Kruger Trail Leg 1 done and dusted

The Kruger Trail
whats going to follow over the next couple of days is a series of posts being a write up of the Kruger trail, actually its a copy and paste from Facebook posts…
We ended up walking about 100km and after that I joined an APU project based out of a central campsite in a private park and did foot patrols of 15km a day for another 6 days… I’ve done over 200km on foot in two weeks in the bushveld and thoroughly loved it (Oh and after that My wife and Kids joined me for four days and that long drive back to Cape Town.)
We/I experienced so much in those three uniquely different activities its really hard to recount as one enterprise so Im going to jump around a lot.

Please dont ask about the APU activities or locations - I cant disclose it, but there are members on here that are aware of it and yes its all sanctioned through SANParks and the relationship they have with their Private equity partners and SANParks Honorary Rangers and FGASA guides any images of Rhinos were supplied to me by the owner of a private game farm in Texas a reference only
I won’t bore you with the semantics of driving from Cape Town up to Punda Maria in 27 hours in my 20 year old Landrover, or around Kruger and back down again via Golden Gate and Karoo National Parks or the joy of camping wild out of it, but I will say that in over 5000km it diddnt skip a beat - which is more than I can say for a couple of other vehicles we came across.

I love my Landy and so do the animals.

With that said here goes…

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Leg 1 Day 1:

We actually started things yesterday by leaving two vehicles at the Vlakteplaas Ranger station, some 50 minutes drive South East of Punda Maria Rest camp one fridge solar powered and filled with various beers (little did I know that would be that last beers Id be buying - till now even)
At 06:00 we left and drove in two vehicles up to Pafuri camp, leaving them there and continuing onto Crooks corner in the Parks OSV. Driving on a gravel Closed to the public road directly into the rising sun we didn’t see the leopard that crossed in front of the lead vehicle, but did see the Wild dogs enrolee (always a great sign of things to come)

Zulu people’s relationship with rock piles called Isivivane exemplifies that sense of both membership and contribution. The term “Isivivane” signifys an act of both honoring the sacred and/or historical sites upon which isivivane appear and participating in a group effort and to “pay respect to the spirits and so ensure that they have a safe journey”

Collecting an isivavane (burden) rock from the shores of the Limpopo river and walking West with our packs laden with 5 litres of water and all our food and equipment for the next 6 days unsupported we set off from South Africa’s most North East border; Crooks Corner following the route of the Luvuvhu river, for our hike through the Big 5 Game reserve that is Kruger. Our Kruger Trail Safari begins

After the obligatory weighing of the packs - 18kg to, well lets say mine weighed 26kg’s and some happy snaps we were off in earnest

Walking on animal paths through the riverine woodlands onto the grassland floodplain of the Limpopo river, teaming with plains game, Impala leaping over the long grass matching the spring in our step. Giraffe gracefully walking by, a breeding herd of Buffalo belowing away some 100m to our left. Birds whirled overhead it all feels positively surreal to be here on foot, whilst on our drive to the start we saw a Leopard and Wild dogs on the road! Some 300m to our North, cars drive past along the road oblivious to our presence and gradually the distance increases (literal and spiritual) increases as we eke our way up into the hills that feed the Shimwanyani river.

Lunch beneath the sprawling shade of two Jackalberry trees offered an opportunity eat a meal and recharge.

A lazy 2 hour rest later we continued Westwards into the foothills of the Thulamela hills, unexpectedly bumping into an elephant obliviously marching towards water provided a heart stopping moments entertainment before we ascended and then descended our way to a secret valley just below the output of a natural spring.

S22° 26’ 57.9" E31° 12’ 32.1"

There in the shade of several Jackalberry trees on a slight rise next to a burbling fresh water spring that becomes the Shimwanyani river, we camped for the night. Its was idyllic, and arguable our most picturesque campsite.

The Luxury of hot water for bathing now a distant past as it would be for the next week we were enthralled by the freshness of the spring water during the dying heat of the day.

Distance:- 14.2km

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Leg 1 Day 2:

The reality of walking off trail seemingly aimlessly and without known direction is the definition of a Safari and in that sense today it was truly palpable.

