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 Post subject: Phokojwe's Virgin Backpackers - KNP July '12
Unread postPosted: Tue Aug 27, 2013 5:08 pm 
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Please bear with me at this is my first attempt at a TR. :redface:

I’ve really enjoyed reading some of the TR’s here and after months of deliberation I’ve decided to share some of my own experiences with my fellow forumites :pray:

Even though this trip happened a year ago, the experience was so awe-inspiring that I remember every detail like it was yesterday… :hmz:

Here goes…

It was a chilly winters evening back in 2010 and we were sitting around the fire on of our annual wilderness trails in Kruger when our guide Jannie jokingly suggested…”Why not try something different next year and do a backpack trail!” :twisted:

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The overwhelming response was “LOL, yeah right…let see…no toilet…no shower…and you want me to carry my own food, tent and sleep out in the bush with NO FENCE…LOL”
I remember thinking to myself I wouldn’t mind sleeping out in the bush or carrying all of my own equipment but ‘bush toilet’… nope sorry, not for me.

Fast forward a year and we were sitting in the same spot when the topic came up again…but this time the crew was eager to know more about the backpack trails and even though one or 2 were skeptical, we eventually agreed…we are going to do this! In fact we ARE going to do this!

We chose to do the Olifants Backpack Trail even though it was one of the more physically demanding trails, but we were all young and up for the adventure. :shock:

Bookings were made and everyone was asked to pay the full cost of the trail about 10 months in advance to ensure everyone’s commitment. :whistle:

This was the start of the adventure for the Virgin Backpackers….a group of guys who had never been backpacking in their lives!! :dance: :dance:

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 Post subject: Re: Virgin Backpackers
Unread postPosted: Wed Aug 28, 2013 10:37 am 
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Thanks Shushin, lion queen, Stampajane, DinkyBird, Crested Val, Divine7polo, Meandering Mouse, hilda, Cape of Storms, Trrp-trrrrrrrr, barryels, Josh of the Bushveld, kids@camping and welcome on board :dance: :gflower:

Day 0 – Getting there

After many months of preparation, checklists and many, many trips to camping and outdoor stores, July 2012 was here and it was almost time to embark on this epic adventure. We left on the early of hours of Saturday morning planning to spend the night in Satara before the trail departed on Sunday from Olifants.

We entered early morning from Phabeni gate and took a drive up the S65. It was a beautiful winters morning at the waterhole.

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We proceeded towards Skukuza on the H1-1 when we were greeted by this amazing sighting.

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This male was joined by another male and after passing our vehicle they made their way off into the bush.

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We stopped in Skukuza for a quick bathroom break and to stretch our legs and test our cameras :cam:

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Next stop was Lower Sabie and en-route we met this handsome beast. Who walked right past my window. What an amazing feeling

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Along the way we saw some Southern Ground Hornbill.

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After passing Nkhulu we hit a major traffic jam!! We were discussing what it could possibly be ahead there is one thing that could attract so many cars… A LIT (Leopard in Tree). And it wasn’t too impressed with all the attention to say the least, because this is all we managed to see.

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At Sunset Dam some crocs were enjoying the winter sun.

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After another quick stop in Lower Sabie we got on the H10 towards Tshokwane. The hippos just outside Lower Sabie along the Sabie River were enjoying an afternoon nap.

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We made our final stop in Tshokwane to stretch those legs before heading off to Satara.

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At Mazithi Dam along the way we found a herd of ellies having some fun.

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We finally reached Satara and set up camp. Our guides Jannie and Mems also spent the night in Satara and we were all made to unpack our bags so they could check we were not carrying more than required…all those extra Bar One’s were removed :naughty: :twisted: We were tired after the long drive decided to make it was an early night as we had a long 4 days ahead…. :dance:

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 Post subject: Re: Virgin Backpackers
Unread postPosted: Thu Aug 29, 2013 4:18 pm 
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Day 1 - Olifants Backpack Trail

We were up before dawn, all super excited….the day had finally arrived. :dance: :dance:

After a quick cup of coffee and light breakfast, we headed for Olifants Rest Camp where the backpack trail departs from.

As we passed over the Olifants Bridge on the H1-4, the view of the sunrise over the Olifants river was magnificent!!
Pictures cannot describe the feeling, the smell of the fresh crisp air and the sun rising in the distant….but here is one anyway. :lol:

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At Olifants Camp, We sorted out the logistics (reservation fees, checking in for the trail etc.) whilst we waited for Lourens to pick us up before heading off to Phalaborwa and eventually the start of the trail.

