20 March 2019
Three multi-day hiking trails in Kruger offer you the opportunity to experience the park in an exclusive and exciting new way.
If you love the Kruger National Park, you’re not alone. The grand dame of South African National Parks, the Kruger is exceedingly popular with both local and international tourists. As a result, getting a booking in one of the camps, the chalets or campsites is very difficult unless you book a year in advance.
However, if you are the adventurous type, you can experience the best the Kruger has to offer from a better vantage point – your own two feet. The Lonely Bull Trail, the Olifants River trail and the Mphongolo are three multi-day hikes in Kruger.
Two experienced rangers will guide you on game paths far from all the other tourists. Tracking the Big 5 and every other critter in between, it’s the wildest bush trip you are likely to ever experience. The best part? They are generally not over-booked.
Fantastic wildlife sightings
Like most people who have just entered the Kruger National Park, you’ll start off by getting excited at close-range sightings of impala, lilac-breasted rollers and starlings before your game-finding eyes click into gear.
We were fortunate enough to get a great sighting of a caracal crossing the road, my first ever sighting of the elusive cat (aside from roadkill in the Karoo). And, over the course of the next three days, we had fantastic sightings of elephant, Dagga boy buffalos. We had hippos pretend to charge us from a distance and went to sleep at night with lion roaring and hyena whooping at what seemed like close proximity (they were several kilometers away at least).
While it is pretty easy to see big game from vehicles, what most of us do not get access to when driving around the Kruger with the air-con on is the small stuff that the rangers point out. From yellow-bellied sand snakes, to skinks and terrapin turtles, our rangers enriched the experience with their knowledge of the bush.
They showed us the magic guarri tree with its water-divining properties, and many bird species. There were the green-backed Goliath herons, a disgruntled saddle-billed stork, hamerkop, southern black tits, African pigeons, martial and bateleur eagles, golden-breasted buntings and buffalo weavers
We all left the Kruger feeling a lot wiser to the ways of the wild.
About the Kruger wilderness hiking trails
- All three trails depart from Shimuwini, which is an hour from Kruger’s Phalaborwa Gate.
- The trails are three nights and four days long and are available to moderately fit people between the ages 12-65.
- Group sizes must be a minimum of four and a maximum of eight.
- While the Kruger also has a range of overnight trails where you spend each night in simple base camps, on these wilderness trails you set up camp each night in the open. Tents are compulsory.
- You must carry in all your own food and drinks.
What to pack on a Kruger hiking trail
While traveling light is a priority (rangers do a gear weight check before departing), we found the following gear items to be invaluable:
Much lighter than glass, foldable and tough, these are good for holding your whisky, which you will feel like you deserve at the end of each day’s hiking. On that note, whisky is probably the best remote bush drink. It doesn’t need ice or mixers and can even make your filtered river water taste palatable.
Possibly the most invaluable item in your backpack. Petzl and Black Diamond are the brands to check out. Remember the back up batteries.
A silly name, but a smart plastic tool that triples as a fork, spoon and so-so knife. Cheap as chips, but soon to be indispensable.
The one-stop shop for utensils and tools, Leatherman or the Swiss Army versions are all good.
Small collapsible stool
You may be roughing it, but no matter how much hair you have on your chest, being able to sit around the fire slightly elevated off the dirt is one of life’s simple pleasures when camping. A light three-legged fold out stool is your friend. Trust us.
Back Country meals
When you’re carrying in all your own stuff, you want to keep it light. Back Country make surprisingly palatable rehydrated meals that are easy to make after a long day’s hiking. Just add boiling water, wait a bit and enjoy from the packet to minimize washing up.
Eat is as either a pre-dinner snack or something to tart up a rehydrated meal.
A light book
Try something like a Penguin Pocket Classic (Alain de Botton’s On Seeing & Noticing or On Travel)and Roger Webster’s collection of South African short stories, The Illustrated At the Fireside are all recommended.
Star gazing apps
While using technology is not high on the list of priorities when you are deep in the bush far from wifi and connectivity in general, a star-gazing app can be exceptionally useful and informative. Far from the smog and city lights that usually obscure your vision of the night sky, an app like Pocket Universe or Star Walk helps you line up the bushveld stars and see everything from the Scorpio to Capricorn. Just watch out a real scorpio doesn’t snuggle up to you on the ground.
The Lonely Bull, Mphongolo and Olifants River trails can be booked via www.sanparks.org or on 0124289111.