I packed the multi-coloured Mini-Mal surfboard back into its overused cover and hung my wetsuit up to dry. Literally, not figuratively. I clumsily trotted towards the khaki section of my wardrobe to dust off my veldskoen and grabbed a handful of neutral colour bush clothes. My surf brands were tossed aside in favour of my less-attractive – yet comfy – bush attire (I have zero safari style). You’re probably wondering why I so eagerly transformed from Billabong to Billawrong?
I just received word that our latest product (Africa on Foot Wilderness Trails) was going to conduct an inaugural trail, with guiding legend Luan Oosthuizen at the helm. I wasn’t about to miss out on the possibility of adventure, endless campfire chats and exploration of new terrain. It was time to give the waves a break and give the bushveld a chance.
I flew direct to Hoedspruit, which is the best option given that your safari experience is quite physical – conserve your energy for the trail. Upon arrival, the team will transfer you from the airport (for a fee) to your first wild destination. Photographer Em Gatland picked me up from the airport and we bumbled back to the first campsite in the depths of the Maseke Balule Game Reserve, an hour’s drive from the airport heading in the direction of Phalaborwa.
The drive into the first campsite was unique. Rolling landscapes gave rise to Koppies with neatly stacked boulders, intrusive dolerite dykes, and granite intrusions on the banks of the Olifants River. The dusty roads, on each twist and turn, delivered endless views of elephant herds dotted across the horizon.
When we (Thelma and Louise) arrived at the campsite, I was taken aback at the scenery. We spent the night on the banks of the Olifants River which holds many mysterious secrets. This is where wildlife comes alive ! The choir of sounds echoing through the area combined with the serenity of the water flowing was pure bliss.
We stayed in a private dome safari tents, of which there were 4. Each tent had twin beds with comfortable mattresses and a carpet on the floor. The front of the tent had a cover and camping chair where you could enjoy a spot of privacy. The rear of the tent had a zip which meant easy access to your camping bathroom, comprising a simple private plastic structure housing a chemical toilet and bucket shower (with a wooden floor grate). A step-up from my haphazard camping style.
This 3 day trail is a non-participatory mobile camping set-up, which means you don’t lift a finger. While I was there, I did help to set-up the camp with the rest of the team and relied heavily on young intern Guy Chapman to do the dirty work.
We were doing a “dry-run” of the trail, which meant the order of camping and day structure varied to the norm. There are three campsites and they include waterhole views, woodland views and sweeping river views.
Africa on Foot Wilderness Trails is a one-of-a-kind mobile safari experience in South Africa. This is one is for the adventurers and nature lovers who are looking for a walking safari experience like no other. A sister camp to Klaserie’s Africa on Foot, Wilderness Trails is designed to offer 3 nights camping in the Maseke Balule Game Reserve, each night in a different location. Each day is spent walking through the 8000 hectare reserve in the Greater Kruger Park, and each night is spent at a new, fully set up mobile campsite in a scenic location in the wilderness. A maximum of 8 guests (sleeping in 4 tents) are taken on the Kruger walking adventure of a lifetime. A professional Africa on Foot trained guide and tracker team will lead an informative, thrilling, and unforgettable walk in the wild.
After settling in, the next morning we arose before the birds. We had a quick coffee and listened to Luan discussing the etiquette of walking through the bushveld. The walk was at a slow and easy pace, taking in all the geology and flora of the area. Every so often our khaki-clad guide, Luan, would stop to tell us various myths and facts about plants. We stumbled upon giraffe, steenbok, waterbuck, kudu and elephant while exploring on foot.
We stopped for numerous water breaks and a much needed breakfast stop. Each step of the way Luan checked to see if we needed to recharge our batteries, which made us feel quite comfortable. Overall the trail was long but not particularly arduous and the terrain covered is rocky, but relatively flat.
While guests are out exploring the Kruger on foot, a ground team will be taking down the first camp and setting up the next one in a new location. A packed brunch will be enjoyed in the bush, while snacks and refreshments will be on offer upon arrival at camp. Evening game drives complete the experience, before campfire dinners and bed in a canvas dome tent.
When we returned to camp after a sweaty day of traversing new landscapes, we were met with eager smiles. I bypassed the gesture of a cold cloth to wash my hands and headed straight for the wine. We all grabbed a chair around the fire and settled in for the evening.
We only had one glass of wine.