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Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Discuss activities available in the Kruger National Park, and follow all the sighting reports.
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Brenden
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread postby Brenden » Mon Jul 09, 2012 10:33 pm

"The Mphongolo Back-pack Trail is not an activity, it’s an experience", our guide assured us, as we hoisted up our backpacks and prepared to walk deep into what is one of the last untouched areas in the Kruger National Park. But we had no idea just what kind of experience we were about to discover…

We had driven for 2 hours down a fire-break to access the remote Mphongolo Wilderness Area, 150 000 hectares to the west of Shingwedzi Camp. It's as far from tourist roads and camp amenities as it’s possible to be in the Kruger. For 3 nights and 4 days it was ours to explore. The sense of excitement amongst us was tangible as we followed our guides through the mopane in search of a suitable campsite, where we pitched our tents, dug for water and made fire using just corkwood, elephant dung and an old waxbill nest.

That night, the sky was so full of stars that I could feel the weight of them as the roar of distant lions sent ripples through the darkness. I began to get a sense of just how special this trail was going to be.

We had many memorable experiences over the next 3 days as we explored the area on daily excursions from the base camp we’d established in the dry Phugwane River bed. There was a visit from a curious hyena, an encounter with a young elephant bull, the cautious tracking of a herd of buffalo, stolen minutes with a solitary white rhino bull and a very special sighting of a three-banded courser. But the beauty of the trail doesn’t only lie in how you experience the environment; it’s about how the environment begins to act on you.

Waking with the dawn chorus on your first morning in the bush, you begin to tune into the sounds, sights, smells, colours and textures around you and begin to realise that the real reward of being immersed in nature in this way is how it speaks its magic to you.

The hot midday rest periods provide time for drowsy contemplation under a giant jackalberry, listening to the life around you slow down, alert to sounds you’d never have otherwise noticed; the puff-back, the rattling cisticola, the mourning dove, the liquid call of a magpie shrike and the tap-tapping of a bearded woodpecker, that looking very carefully, you might be able to see. You are hypnotised by monarch butterflies doing intricate dances around a milkweed bush and wonder at their creation. You examine a column of industrious ants building a secret universe. You admire strangely-shaped stones in a river bed, shimmering with mica and quartz. You notice blades of grass that are rendered extraordinary through colour, form and detail that you’ve previously missed. The anatomy of trees is astounding, the blueness of the sky irreplicable and the hook-thorn is perfect and profound, with one thorn bent to the past and the other one pointing straight into the future.

Increasingly immersed in my environment, I was humbled by evenings replete with the fragrance of wild aniseed and the beating of the wings of dozens of sandgrouse catching the last rays of the setting sun. I was moved by the music of the moon-rise; a pair of pearl-spotted owlets calling deep into the night as I slept on the ground, cradled by roots that run deep. I was roused by a symphony of sounds that rose with the sun’s soft morning rays and I felt incredibly alive as a breeding herd of elephant paused to smell messages carried on the crisp, clean air, before melting into the trees.

I also spent many hours marvelling at the autumn hues of the mopane, the rich palette of the Mphongolo. Its colours infused every element of the world around me with ochre, burnt umber and raw sienna, to create a masterpiece of tone and texture, a harmonious whole and me, a part of it too.

The trail involved all my senses, reconnecting me with nature in an intimate, immediate and visceral way. I found the experience hugely inspiring and it got me thinking (not unusually) about the relationship between art and nature. I wonder what a group of artists would produce if they were to experience the trail and use it as inspiration for their next poem, painting or piece of music? I'd love to get a group together and see what happens.

- Dianne Tipping-Woods.
"Keep the Wind in your face, the Sun on your back and the Wilderness deep in your heart".

zeedoc
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread postby zeedoc » Tue Jul 10, 2012 10:26 am

We have just returned from an amazing Mphongolo Trail (4th July departure). I will post a full trip report later but would like to share some highlights below -

7 elephant encounters including a Tusker with tusks that touched the ground
3 buffalo encounters
2 ivory finds
Side striped jackal, giraffe, kudu, waterbuck, nyala, warthog, zebra, impala all at close range
15 minute Sable Bull encounter (1st time our guides have seen Sable on the trail)
Tracked lion on 4 occasions but blocked by elephants twice! Growled at by angry lioness protecting her cubs
Lions, hyenas, elephants and buffalos keeping us awake at night
Serious water shortages - had to dig many holes in riverbeds without success - we were VERY DIRTY at the end of the trail
The Sanparks pickup arrived 2 hours late but made up for it by producing a cooler full of ice cold cooldrinks
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ndloti
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread postby ndloti » Tue Jul 10, 2012 3:42 pm

zeedoc wrote:Forgot to mention - we had full cellphone reception even though we were dropped of about a half hours drive west of Sirheni - any explanations?


