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
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...