Lourens eventually arrived and we loaded our backpacks in the trailer.

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Our guides - Jannie and Mems

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It was a rather chilly drive from Olifants to Phalaborwa this winters morning.

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I was still recovering from a flu that I picked up the week preceding the trip and as I sat there feeling a little weak, I thought to myself “Is it too late to back out?” “What if I can’t manage this?” There were a thousand emotions going through me at the time…maybe nervousness? Before I could chicken out, we reached Phalaborwa and I ran to the shop for a couple of energy drinks and a quick “real toilet” break.
It was then off to the final destination…the drop off point.

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After almost a year of preparation we were here!! We unpacked the trailer and started getting ready…

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As Lourens left us…there was no turning back now.

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Jannie briefed us on the “Rules and Regulations”, he also mentioned that the trail this year was much tougher than previous years due to the floods earlier in 2012. We were all nervous and he reassured us that we were in safe hands and he would never put us in a dangerous situation. If we ever came across something we were to follow the guide’s instructions. (Jannie has guided the Olifants Backpack Trail more than any other trails guide in Kruger since its inception).

We started walking down a tributary towards the northern banks of the Olifants River with the intention of crossing the river at some point on the first day and then walking on the southern bank for the remainder of the days before crossing back to the northern bank where the pickup point was.

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We soon came across a breeding herd ellies.

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We took a moment to sit there and just watch them ‘from a safe distance’

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We eventually reached the Olifants River and this was going to be a familiar sight over the next couple of days.

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It was time for lunch whilst Jannie and Mems decided where we were going to make the crossing.

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After lunch we moved on and the guides decided that the river was too deep in some points to cross so we would walk on the northern banks and if we came across a point safe enough to cross we would.

There is one thing you will see a lot of on this trail, and that’s hippos! Hippos in the morning, hippos at breakfast, hippos at lunch and you continue to hear them through night!

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Hippos eyeing us out :roll:

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We soon came across a bask of crocodiles (yes, I Googled that :rtm: ) on the opposite bank.

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And not too far from the crocs was a dead elephant in the river, although it doesn’t seem like the crocs were too interested.

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Light was fading fast and the guides decided on a spot to camp for the night.

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After a nice refreshing bath in the river it was time for supper whilst there was still light.

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There is one thing that Kruger always delivers and that’s breathtaking sunsets… :cam:

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As it got darker and the night sounds of the bush came alive... we sat around the fire recounting the events of the day over a hot cup of coffee. Everyone wanted to know what to do if we ‘had to go’ in the middle of the night and the guides said we could, but just to ‘go’ a few meters from the tents. We were all tired after the exciting first day and by 7:30pm we were all in our tents looking forward to a good rest before next day.

As we lay there fast asleep I was awoken by an unmistakable call…

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 Post subject: Re: Virgin Backpackers
Unread postPosted: Tue Sep 03, 2013 12:10 pm 
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Thanks Kaapsedraai and Toddelelfe :redface:

Quote:
Now I hope you don't mind for a few Q's...


Heksie, As Josh mentioned, you carry all your own equipment. (the least you carry the better for you)
If you are in a group, you can split some of the load, for example if you are sharing a tent, one person can carry the tent and the other the poles, stoves can be shared. Alot of people make the mistake of carrying too much..out there you should ONLY take what you NEED and not what would be nice to have. Clothes also I prefer taking one set with a fresh set of undies for each day. If the clothes need a wash the river is there :) On average, people carry between 10-15kg.

I've heard of people in their 60's doing the Olifants Backpack trail, but at the end of the day it depends on the fitness level of the individual.

Olifants Backpack Trail is the more challenging backpack trail in Kruger as opposed to the Lonely Bull and Mphongolo Trails. There is a drop off point and specific pick up point. At the end of Day 4 you have to be at the pick up point by a certain time.

We had a couple of fairly unfit guys in our group but they all managed just fine. They were 'buggered' by the end of the trail but enjoyed it and would do it again in a heartbeat. As Josh mentioned as well, pace is dependent on distance you need to cover, weather and amount of daylight to get to a suitable camping spot.

