Wilderness Trail Skills course – Makuleke Concession
The group arrived at camp with loads of kit and after a brief on the trail ahead, loads of kit were left behind. Packing, unpacking and sorting commenced before we were ready to head off on the start of the trail. After the obligatory "before" photos, we headed south-east towards Lala Palm Windmill and the fever tree forest beyond. It was humid going, but fantastic being in the forest.
It did not take us long to get to Hlangaluwe Pan, and up the koppie to the penthouse suite and our accommodation for the night. Our PLAN was discussed, an eco-friendly fire was built, hard wood was collected and beds were made. Matt was out quick as a flash, showing off his survival techniques, and in no time had a fire started. The weather was great, all was good … So we thought!
It did not take long for the clouds to gather and drops of rain to start falling. This was the order of the night until eventually it was just a downpour. Eight totally miserable people sat round a hissing and spitting fire, awaiting the dawn that never seemed to come.
As it started getting light we had a quick “confab” and decided to head back to camp, dry out wet sleeping bags and try again the following day. Dee picked us up after we had a very wet slip, slide and wade session across the floodplain, dodging buffalo to get to middle road.
Back at camp, wet … everything was wrung out and hung up to dry. The weather was still rainy by afternoon so we decided to go for a short afternoon drive and had a drink at the top of Manqeba, overlooking the dry Limpopo. The clouds parted and we had an amazing sunset. Things were looking up!
The following morning we headed off in wet boots for a walk. We got dropped off close to Jachacha Pan, and headed off towards the Limpopo and beyond. Cresting a rise close to the Limpopo we bumped a herd of buffalo on the opposite side, and with some clever manoeuvring got to within 20m of them without them knowing we were there. Ten minutes later we left them unperturbed, and circled round to the banks of the Limpopo.
On seeing the Limpopo for the first time we were all surprised to see a dirty, muddy, foamy, swirling mass of water where the previous evening there had been a dry stretch of sand. Amazing!
We took a break on a hill next to the river and had our breakfast, which we had brought along with us. After a good break we headed off for the jackalberry forest a few kilometres away. The forest was spectacular and left us all in awe.
We stayed there as long as possible before popping out close to the Dakamila Pan system. Buffalo seemed to pop out from everywhere as we walked, and other game such as kudu, zebra, nyala, warthog and spectacular birds were seen all along the way.
Finally, we arrived at Mapimpi Pan, which was well guarded by a very large crocodile, where we were met by Oli, who drove us back to camp. Back at camp it was a quick turnaround just to pack bags, and we were dropped off at Reedbuck Vlei to continue our adventure.
We headed south through Reedbuck Vlei down the drainage line to the Levuvhu River, where we found a suitable campsite on the riverbank. Firewood was a problem, as it was all very wet, but that did work in our favour as it improved everybody’s skills at keeping a fire going while on watch.
We were serenaded the whole evening by two hippo, who were trying to out-sing Pavarotti with back-up singers wood owl, water thick-knee and the bass Verreaux’s eagle-owl.
Early morning found us heading north, then west, to Nwambi Pan, where we took a break while I got hold of Dee at camp to sort out logistics and report in. Walking through the plains west of Nwambi was fantastic, with zebra all over the place and impala popping out of the woodwork to keep us on our toes. We took a few breaks along the drainage line at big pans as we slowly crept west towards Hutwini Gorge and a lunch break.
Close to the “airstrip” we took a break where elephants sleep, and it was not long before we were also all asleep. A short distance further on we walked into a sleeping elephant bull, which I did not see at all but was pointed out to me by Chris. To make things worse, he had to explain where it was and only when it moved its tail that I saw it properly.
How Chris saw it in the first place, I don’t know, but I am pleased he did as I would have walked right under its belly without knowing and him probably not even waking up.
We beat a quick tactical retreat around him and then moved on to Hutwini Gorge, where we took a nice, long break through the heat of the day. After a bite to eat everyone’s heads started nodding, and it was not long before we were all asleep. Next thing a “pssst” broke the silence, Chris of course, followed closely by a hoarse whisper of: “Buffalo.”
I looked round, and a buffalo cow had come round the corner and was sniffing the air. We were in deep shade so she could not see us, but was aware that something was not right. She turned slowly and walked away from us.
Mangala opened up in front of us after a pleasant walk from Hutwini Gorge. Mangala is a spectacular campsite on the banks of the Levuvhu with high ridges behind and to the side, making it an ideal, safe spot to camp. Water was collected and flocculated, firewood was collected, a fire started and the kettle put on, and everybody had an early dinner. The weather was fantastic, with not a cloud in the sky.
Under my watch it was interesting because a breeding herd of elephants came down to drink in front of us, as did a bull elephant in musth. Denis and Chris joined me in the moonlight on the banks of the river, as we watched the elephants doing their thing in the water.
The bull decided he wanted to come and have a look at our campsite but on getting close, decided the bank was to steep for him to climb so just stayed at the bottom rumbling away to himself. Chris had a buffalo bull rolling in the mud below him, and hyena were calling all over the place. An amazing night …
After a very leisurely wake-up and breakfast, we headed off on a walk without heavy packs. We tracked the big musth elephant bull until he went into some really thick mopane up a gorge. Returning to camp in the late morning, we found our own shady spots and proceeded to do some serious snoozing.
Later in the afternoon we packed up and took a leisurely stroll up to Masashiti Spring, where we made camp for the final night. The spring water was crystal clear and sweet as ever. The weather was fantastic, the venue spectacular and the company marvellous.
Something about looking over the bushveld savannah, under a bright moon, listening to African scops owl and hyena calling, makes everything worthwhile. It rejuvenates the soul and resets all the dials and gives one energy for the future. This evening was no different and I think everybody on trail was touched by how beautiful and harmonious nature can be.
All too soon dawn arrived and the final pack-up commenced. The “dome” was cleaned, all remnants of the fire and our presence removed, before we donned our packs and headed back to camp. I called for a silent walk to give people time to reflect on what they had learnt, achieved, experienced and on how they were going to carry this trail forward into their future lives.
An unbelievably quiet two hours passed as we strolled over the hills and through the dales, before having to “cross the line” once again back into so-called civilisation.
It was a fantastic trail with lots of highs and lows, but I think all of us came out with an amazing sense of achievement for persevering.
I convey my deep, personal gratitude to all participants for joining us on this trail. If it was not for you, we would not be able to do what we do and live in a place like this.