Yes the object is not game viewing but rather experiencing the region that the animals live in, without any filter. Being off the roadways there’s no controlled boundary restricting your sight to merely 20m through thickets, often it was, and less but cresting hills or intentionally finding magnificent trees and heights opened up the vista’s.

That view Northwards into Zimbabwe (2 days walk away) was phenomenal but for me this was the beginning of the walk into Baobab country. Man there were views where we could see thousands of them.

I have so much love and time for these trees and have spent so much time in my life admiring them that sometimes, just sometimes ones experience overrides the knowledge someone’s read in a book, or tried once.

Not to discredit to anyone but I’ve been in a position where my only vitamin intake for a week was the dry pulp from Baobabs seeds and for the remainder of this trip I was happily chewing and sucking away at the seed pod pulp, knowing the vitamin C kick it was giving me.

The overnight stop was really something else as the sun set the baboons led by a sentry high in the cliffs were barking away enthusiastically warning each other about the threat that can only have come from a patrolling a leopard

One of my best mental pictures is of one hiker standing in shorts only against the rivers vertical rocky bank absorbing the dying rays of sunshine - whilst some 100m down river a baboon was doing the same. Us mammals - we’re not that different and us primates sure do understand the comfort the sun brings and the cold fear as it sinks below the horizon leaving the dark to the night time predators but Im getting away from myself.

The Night was quiet and essentially uneventful, For those interested, the nighttime answering to the call of nature procedure is:

  • Listen intently to hear noises around the campsite (breathing, hooves, or movement) (isolate the animal ones from your hiking coleagues.
  • Open inner zip, and listen again then open flysheet zip
  • Shine torch around infront the tent and check no eyes look back at you.
  • Emerge from the tent and shine all around to ensure no eyes are reflecting back at you behind the tent.
  • Take your releif 1m from the tent then scamper back in and zip up again.
  • (Or at least that was the briefing; more on the lavatory process in another post - there are no toilets!)

The pre-dawn ritual begins to a chorus of chattering spurfowls, and crooing carp turtle doves busying themselves for the day. Those not responding to natures wake up call are prodded with a hiking pole (sorry)

Through the night we could hear the Hyena’s cackling away in the distance, and it sounded like they were calling for one of our fellow hikers, Huw… Huw… Huw… Strange what the mind gets upto when supplied with abundant fresh air

Breakfast of Oat-so-easy mixed with dried fruit and filter coffee (thank you Brewspoon ) done, we pack up our tents and in the breaking dawn light we are already walking up the hill into the sunrise.

You burn a lot of energy carrying all your needs for 6 days on your back so a healthy breakfast before dawn is followed by a snack then lunch then nibblies then dinnner.

Starting with a southerly bearing and sticking to the water courses we enter a realm of Mopane forests, the guides using satellite imagery to locate the least dense strands frequently found that Gaia 2014 imagery wasn’t as up to date as the quick growing mopane trees.

We wound our way over hills towards an increasingly imposing cliff face on the banks of the Nkovaklu river. We started up a drainage line, in thick vegetative tree cover, a few fleeting views of Crested Spurfowls exploding out the undergrowth, no Buffalo were cornered or seen and we ascended relatively easily.

With a few exploratory false starts leading to vertical drops, we ended up traversing Westwards cresting the slope before descending South and then proceeding westerly again.

Having crossed the cliff face we descended into the Mopane thickets interspersed with Large Baobabs and walked through valleys lined with hundreds of Baobabs.

A respectable lunch break in a riverbed later we continued following the drainage line criss crossing the river and occasionally ascending hillocks to get a glimpse of the surrounding baobab filled land. Simply beautiful.

We comtinued Westwards to our Second nights stop, a stunning sandy beach on the Mashikiri river S22° 29’ 04.5" E31° 08’ 07.1"

Distance:- 14.1km


So what kit did I carry?

Obviously too much, but here’s a pic of everything except camera and the maps.

