fireplace, enviro-friendly toilets and a shower for which you heat your water on the fire.

NOTE: The trail may be cancelled at short notice due to heavy rainfall or any other management related issue such as uncontrolled fires, anti-poaching operations and unforeseen conservation activities in the area. 

In such event, guests will be informed as soon as possible guests will be fully refunded.

Cost: From 1 November 2016 until 31 October 2017 the tariff is R6 000 per vehicle, which translates to R1 500 per person if a vehicle is carrying 4 people. Bookings can be made via SANParks' Central Reservations.

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