Softly in Nyala land:

LIZ MCKEN­ZIE es­capes to a re­mote area of Kruger, just be­yond Punda Maria Rest Camp, to rel­ish a three-day hik­ing trail

South African Country Life - - In This Issue - PIC­TURES JOCK AND LIZ MCKEN­ZIE

Lit­tle trumps a three-day walk­ing trail far off the beaten tracks of Kruger.

“This is a cross-bed­ded, shal­low-wa­ter, Water­berg sand­stone,” says our friend John Weaver, point­ing out a rip­pled red stone on top of a pile of rocks. “Its colour is due to the pres­ence of iron ox­ides de­posited 1 900 mil­lion years ago.” To a lay­man like me this piece of in­for­ma­tion is some­what

À all those mil­lions of years.

John is giv­ing us an in­sight into the ge­ol­ogy of the Kruger Na­tional Park and is look­ing at an­other friend in our group, ar­chae­ol­o­gist Re­nee Rust, to be his prospec­tive pupil – over the next few days she will be tested on the sub­ject.

As a ge­ol­o­gist, John re­ally does have rocks in his head, and is never out in the park scan­ning the hori­zon look­ing for game, but look­ing for rocks. “Kruger is pre­dom­i­nately made up of basalt and gran­ite,” he ex­plains, “but right here in this par­tic­u­lar area we have con­glom­er­ate for­ma­tions.”

“Right here” is the Punda Maria Gate pic­nic site and in­ter­pre­tive cen­tre where our group of friends, John and Sue Weaver, Re­nee and Niekie Rust, Pierre Myn­hard, my hus­band Jock McKen­zie and I, have stopped for lunch af­ter en­ter­ing the Kruger Na­tional Park. We’re en route to the Punda Maria Rest Camp to meet our guides and de­part on our hike along the Nyala­land Wilder­ness Trail.

There are seven wilder­ness trails through­out Kruger. Close to half of the park’s two mil­lion hectares are es­pe­cially zoned as re­mote wilder­ness ar­eas, in which there are no roads ac­ces­si­ble to the gen­eral public. Typ­i­cally, these trails in Kruger con­sist of three nights in a per­ma­nent tented camp site, with two full days for hik­ing.

It’s a priv­i­lege to be part of a group of eight on one of these trails, to ex­plore Kruger on foot with two highly trained and ex­pe­ri­enced rangers. For us it has be­come an an­nual priv­i­lege, for which we book well in ad­vance to se­cure the trail of our choice.

Shortly be­fore ar­riv­ing at the Punda Maria camp, we stop to watch a huge ele­phant

plod­ding across the road. He stops, rests his thick trunk on his tusk and looks at us, as if to say, “You have no idea how heavy this trunk is.” That’s what Kruger does to me. I feel so con­nected that I want to have a con­ver­sa­tion with an ele­phant.

At the camp we’re en­thu­si­as­ti­cally met by Ndou Ntham­be­leni and Al­fred Nelukalo, our rangers and guides for the next three days. Quite a scram­ble en­sues as we check that we have packed all we need, in­clud­ing the vi­tal store of sundowners, as any­thing left be­hind stays be­hind.

“From here there is no go­ing back,”

Ndou cau­tions us as he turns the sa­fari ve­hi­cle and heav­ily laden trailer onto a road post­ing a ‘no en­try’ sign. We feel like kids on an ad­ven­ture. From here on we will only be in the com­pany of our guides, the wilder­ness camp chef and our­selves. Not a sight or sound of cars, car­a­vans or buses. It’s as if we have Kruger to our­selves.

As we near the Nyala­land base camp, a gi­ant African baobab (Adan­so­nia dig­i­tata) is sil­hou­et­ted against the sky; un­tidy com­mu­nal nests of the Red-billed Buf­falo Weaver are caught up in the bare branches. Ndou cuts the engine and our ears ring in the sud­den si­lence. We are here for all things great and small and the an­cient baobab that wears its age like a badge of glory must surely be one of the great­est.

Af­ter set­tling into our tented camp high on the banks of the Lu­vu­vhu River un­der great grey lead­woods (Com­bre­tum im­berbe), and where lush Natal ma­hoga­nies (Trichilia emet­ica) shade the mess tent in the heat of the day, we gather around the fire and lis­ten to the

mag­i­cal call of a Fiery-necked Night­jar and the mourn­ful whoop-whoop of a dis­tant hyena. We know we are truly in the heart of Kruger.

A squeaky wheel sounds as a bright light wa­vers out of the dark­ness. Win­ston

“From here there is no go­ing back,” Ndou cau­tions us as he turns the sa­fari ve­hi­cle and heav­ily laden trailer onto a road post­ing a ‘no en­try’ sign

LEFT: At the Pa­furi Gate pic­nic site, Re­nee Rust, ar­chae­ol­o­gist, ex­plains to Pierre Myn­hard the ori­gin and age of the cross-bed­ded shal­low Water­berg Sand­stone while John Weaver, ge­ol­o­gist, qual­ity con­trols the ex­pla­na­tion. ABOVE: Niekie Rust tries his...

ABOVE: Guide Ndou Ntham­be­leni ex­plains that the den in a ter­mite mound is used as a ‘time­share’. MID­DLE: Up close to ze­bra on our morn­ing hike in Nyala­land. RIGHT: In this re­mote area, game is sen­si­tive to our ap­proach on foot and see­ing a group of...

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