The 2x1.5l coke bottles were filled with water together with 2l in the 3l bladder - this gives the bladder sufficient malleability to fit into the crevices of available space in my pack.
Im not going to type it all out - far too boring so here’s a picture of the individual items, some of which I’ll be discussing their pro’s and cons

Starting with the Water filter: I removed the shower head from a Sea2Summit 10l shower and fitted a tube with a quick disconnect coupling I added the male end to a short length of hose connected to the Sawyer Water filter, and a 1m length of hose on the other side to gravity feed filtered water into bottles. To prevent heavy sediment entering the filter I added a short “snorkel” to the outlet inside the bag.
Its a good system if you want to hang it and leave it to do the filtering for you rather than the schlepping of squeeze bottles, plus it has the added advantage of ensuring that all the water containers had potable water in it to prevent cross contamination but as Im sure people will testify its not perfect and a bit slow, particularly after reverse force flushing the filter…
Can you believe that after using it at least twice a day for a week and throughout the Fishriver Canyon, despite knowing I tried to take photos of it in-situ I still cant find a picture of the set up other than on the right of all the people against the riverbank hanging off a tree stump (zoom in)

I drank from the 1.5L bottles so I have a measurement of how much I was consuming, in reality, with the extra water stops at breaks, I probably drank (and used for cooking) over 4 litres of water a day. Only on the two last days did I need to drink from the bladder.
Sourcing water from a well dug in the ground Now this is hard work, took about an hour to dig out an existing elephant hole, a further 30 minutes of scooping out the brackish water before getting to cool sweet crystal clear water. One “slave” scooping up 500ml cups from the capillary refill of sandy soil a little over 1m down, two pourers decanting into a bottle and then into the drinking bottles for sterilisation and or filtering (some chose to filter others not.)

No-one died and Im pretty sure that no-one got Bilhazia from this…One slave driver oversaw operations and I took photos having unsuccessfully tried to dig a hole from scratch… Lining the well and starting with a really wide area is key - bring on happy childhood memories of sand castles!
As you know my ageing Deuter pack weighs 3kg before we even begin (add an extra 100gm for the 30m of cotton thread and personal sewing kit to fix it because its old and starting to come apart) Its on the list for replacement at some point.

Fortunately it only required attention once and that took up some time one evening on day 3 sitting quietly in my tent under the glare of the Ultratec bug zapper lantern (of which Im a huge fan and though unnecessary I do take on every camp)

I like maps… No thats not true I love maps and took 1:50,000 took 5 maps for the region we’d be in of which 2 we didn’t cross and we spent the better part of 2 days in the one paper map I didn’t have, but I had downloaded onto Avenza.

I relish writing in the points we stopped at along the way making a couple of reference notes, cross referencing our location with GPS coordinates and a bearing taken from visual points of interest (magnetic declination at this stage largely irrelevant, but used 14˚ west - accurate enough) I know Im a geek at heart, but I cant overstate just how useful the topographic was are and I cant believe people still undertake trails without them.

Wow this trip has it all The MSR Hubba 1 and 2 man, Nature Hike Mongar 2 man, Outdoor Elements twister 2 man and a couple of others, as a gear head this was fascinating.

For me the lightweight silicon covered flysheets and mosquito netting interior walls felt a little too tearable but they do come in lighter than mine and with a groundsheet.
There were no issues with the one night that the wind came up, despite two tents not having any tent pegs to save weight… Guys - you can buy lightweight aluminium ones but the rocks appear to have worked.
My tent, the 2.6kg First Ascent Luna, weighs 2.8kg without the bag and repair kit, and only 6 tent pegs it has many Pro’s and one con - that it the vestibule area is not rain proof when the zips are open and the rain falls into the foot print of the tent owning to its A shape, this is not an issue in Africa except for alpine conditions and only then while cooking It was great to open both sides and lie under the shade one day lying on my back in the shade Its very roomy and this double entry aspect is a massive positive.

A Quick heads up to First Ascent - Ridwha & Nicole on their support side - they have been brilliant - one of my tent poles had cracked at the end and they sourced a replacement for me of which I now carry 3 spare poles for just in case. Its this quick local support that makes buying from a trusted source so much better.