If you still want to experience the backpack trails but are a bit wary about the challenge of the Olifants, then there is the Lonely Bull and Mphongolo Trails which are much more relaxed.
You still carry your own equipment but there is no fixed route as the drop of and pick up points are the same, so you can technically camp in one spot for 2/3 days and do walks from there daily without the burden of a heavy backpack. This all depends on the group/guides.

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 Post subject: Re: Virgin Backpackers
Unread postPosted: Tue Sep 03, 2013 3:41 pm 
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Day 2

As we lay there fast asleep I was awoken by an unmistakable call…Could it be? :pray:
I lay there for a few seconds and yes, this time I was certain…It was the call of nature!

I thought to myself “What now?” “Do I get out of my tent to ahemm relieve myself?” :whistle:
It felt like I had slept for ages, so I was sure some of the guys would be getting up soon, I decide to just wait a bit until the rest of the crew woke up. As I lay there for what felt like an eternity, a thousands thoughts raced through my mind. I kept hearing these 2 voices in my head “Go! and Don’t go!” I switched on my headlamp to check what time it was. 12:15AM.

I guess my fear of getting out of my tent alone in the middle of the night, whilst the rest of the group were soundly asleep got the better of me and decided to try and stick this one out. I eventually fell asleep and was awoken by the sounds of tents unzipping and some excited laughter. I glanced at my watch. 5:00AM.
YAY!!! I made it!! My first night in the bush… it was time to answer that call!! :dance: :dance:


We packed up our camp site with the intention of walking at first light, to try and cover as much distance while it was still cooler. After a quick cereal bar, we were ready to start Day 2.

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We continued along the river enjoying the fresh, crisp morning air. Something we never get to experience in the city.

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As we were walking along, Jannie stopped and motioned us closer. He pointed to the ground and whispered “leopard”.

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He indicated that the leopard wasn’t too far ahead and was walking in the same direction we were. Luckily the wind was in our favour and he hadn’t picked us up as yet. Everyone was now excited as we were hoping to catch a glimpse of this beauty.

Further ahead Jannie stopped again and showed us a shrub that was wet, still dripping with urine. The leopard had stopped to mark its territory. It wasn’t too far ahead…We were all now buzzing with excitement.
As we continued silently, we could hear the squirrels and birds giving warning calls about 500m ahead. We spotted some Egyptian Geese in the river who started sounding alarm calls at the sight of us. We followed the tracks for another 5 minutes before it made off into the bush. Jannie had explained that the leopard had probably heard the geese’s warning calls and made off.

We didn’t get to see the leopard, but the thrill of tracking this leopard on foot was such an experience that it will probably stay etched in my memory forever.

We continued along for about 30min, as I was walking I glanced to the left and standing there staring at us from between the Mopani trees about 50m in were 2 inquisitive dagga boys. I quickly hit my hands against my thigh repeatedly to get the attention of the guides and within split seconds the guides were between us and the buffalo. The buffalo stared at us for another 5 seconds before hastily retreating back in the direction they came.

It was almost 8:00AM and time for breakfast as we headed down the embankment to a rocky outcrop next to the river.


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Breakfast on the rocks

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The views from our breakfast stop.

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As we continued after some coffee and cereal, it was time for some more hippos.

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The rest of the morning we encountered some rocky terrain, most of the sand was washed away from this portion of the river during the floods in January 2012 and progress was slow and tiring.


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We came across a hippo on his way to the river. The guides kept a watchful eye on him making sure he got back into the water before proceeding.


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It was time for a midday break, a refreshing swim which brought some relief to those aching bodies, some food and the most amazing siesta in the shade of a large Mahogany tree. A cool breeze, accompanied by the leaves gently rustling above, the sounds of hippos grunting and snorting in the distance…Words cannot describe this, but it’s definitely one of my most memorable experiences on the trail.


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After lunch it was time to push on. We saw plenty more hippos along the way until we found a spot to camp for the night.


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After a bath and some supper it was time to sit around the fire and talk about the events of the day.


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End of another fantastic day

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As we sat there and looked up into the sky, it was the most amazing sight you could ever imagine.
Definitely the most stars I have EVER seen in my life! The Milky Way was clearly visible and as we sat there staring into what looked like a painted canvas, we could clearly see with the naked eye…2 satellites orbiting the earth.

