I was excited to give walking through the wilderness a go and looking forward to doing so here at Makuleke, which is a very beautiful and wild part of my favourite place in the world - Kruger National Park. It's also probably Van's favourite place in the world after he spent seven months as a back-up here many years ago. He has been counting down the days to get back here.
I will admit that there is definitely something special about Makuleke. The combination of baobabs, nyala trees and fever trees makes for a magical forest. We drove through the fever tree forest due to the much-needed recent rains making it a bit more of a challenge to walk through, and it is definitely breath-taking. Makuleke feels wild, and there is definitely something to what one of the students said at the beginning of one of the walks - that we should feel lucky as there are very few who get to walk in this part of the world (Makuleke concession is not open to the public outside the tar road heading to Pafuri gate).
The recent rains meant that the vegetation was a vivid green and abundant and the elephants had moved further south as they do when water is not scarce. The day we arrived the group had seen a male lion on their morning walk - I was so jealous! We got our own taste of him the following night as he roared so close to camp with hyenas going crazy - turns out he killed one of the hyenas less than 100 meters from camp, which we found on a subsequent walk. Oh the African wild!
On my second walk I got the first big game encounter - a large herd of buffalo. At first they ran away from us, but then in typical Makuleke buffalo style, they grew curious and started coming back to see what we were. At one point our lead instructor Quentin had to stand up to stop them from coming close too quickly. We crouched down in the grass for quite a while watching them inspecting us. Very cool.
Another couple of walks we heard plenty of elephants, and for one of them actively avoided them as the bush was thick and breeding herds up here can be a little temperamental. Nonetheless, it was cool to hear them and see their tracks (and other signs) as we walked. We also got to see zebra, impala, eland (first time for me seeing eland in South Africa), warthogs and plenty of birds. We recorded 100 birds on one of our morning walks - not bad! My favourite encounter was on that same walk… two porcupines scurrying around together in the daylight. I have been wanting to see a porcupine FOREVER so it was so special to see them both going about their business in the day. I managed to get just a few metres away from them - SO COOL!
I will be heading to Mashatu in Botswana to participate in another trails course. Hopefully I will end up loving it even more as I did this one.
Stay tuned to find out!