On the Wild Side
This is the safari center of South Africa. Besides the Kruger National Park, which extends into both these provinces, there are many private game parks in the area. You can visit Kruger independently, as long as you are driving a closed vehicle, or you can stay at one of the many private game lodges and, for a price be pampered in primitive luxury and watch game under the supervision of a knowledgeable ranger.
Go to Outdoor South Africa: Mpumalanga for more information on public lands and hiking in the area.
Kruger Wilderness Trails
The Kruger National Park is the biggest and best-known park in South Africa. Covering an area of almost 20,000 km, it incorporates a number of different biomes, each home to a different assemblage of animals. You may have heard of the tarred roads and the rest camps that look like suburban centers, but don't let this deter you. These exist, but they comprise a very, very small part of the park.
There are seven separate wilderness trails, each limited to groups of up to eight people, aged between 12 and 60. The trails run from Wednesday to Saturday or Sunday to Wednesday. You meet at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday or Sunday at the relevant rest camp, where you are briefed before being transferred to your wilderness camp. This will consist of four very basic huts, with bedding, towels and soap, and communal ablutions consisting of flush toilets and showers. You spend the next two days walking, returning to the wilderness camp every night, and, on the morning of the third day, are transferred back to the rest camp. The trips are fully catered but special diets are not accommodated.
The Bushman Trail, as well as offering the opportunity of seeing big game, takes you past a number of archaeological sites, including rock paintings. It is in the far southeast corner of the park and the scenery is dominated by dramatic granite hills.
The Metsimetsi Trail is an excellent trail to do in the dry winter months as it follows the Nwaswitsontso River for a while. This is one of the few dependable water sources in winter and therefore attracts a lot of game, especially elephants.
The Napi Trail traverses an area rich in white rhino and other big game. All of the big five have been seen in this area, although not necessarily on the same rail. You may be lucky though.
The Nyalaland Trail is in the northern part of the park in truly subtropical bush; fever trees and baobabs are typical. Birds are plentiful and game abounds.
The Olifants Trail starts from a camp on the banks of the Olifants River. The scenery is spectacular, ranging from riverine bush to breathtaking gorges. Birding is good and crocodile, hippos, lion, elephant and cheetah are often seen.
The Sweni Trail, near Nwanetsi, is in an area of the park typified by extensive grasslands that are home to large herds of zebra, wildebeest and buffalo. Lion and spotted hyena are common here and both black and white rhino have been seen on the trails.
The Wolhuter Trail is named after two of Kruger's most famous rangers, Harry and Henry Wolhuter (father and son). The trail affords views of undulating bushveld with numerous rocky outcrops. White rhino are often seen, as are elephant, lions, leopards, buffalo, zebra and black rhino.
It can't be guaranteed, but you may see the big five on a wilderness trail in Kruger. The trails are very popular and must be booked, preferably well in advance, through the National Parks Board.
While in the Area: Companions who do not wish to walk can stay in one of the many camps at Kruger and do the usual vehicle-based safaris. The whole Mpumalanga/Northern Province area is well endowed with game destinations. Those looking for a very upmarket, luxurious game experience can contact Conservation Corporation Africa and enquire about one of their many private game reserves in the area. There are also interesting caves, mountain bike trails and climbing routes.
Lapalala Wilderness Walks
Although they also do conventional vehicle-based safaris, Lapalala Wilderness, in the Waterberg area of the Northern Province, specialize in walking safaris from Rhino Camp, on the banks of Kgogong River. It is a pleasant, small tented camp with en suite ablutions and flush toilets.
You are likely to see black and white rhino, buffalo, many species of antelope, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and, if you are lucky, maybe wild dog or cheetah. There are a number of interesting archaeological sites, including rock paintings, which form a part of the walks. This is one of the few malaria-free big-game areas in southern Africa.
Booking is through the Johannesburg office of Lapalala Wilderness.
While in the Area: Equus Luxury Horseback Safaris, based at Lapalala, operate multi-day safaris across this and neighboring reserves.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication