Kruger Park Still RulesPosted on: 24 September 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
David Alston rediscovers the magic of the Kruger National Park on the Sweni Wilderness Trail.
A night at Shimuweni Bush Camp on the banks of the Letaba River was the best possible prelude to our walking trail.
Situated some 130 kms north-west of Letaba Rest Camp in amongst copious mopani scrub, there is 13 kms of ‘exclusive’ road leading into the camp, seven of which are along a loop next to the Letaba, where we were rewarded with numerous sightings of elephant, buffalo and waterbuck.
The camp consists of 15 self-catering huts accommodating from four to six people, and has its own hide which always offers good sightings in the river.
Keeping to the main road on the way south between Letaba and Satara Camps, where we were to be met by our trails ranger, we achieved a quite coincidental ‘Kruger coup’ by seeing “the big five” in just under two hours.
First some elephant before we left the mopani, next a small herd of buffalo, then a lone white rhinoceros, swiftly followed by a mother leopard and her cub relaxing in a tree right next to the road, and to round it off, four lions lining up some wildebeest in their sights only a few kilometres from the camp. We had to leave this close encounter before it ended, but the whole episode showed why the area around Satara is so popular with tourists, as the open savannah plays host to a wide variety of game not always seen further north.
Sweni Trails Camp is located on the banks of the Sweni River some 45 minutes east of Satara, and after arriving in the late afternoon our party of eight settled in to our A-frame huts, got to grips with the communal ablution block and had a thorough briefing from our ranger Rodney.
Ably assisted by Obert and James the cook, Rodney proved to be an absolute star: totally responsible, with complete respect for the environment and all that is in it, and armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of ‘all creatures great and small’, as well as the flora of the area we were walking in – a real credit to the Parks Board and a boon to us walkers.
The procedure on the trails follows a set course: an early wake-up call, a longish walk of four to five hours in the morning, ending with a more than adequate brunch and siesta, and a shorter walk in the afternoon incorporating sundowners, before returning to camp for dinner. Game was relatively scarce on our first outing, but on the way back to camp in the vehicle we were more than compensated by coming upon a cheetah kill of a steenbok which had just happened.
Within ten minutes, a whole ‘Circle of Life’ unfolded. As soon as one of the two cheetah moved away from the kill, a group of vultures which had already gathered drove off the remaining one who offered no resistance, and devoured the remains of the steenbok. The birds departed en masse once replete, and immediately a lone hyena who’d been loitering with intent moved in to demolish what was literally the last leg of the kill. A remarkable example of how the pecking order works in the animal world; how privileged we were to witness it.
On our second morning walk we startled at a magnificent male lion in a dry riverbed, who momentarily paused to eye us regally before sauntering off in search of somewhere to nap undisturbed.
And then another special sighting: a black rhinoceros browsing peacefully, which we were able to observe for some five minutes being downwind of it, these formidable animals being quick to run away when disturbed. We were pleased to leave him at his breakfast without him having seen us, and then enjoy our own snacks which are provided to keep wolves from the door at the halfway stage of the walk.
In the afternoon we watched a herd of elephant drinking, and some patient lion waiting for dinner, at the waterhole in front of the camp, and after sundowners on a hill near the confluence of the Sweni and N’wanetsi Rivers, with a picture postcard sunset thrown in for good measure. It was time to return to Satara after breakfast the following morning and reluctantly rejoin so-called civilisation.
What is it that makes the trails so special? Apart from knowing that there are no other human beings within 50kms of the camp, they offer the rare opportunity to interact with nature and learn about the Parks’ flora and fauna on foot. One comes away with a heightened awareness of the importance of the environment and of preserving it for future generations to enjoy – and at the price of R5020 (£340) per couple for three nights and two days all found, the trails are a fraction of the cost of most luxury lodges.
To conclude with a personal observation based on the major traffic jams which surround most ‘big animal’ sightings on the tarred roads in Kruger, I cannot help but think that South Africa has unwittingly done itself a disservice in marketing the country as a ‘Big Five Destination’.
Overseas visitors now expect to see them within 24 hours of arriving at a lodge or a park, and sometimes put unreasonable pressure on rangers to produce the goods.
There is so much more to enjoy in the bush – especially on the walks – and perhaps we should take time out to market the ‘little five’: the ant lion, the buffalo weaver, the elephant shrew, the leopard tortoise, and the rhino beetle – not to mention the birds, which could easily form the subject of another article for the twitchers out there.
By David Alston
For full details and costs of the Kruger National Park’s seven Wilderness Trails, e-mail Bridget Bagley at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit the following web links for the Kruger National Park and the South African tourist board.
Bear in mind that reservations for Kruger Park have to made over a year in advance.
Have you been to Kruger Park in South Africa? Are you planning a safari holiday? Leave a comment in the box below or alternatively, share your thoughts with other readers in the 50connect forums.
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