Just when I thought that lying under a large Mahogany tree having a siesta was my most memorable experience, the Olifants Backpack Trail conjures this up. Breathtaking!


As the wind picked up slightly, Jannie informed us that there was going to be some dew tonight and that it was probably going to get quite chilly. It was amazing to see his wealth of knowledge along the trail, from animal behaviour to weather predictions :lol: and naturally, he was spot on! That night was really cold and when we got up the next morning our tents were indeed wet from the dew.

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 Post subject: Re: Virgin Backpackers
Unread postPosted: Mon Sep 09, 2013 2:56 pm 
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Day 3

This morning as we emerged from our tents we were greeted by a misty Kruger morning.

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After packing up and the morning routine of a quick cereal bar, we were on the move once again. What did today have in store for us…

It seems that even the guides were feeling cold this morning. (notice the gloves and long sleeves).

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Jannie instructed us to walk close to each other as it was fairly common for hippo to come back to the water after spending the night out feeding and with the poor visibility it was difficult to see very far.

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Jannie is familiar with every nook and cranny along the Olifants River and he decides to take a ‘shortcut’ inland to meet up with the river further on. We had a lot of distance to cover today and we had to do most of this whilst it was still cool.

It wasn’t too long before the sun made an appearance and the mist started to disappear.

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We joined the river again whilst Jannie looked for a suitable spot for breakfast.

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It was breakfast on the rocks as usual. Coffee, cereal and some biscuits.
As we continued the sun started beating down on us from a cloudless sky.
We spotted some waterbuck across the river who kept a watchful eye on us.

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The beauty of the Olifants River never ceases to amaze and throughout the trail these are some off the sights that you become accustomed to seeing. I can sit here all day…

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Further on we get to see some Impala, who were startled by our presence and hastily made off.
The croc on the opposite banks didn’t seem to mind us at all.

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We trudged along a dry portion of the river bed, and once again the guides stopped and called us closer. It was quiz time “what tracks are these?” Some said Hippo some said Rhino. I of course knew it was Rhino. It wasn’t a very fresh track, so there was no point in tracking it.

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As midday approached we came across a breeding herd of elephants, we watched them engaging in some playful antics whilst they were oblivious to our presence.

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We left the ellies and a little further on we hit a roadblock…now normally when you get a roadblock like this when sitting in a vehicle you feel uneasy and a little afraid…So you can just imagine what it felt like when we came across this large elephant bull in musth!

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He wasn’t in a good mood and not too impressed at the sight of these…Virgin Backpackers!!

As he stood there seemingly agitated… the guides quickly scanned the area and instructed us that if they asked us to move we should all move to the designated area immediately. Hearts were now pumping and we were all unsure of what to expect. Fortunately at this stage there was a section of water between us and the elephant and to get to us he would have to either get through the water or climb the embankment and approach us from a path on the left.

The elephant quickly decided to climb the embankment and stood towering above us while menacingly shaking his head and flapping his ears. Unfortunately for us we now had the river against our backs, if we retreated in (the direction from which we came), we would be in his path and to the right we would have to cross the patch of water. Any exit route would bring us closer to this annoyed beast.

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He soon felt that his attempts at intimidating us were not working and that he had to change tactics. He started running across towards the left, closer to where the guides were positioned…

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The guides started shouting at him and Jannie sternly shouted at him in Afrikaans telling him to STOP! I think he clearly understood Afrikaans because he stopped, shook his head in dismay and stormed off in the opposite direction. Phew… we all breathed a sigh of relief.

Jannie and Mems keeping an eye on him as he moved further away.

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We were all a little weak in the knees after that encounter and we soon stopped for a midday break.
As we lay there in the shade having a much anticipated rest, the guides woke us up and asked us to grab all our belongings and quickly move as the breeding herd elephants that we saw earlier that morning were making their way towards us. We found a new spot and decided to camp there for the rest of the day as we were not too far from the end of the trail.

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We had a hippo that kept us entertained the rest of the afternoon with some impressive gaping displays.

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That night we sat around the campfire under the stars (our last night) as Jannie told us stories of some of the experiences he had on trail over the years. We discussed the elephant encounter at length and we were all thankful for the way the guides handled the situation. At no point did any of us feel threatened and we all agreed that the guides were in commanding control. Instructions were clear, we were told where to stand, and the guides themselves didn’t panic. In fact at no point did any of the guides load their rifles, which indicates that they could read the animals behaviour. I am certain that if the need arose they would have done what was necessary. Fortunately they didn’t have to.