Food and cooking Ahhh the nourishment that makes or breaks a hike.
This has been on my agenda for literally years, so there was no way I was going to jeopardise the holistic experience with haphazard meals. Pictured is each days rations total weight: 600g portioned into packets and then each meal wrapped tightly in cellophane to retain the structural integrity of the seed crackers

Breakfast: Oat-so-easy, squeeze of peanut butter, together with some coffee grinds for a filter coffee
Snacks: a sachet of Game powder and 75g packet of energade sweets I used one packet of game with 1.5 litres of water from Lunch time, and chewed the sweets throughout the day. On top of this I collected three Baobab pods and sucked the pulp around the seeds
Lunch: 75g seasoned Couscous / Smash / Noodles, with either salami or tuna 2 seed crackers a baby belle cheese and packet of cup-a-soup
Dinner: Forever Fresh freeze dried meal and a side of starch together with a cup of soup.
Interestingly the total weight of the plastic packaging was 160g
Stoves: Yes everyone took one system each and we could have saved weight by sharing.

I lent my Fire maple FMS 105 to a hiker whose Cadac 206 Lannister system was leaking which worked a bomb and I used my MSR Windburner Duo pictured. Others used the Jetboil 1l variant. Honestly for personal hiking Id recommend the Jetboil more than anything else I only have the MSR as I cater for a family and need the 2l capacity. I do however really prefer the off system canister with the separate hose.

Lavatory system:
Guys every tree is a Lavatree as the saying goes.
This is my toilet bag contents are 3/4 roll of toilet paper, a wax lined paper bags a folding stainless steel trowel and a lighter

One digs a “scat hole” approximately 15 cm deep 60+m uphill of a water source.
The toilet paper needs to be combustible hence the lighter.
After your’re done you burn the used toilet paper in the hole and once extinguished bury it again, placing a rock on top of the loose soil.
If its not safe to light the fire there, then place the used paper in one of the wax lined packets for burning later in a safe area…

The sunsets were tremendous especially given the block burning of fires in the Kruger, supplying natures own Neutral density Graduate filters!


Leg 1 Day 3)

Leaving the camp early, we walked along the game path following the Mashikiri river, after an hour of criss-crossing the river sourcing the best path we eventually came to a great spot to dry off the (wet from condensation) flysheets and cook up some breakfast / coffee. Or at least Id planned to, the amount of spirulina in my pot was incredible, virtually unseen and completely clear, it stank of old seaweed when I started heating it up. So no coffee for me, and a strong reminder not to rely on boiling water but to always use the Sawyer water filter.

Shortly after setting off again we came across a variety of tracks telling the story of last nights chorus of cries and noises.
Earlier on we’d seen Monitor lizard or croc’s tracks - Seeing the belly mark in the sand at the waters edge where it had just scampered in we now know that it was a crocodile about 5-6ft long

Fresh blood splatters told the tale of an animal that was taken early this morning, and had been dragged over the rocky shore up river. We’d seen the droplets for quite a while. As we followed the river upwards the distinctive pug marks of a Leopard started to show then disappeared up the river bank.
(Gratuitous pic from another safari)

So theres the story: Somewhere in the pre sunrise light a baboon was drinking from the river, disturbed by the crocodile retreated, loosing focus it was grabbed by a Leopard who dragged it hurriedly away from the croc to a place where it could then gain elevation and enjoy the meal. So much excitement, so close to our camp and we’re so oblivious… thats living in harmony with nature afforded the special privilege that being a super predator affords one.

As we traversed away from the river uphill and into more wooded land with large trees we came across two Kopjie’s and between them paused involuntarily to take it in, as we admired the view two Veraux’s eagles whirled overhead. The Pictures were really quite poor but noteworthy as this was one birders first viewing of Black eagles in the Kruger.

Shade, a precious commodity sparing us from the heat, large canopy trees take on the role of navigational way marker, providing a place for relaxation - as such they become a spiritual part of the journey, some older trees have seen generations of people passing past thats worth pondering!

