Imfolozi National Park: Wilderness Trekking With the Big Five - Page 2

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How the Big Five Found Their Fame
Rhinos, lions, leopards, buffalo, and elephants became known as the Big Five of Africa because, of all the animals within the continent, these five were the most difficult to kill. The toughest of the Big Five? The buffalo. As Fortune, our Zulu guide through Imfolozi explained, "You shoot a buffalo once and you don't kill him, he's coming after you."
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Follow the leader: The tracks of a white rhino lead from the sandy river bank into the bush (Nathan Borchelt)
It's understood—you come to South Africa to go on safari. Animal imagery greets you the minute you step off the plane in Johannesburg: a colorful row of elephants, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, and wildebeests strung together as if dancing in celebration of your arrival. But before you even start pricing your plane ticket, consider the following: What kind of safari experience do you want? If it's guaranteed exposure to a fleet of bush animals, including at least four of the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo), then any private game reserve along the western spine of Kruger National Park will offer ample opportunity to burn through rolls of film. But if you want your wildlife experience less like a zoo on wheels and more about genuine interaction with the animals on their turf, then take a wilderness trek through Imfolozi National Park—you'll become all too aware of your position on the food chain.

That latter desire brought our motley crew to Durban, the largest city in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa's easternmost province. We'd spent the previous week in Cape Town, the first stop on an exhausting press junket that started in the Western Cape province and had us abseiling off Table Mountain, hiking on the Cape of Good Hope, sea kayaking in Hout Bay, and horseback riding on Long Beach. And while it was a grand time, Cape Town more closely resembles a Northern California coastal town than the acacia-forested, animal-rich Africa of one's mind. Cape Town did have its share of ostriches and baboons (who will raid your car for anything that's edible if you leave your window open), but neither animal qualifies as wild game.

As Elbar drove us through KwaZulu-Natal, the geographical displacement we'd felt in Cape Town (a 13-hour flight to reach Northern California?) dissolved as we cruised passed endless fields of sugar cane and the occasional Zulu village. It was late afternoon and Elbar had the needle pegged as high as the truck could safely travel—we were in a race against the setting sun to reach Imfolozi and start our trek.

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