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 Post subject: Re: Virgin Backpackers
Unread postPosted: Tue Sep 17, 2013 2:59 pm 
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Day 4 – Final Day

We had covered quite a bit of distance on Day 3 and were not too far from the end of the trail, so the guides decided to let us sleep in a bit on the last morning and the plan was to have breakfast at the campsite before proceeding to the pickup point.

Sleep in, in Kruger? Never! We were up early made come coffee and sat there waiting for sunrise.
It was as usual… A dazzling morning! As we sat there sipping on hot coffee, the sun slowly started peeping out from the horizon.

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The Egyptian Geese were out and about whilst the sounds of grunting hippo could be heard not far off and a male lion roared in the distance.

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We packed up our tents for one last time and we set off towards the end of the trail.
We hadn’t even walked 50m when the guides called us and showed us some imprints in the sand.
It was amazing how they started reading the morning newspaper. It was a black rhino that had sometime during the night come and laid down to rest here. Imagine the look of surprise on our faces when we heard that! Black rhino sleeping 50m from us?

As we continued we came across some lion tracks not very recent and further on we even came across some lion cub tracks.

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Further on, the guides decided that we should climb one of the ‘koppies’ to get an elevated view of the Olifants River. We left our backpacks at the bottom of the ‘koppie’ as it was quite a steep climb and proceeded to climb the ‘koppie’.

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As we neared the top I was right behind the 2 guides when I heard an unmistakable low growl. Almost immediately Jannie indicated that we stop and back-off. He had spotted 2 lion cubs who at the sight of him had started hastily retreating down the opposite side of this ‘koppie’.
The guides instructed us to get back down the way we came and as any guide will tell you, one of the most dangerous things to encounter on foot is a lioness or leopard with cubs. They are very protective over their offspring and will not hesitate in defending them if she feels they are threatened.

We quickly made our way down to our backpacks and we were all relieved that the mother wasn’t there. Even though we didn’t get to see the cubs, hearing that growl was something that stays with you forever.

A quick shot of the view of the Olifants River from the top of the koppie.

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Apparently the lioness was close by, because as we continued we came across the fresh tracks of the lioness and 2 cubs and it looked like she we was moving them away from our direction.

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We let them be and went to say one final goodbye to the hippos who kept a close eye on us.

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It was the home stretch now and as we pushed on the male lions roar became louder, luckily it sounded like the lion was on the opposite banks of the river, we kept on looking hoping to spot this majestic beast.

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We came across some old leopard and cub tracks.

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We continued scanning the opposite bank of the river for the lion and saw some Marabou Storks.

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WE FINALLY MADE IT!! After 3 nights and 4 exciting days…We were at the end of the trail!

As we sat there waiting for the vehicle to pick us up, the lions roar was so loud we were were sure is was very close, it sounded like it was in the dense foliage just behind the sand bank on the opposite banks of the river. We never got to see him but I'm sure he saw us. What a conclusion to such a memorable trip.

Jannie looking for the male lion.

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The vehicle finally arrived and we were rewarded with a cooler full of ice cold cooldrinks. Everyone was so excited, you would swear that no one had seen cooldrink before.

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There was a great sense of accomplishment from all of us. We had set out to do what we previously thought was impossible. After almost a year of preparation and build up, we had finally conquered the Olifants.

As we drove back home we recalled the and discussed the events we were fortunate enough to experience on this 4 day hike in the wilderness…from the excitement of not knowing what to expect, the calls of nature, tracking leopard, afternoon swims in the mighty Olifants, siesta’s in the shade of large Mahogany trees, breath-taking night skies, an elephant charge, sleeping next to Rhino, almost walking into lion, picture perfect sunrises and sunsets and most importantly just a group of friends been out there in the bush...away from any forms of civilisation and technology. This is something that each and every individual should experience at least once in a lifetime.

We were so inspired by the events of the last few days that we immediately decided that we had to do another trail and with that we booked the Lonely Bull Backpack Trail (along the Letaba River) a year ago. We leave for Kruger in 4 days on the 21st September. As you can imagine the excitement has been building for a year now and it’s almost D-Day.

It just dawned on me...we are no longer Virgin Backpackers, we are now Backpackers!

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