I promised not too many Baobab trees, but…

There are times when youre faced with something new - that OMG view point was one at our Lunch break at S22° 32’ 11.9" E31° 06’ 01.6"

This was one of those rare moments where you’re stunned by the incredible beauty of the vista of Africa sweeping out before us.
We could see the river we were to stop at some four hours later, and we could see as far South and East as you could imagine a person could see. Retrospectively this is one of my favorite views.

Quick note to self The MSR Windburner Duo uses about twice the fuel of the Jetboil flash- yes it’s a much larger system and suited to catering for a family, but for hiking and solo cooking the difference on this trip was noticeable. I used a 230gm canister completely (taking a spare just in case) whereas the Jet boil guys only took a 100gm one.

Our decent into the true Lowveld took us down a precarious Elephant trail through a dense strand of Mopane’s – how those massive creatures navigate this is truly astounding.

Beating our way along the floor through the dense Mopane below what now appeared to be an escarpment was hard going; continuously on edge looking for movement in the undergrowth, listening for the telltale sounds of rising oxpeckers and for the crashing of bushes signifying feeding herbivores (or Large grey tents)
We shortly arrived at the Matsaringwe River S22° 32’ 08.7" E31° 05’ 24.2" where there was one stagnant pool of water

Todays big mission was to dig out a well point, line it with stones and source about 60L of water to then be filtered and purified.

The water was crystal clear, cool and truly heavenly after the guys put in sterling work to dig it out cupful by cupful they are to be commended to unlocking the secret to dry season survival.

We tried to dig a separate well but man that was going to take a lot of time, rather start with an existing elephant dug hole and drain the first 20 odd clear litres of water.

Given the choice of sleeping options the general consenseus was to set up on the grassy riverbank overlooking the river in the hope of seeing game. Much was heard through the dusk hours as we watched over the waterhole, Hyena, Buffalo, and Elephant but none seen.
Nestled in the grass, providing some sense of cushioning and warmth our tents erected I was thankful that it was winter and I’d tic proofed my tent by dousing it in Bayticol and HTT Vital

Distance:- 15.9km

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Leg 1 Day 4)

The Rush rush day.

The morning started with a water top up to ensure we had all 5 litres on us as this was the last standing water we’d see for two more days. This meant uncapping the hole (which prevented Hyenas and Elephants from drinking and contaminating the water - and spooning out another 20l before dawn.

Our First sighting being a disturbing one, having come across an unusual drag mark some 500m 60cm wide and covering any tracks from our camp it was described as being a drag snare laid down for larger animals by poachers, who would return to the site a few days later and follow the obvious drag to where the animal would have died.

Odd though as the drag mark wasn’t particularly deep and lightly dragging a hiking pole made a deeper indent there were also no visible prints - a Buffalo would have made deep hoof prints that would be seen below the drag marks, there was no fur scratchings to indicate an animal dragged by a leopard and we didn’t follow it more than 12 m and couldn’t see it going much further as the bushes were too dense. - A head scratcher for us to ponder the remainder of the day.
Below; the shoes captured off poachers a week after our trip - to the trained eye and field guides it would be an odd one to see: Firstly those are domestic cattle hooves and the pattern would be regularly unusual, drawing more attention to the prints than not but thought to have a better chance of going unnoticed by the poaching community.

Following and criss-crossing the Matsingwe river we marched relentlessly towards distant hills…

…and moving past contrasting dry river beds

Rarely stopping for breaks and when we did only to allow the Elephants to move along or appreciate the small shade of magnificent Baobabs there was definitely an air of needing to speed things up today.

Moving into the lower Mopane thickets…

…there was an abundance of game, all keeping a very wary eye on us and startling off into the bushes once they’d recognised us as individuals rather than a moving mass.

Hilltops and valleys covered in hundreds of Baobabs flashed by us, birds squawked their disapproval and the ever present Go-away bird was in full force – warning absolutely everything with their Kwaayyyyy to “go away” as we continued in a South Easterly curve following the Intermittent stream that drains into the Shikuwa river.

The more massive and outstanding Baobabs providing waypoints for us to aim for- however unfortunately owning to the dense vegetation these were rarely visible thankful for GPS it was easy going.

