Backpack Trails in the Kruger National Park: Have you ever noticed how much mess we create, how much unnecessary stuff we accumulate, and how much noise we make in our day-to-day lives? It’s not often we get the opportunity to acknowledge it, but when you’re backpacking through Big Five country with everything you need for four days strapped to your back it all becomes very clear, very quickly.
The concept of loading up a backpack and trekking through Big Five territory was a little ahead of its time when the
Kruger National Park’s Olifant’s River backpack trail opened in 2006. Since then,
as wilderness holidays have became a lot less daunting, the Mphongolo and Lonely Bull backpack trails have also opened their arms to travellers with a sense of adventure, and now it’s time to spread the word about these wonderfully wild trails through South Africa’s most iconic park.
In fact, wonderful doesn’t quite cut it. Four days and three nights hiking and camping off the beaten track, far away from the vehicles and fences that usually accompany a holiday in bustling Kruger is nothing short of extraordinary.
Hiking in the immediate vicinity of the country’s most notoriously dangerous wild animals might seem unnecessarily risky to non-adrenalin junkies and those with a strong inclination against being eaten by wild dogs, but with two experienced rangers accompanying every group, reading the veld, tracking and interpreting the signs of the wild every step of the way, the risk is controlled – and, for a real Kruger adventure, definitely necessary. In fact, tracking
wild and potentially dangerous animals is one of the best bits. The thrill of following in the footfalls of these creatures and, if you’re really lucky, watching them go about their business uninterrupted is second to none.
These trails aren’t all about slogging through the bush and dodging wildlife just to find a decent tree to sleep under. Backpack-free breakfast walks can extend until lunch, and without set campsites to reach each evening you’ve got the freedom to choose a shady spot to pitch your tents at will, so you can even do a couple of backpack-free days if you find a spot you like.
There’s also a strict ‘no trace camping’ rule, meaning as you and your group make their way through the bush, bathing in the river and sleeping in tents beneath the trees, little to no trace of your passing remains. Evening fires are small and sociable rather than the all-night bonfire you might expect, drinking water needs to be dug up from riverbeds like thirsty elephants do, and only eco-friendly products may be used when bathing in the Letaba or Olifants rivers – which is an adventure in itself!
Whether you do it for the adventure, the thrill of walking in footsteps of lions and bathing with all eyes on watch for crocodiles, or just for the love of Kruger and the natural wilderness unique to South Africa, the clutter and chaos of daily life comes into harsh perspective after four days of ‘eco-friendly’ living, and by the end of it you might just find yourself wanting to prolong your unsullied adventure in the wonderful wilderness of Kruger.
To read more about our recent experience on the Lonely Bull Backpack Trail, buy the August 2013 issue of Getaway Magazine.
It’s always difficult to decide what camera equipment to take with on a hike, especially with a heavy backpack on your back. For most, I would recommend a compact digital camera because it’s light and you don’t have to change lenses all the time. If, like me, you have to have your SLR with you, buy a small bag that you can attach to the backpack’s waist strap in front. This way your gear is always close. I use a
ThinkTANK Digital Holster 40 and carry a 50 mm fixed, 16-35 mm wide-angle and 100-400 mm zoom lens for these kinds of hikes. This way I can photograph everything from the night skies to animal portraits.
If I want to go:
Where? All three backpack trails are situated in wilderness areas in the northern section of the Kruger National Park. Lonely Bull is near Phalaborwa Gate, Olifants River near Olifants Camp and Mphongolo near Shingwedzi Camp.
When? The best time to hike these trails is late during the dry season (August to October) when large quantities of animals congregate near the water sources next to which you hike. The trails usually close between November and January.
Cost? R2050/person until 31 October 2013, when after it increases to R2200/person.
None. You have to be completely self-sufficient. Drinking water is sourced from rivers and holes in dry riverbeds, so remember to bring water purification drops or tablets. Hikers have to dig their own toilets.
Remember to bring this:
• Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping roll
• Food, cooking & eating utensils
• Headlamp, insect repellent, sunscreen, bio-friendly soap
For a full list, visit http://www.earthethics.co.za/kruger-national-park
The trails stretch over four days and three nights, with departures every Wednesday and Sunday. Two armed trails guides lead a minimum of four and a maximum of eight hikers through an unspoilt wilderness area with no set routines or fixed campsites. Hikers have to be reasonably fit and be prepared to rough it a little. You can expect to
hike between 7 and 15 kilometres per day.
No children under 12 are allowed on the trails (16 for Olifants River Backpack Trail) and over 65’s need a doctor’s certificate.
E-mail Bridget Bagley at [email protected] or phone her on (012) 426 5117. The trail cannot be booked through SANParks central reservations.Visit Sanparks Lonely Bull Trail for more info.
If you have any other specific questions about the backpacking trails, phone trails guide Wayne te Brake on 084 360 8772.