We had a great sighting of a Buffalo “Dagga Boy” sleeping peacefully standing up as we circuited him some 30m off him remaining unaware of our presence and the oxpecker (tic birds) not giving us away, in all we spent some 10 minutes getting glimpses of him through the undergrowth without his knowledge.

Toilet arrangements:
You need a strong light spade appropriate, an amount of toilet paper (combustible) and a lighter All ablutions are taken towards where we’ve walked from as we have no idea whats ahead of us. the remainder of the group taking the opportunity to relax and ease the load off their feet
Guys, every tree is a lavatree (excuse the pun) Ladies find a bush behind us

With no standing water on route and the excitement of our unknown destination we reached a cache of 150 litres of water in 15L drums stashed for us replenishing the water 5L each and quenching our thirst, drinking as much as we could not, and taking a further 20 litres to the camp (and return the following day) we basked in the luxury of the potable water.
Its now been 5 days “bathing” in unheated water and Im getting used to it.

We found a nice stopping point at the foothills of the Granit Shantangalani poppies and took our packs off to enjoy the surroundings. Its amusing to see likeminded people intrigued by these kopjies and the desire to explore further.
Chris enrolled us into the ESSA Stootdrolitjies club (Ill be doing a write up at some stage about knowing your shit…) but as entry members its restricted to the dry baobab seed sized balls. (some people won’t know what the hell Im jabbering away about, and those that do, know Ive probably spelt it wrong.)

But then it became clear the rush was to get to a suitable camping spot (S22° 38’ 29.8" E31° 08’ 03.3") in the Shantangalani Koppies where we made our base, relaxed for an hour and then set out without packs to explore the explore the San Rock art paintings.

Unprotected and virtually unknown to a willing public, these are real hidden cultural gems in the Region. Elephant, Rhino & Giraffe are all depicted perhaps also some of people, but these are of a different variety to those seen further South and to the West.

The excitement to be standing in the same spot as the Artist stood some 5000+ years ago for me is a truly palpable moment

We took the opportunity to walk to the top of a Koppie…

and appreciated the setting sun…

…to enjoy the dying embers of the day sun before walking back to the tents in the dusk.

Whilst it was good to enjoy freedom and unrestricted access to this wilderness zone, one is reminded constantly reminded that we’ve got two large bore rifles that need to be maintained and ready at all times. Its been a long time since Ive had a rifle by my bed to stay by my side at all times, made me smile seeing these guys cycling the rounds in the mornings and pouring on the TLC in the evenings.

Today was the toughest day, owing to the speed we walked with minimal breaks and by 18:30 it showed. Everyone was in bed by 19:30, deeply satisfied after a really unique day

Distance:- 17.1km

Leg 1 Day 5)

The day we crossed the corridor of the Cahorra Bassa Power lines.

These Power lines stretch from the Cahorra Bassa Dam Hydroelectric project in Mozambique across the Kruger and towards Gauteng with two sets of power lines about 2 kilometers apart, the vegetation between them kept cut low for easy inspection. This means that they provide a corridor for illegal immigrants to enter South Africa as its thought it is relatively free of surprises found in the thickets.

Having been briefed with stories to the contrary about the man eating Lions that terrorise the Mozambiquan illegal immigrants and with tales of rampaging elephants we crossed this section of flat lands in young Mopane forests alongside the Shisha River rather quickly and with trepidation, albeit unjustly so.

Crossing the flat land and a short stretch of gravel road we entered a section of long grass between he moping leading off to the distant power lines.

We came across two Elephants, aware of our presence but not seeing us nor knowing where we were, they contented themselves with sniffing out for us, their trunks up in the air like a divers snorkel, they we smelling the light and twirling winds to locate this foreign smell.
Agitated that theycouldnt see us but could they crashed about a bit in the undergrowth, not sure where to go whilst we slipped on past.

After emerging from this corridor, a well earned rest was taken at the Mandazizi wind pump waterhole north of Elandskuil.

A little further on we had a great sighting of a Buffalo “Dagga Boy” He was sleeping peacefully standing up, chest deep in the grass

As we circuited him some 30m off him remaining unaware of our presence and the oxpecker (tic birds) not giving us away, it was a perfect Dangerous game “encounter” in all we spent some 10 minutes getting glimpses of him through the undergrowth without his knowledge

Hearts pounding we continued onwards before coming across two more elephants drinking on the other side of a waterhole.

This being the perfect time and place for a lunch break we remained here for approximately 20 minutes whilst they drank and then we made lunch as they melted into the bush.

Several drainage lines crossed and we came through to the beginning’s of the Vachellia xanthophloeas with an increased amount of clay in the soil to hold the water through the dry season today marked the geological boundary.

We’re now leaving Baobabs behinds us sadly very few to see. About a kilometer short of camp we came across our second stash of water under the tarmac road. We took this opportunity to sit down, and hydrate enthusiastically filling our bladders and bottles for the remainder of today, tonights meals and also the last 18km stretch tomorrow.

Camping at the confluence of the Shisha & Mandazizi river’s S22° 45’ 25.7" E31° 10’ 33.8" we tucked ourselves against some bushes looking out over a sodic site, a beautiful open short grass field in front of us.

All day it had been threatening to rain and tonight it finally did such a great soporific feeling to get lulled to sleep with falling rain on the tight tent canvas.

I certainly slept well, but before that…

We made a small fire on the sodic plain some 50m from the tents and sat around it appreciating quite a dramatic sunset, flames licking at cold toes whilst we gobbled up the rehydrated foods that are loosely termed a meal then turned our attention to the roaring in the distant darkness.

Finally after many requests by Chris the Lions had appeared, calling out as it strode toward the water course a small distance behind our tents, first heard about a kilometer away, then closer, some 500m and finally one guide spotted the eyes about 50m from us still walking towards water.
(Gratuitous pictures taken 6 days later of a different lion [probably])

At the behest of the other guide we grouped together as a solid formidable group, and retreated to the tents. Requested that we close the zips and turn off the lights, this was the beginning of the last night. No drama and no further noises heard, the lion obviously circuited us and walked to the waterhole to quench it’s thirst in the light drizzle.

By 8pm the campsite was silent save for the tell-tale snoring of those who’ve expended a massive amount of energy endured significant strain and generally lived in the bush for 5 days.

Lulled by the pitta-patter of raindrops on the tent after a quick squiz around and a comfort break I slept beautifully. (Truly terrible pic sorry) on the slopes of Dzundzwini hill, S22° 45’ 25.7" E31° 10’ 33.8"

Distance:- 18.7km

Leg Day 6)

The sad day, as we continued our Southerly march the beginning’s of an end of the journey were hitting home – its been fantastic to be so utterly isolated, to be so alone in the bush, free and traversing self sufficiently in harmony with our natural surroundings that today was always going to be a bitter pill to swallow.
With the abundant out of season rain and last summers rainfall, the vegetation was particularly thick, and today was the most game filled day of the trip having left the Luvuvhu river
We did get onto some rangers paths to cover some distance conscious that we had vehicles to ferry around upon arriving home.

Yes we were tired, and carrying heavy packs across dried clay soil pockmarked with 6 inch deep buffalo hoove tracks overlaid by trip hazard branches a fall or five was inevitable.

One particularly funny (because no one was injured) fall was when the victims pack started to overtake them leaving wiggling legs in the air – hysterical!

Today we walked more through grasslands between riverine avenues of trees, the bush teeming with “plains game” Possibly my favourite memory was today, of being watched by Giraffe as we walked amongst them

Zebra barking in alarm and charging off backfiring as they accelerated away, Impala bouncing all over the place and kicking out their heels releasing their scent glands to provide confusion to us predators.

Sadly the dull hum of a generator penetrated the surrounding bush signifying civilisation (and the location of my Landrover with solar powered fridge laden with ice cold beers.) With one sneeky river to cross, some 200m from the Vlakteplaas Ranger station compound we had to detour a bit to cross safely finally arriving at the end of Leg 1.

I certainly appreciated an ice cold refreshing beverage after that walk to clear the dust.
Distance:- 17.2km

Total Distance:- 97.2km (Probably a bit more)