Adjacent populated areas to the west.
Brenden wrote:It seems that many find great comfort in routine and mobile phones out on the Mphongolo.

Brenden wrote:It seems that many find great comfort in routine and mobile phones out on the Mphongolo.
May I suggest that all future trailists leave mobile phones and watches in camp next time.


Agree on that - I feel it is best to be far removed from outside influences.
KNP is sacred. I am opposed to the modernisation of Kruger and from the depths of my soul long for the Kruger of yesteryear! 1000+km on foot in KNP incl 56 wild trails.200+ nights in the wildernessndloti-indigenous name for serval.

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ecojunkie
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread postby ecojunkie » Wed Sep 26, 2012 9:29 pm

Been there, done that!!!! I survived Mphongolo with a backpack that was far too heavy, and an aging body... Will post more in my 'needed a fix' thread.
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Matthew Burnett
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread postby Matthew Burnett » Mon Oct 08, 2012 8:45 pm

Hi Shrew hope this helps: http://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/to ... _trail.php


Keep Trailing!

"Have we become so conscience of Network(signal), time and distances that we have enslaved ourselves to look to the skies for signal by holding a phone higher than our eyes, to look to our arm at a watch tying our hands and to look at the ground to find a GPS strapping our feet. when we should be looking to the skies to see the sun, looking past our arms at the trees and past our feet to see spoor." - Just a thought...

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Bundi
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread postby Bundi » Tue Oct 09, 2012 6:41 am

I finished the Mphongola Backpack trail last week with my 15 year old son and can highly recommend it. In fact it is a must if you can manage. Together with the gorillas in Rwanda and the thrills of Jinja in Uganda, this rates as one of the top things I have ever done. I will definately be back for more Mphongola Trails in the very near future.

Well worth mentioning are the two guides Hans Enslin and Francois van der Merwe. Their knowledge of the bush and the manner in which they constructed the trail was world class and they made all the difference. During the first night a huge mail lion strolled passed our camp site and we never fealt threatened in any way. Well done guys and keep it up!

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Elsa
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread postby Elsa » Tue Oct 09, 2012 2:31 pm

Sounds amazing Bundi and glad you had a great trail! :thumbs_up:
What about a full report with some pics! :wink:
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Bundi
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread postby Bundi » Fri Oct 12, 2012 4:27 pm

Day1: We left from Shingwedzi on Sunday at 12h00 and drove for about an hour and a half to what I believe to be the vicinity of the Zare Windmill where we stopped and unpacked the trailer, ready for the hike.
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En route on the Red Rocks Loop we encountered this big boy and our guide, Hans Enslin, was sure that it could be an emerging tusker.
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Because of the severe shortage of water in the Park at the moment it was also decided that we could only camp at one spot for all three nights where we were certain to find decent water, so after a 5km hike, we set up camp close to where the Zare river runs into the Phugwane river and was greeted by a herd of giraffe.
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That afternoon we dug for water and cooked our dinners, very excited about the adventure awaiting us, little did we know what would happen in a few hours?
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At around 20h00 which turned out to be a beautifully moonlit night, we heard a lion roar in the distance and estimated it to be about 1 km away from camp. With every roar the lion got closer and closer and we knew it would enter into sight at any moment. The last roar before we saw it was so load and so close I could feel the vibration inside of me. Then suddenly he was within view and aided by only the moonlight we could see he was a magnificent male. As soon as he saw us he went down on his haunches and stared us down for a few minutes trying to make sense of the situation. As suddenly as he appeared, he then walked off into the night still roaring away. With that we decided to turn in and have a good night’s rest.

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ndloti
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread postby ndloti » Fri Oct 12, 2012 4:36 pm

I was about to send you a pm with a method using TinyPic .

Bertus , that lion roar is awe inspiring - a week before you were there I camped with an authorised person (just the 2 of us) much further downstream , a lions nearby roaring caused my friend to abandon me for the safety of the vehicle and l was left alone ... I am sure I could see the gauze on the tent vibrating ...
KNP is sacred. I am opposed to the modernisation of Kruger and from the depths of my soul long for the Kruger of yesteryear! 1000+km on foot in KNP incl 56 wild trails.200+ nights in the wildernessndloti-indigenous name for serval.

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Elsa
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread postby Elsa » Fri Oct 12, 2012 4:44 pm

Great start Bundi and your pics look :thumbs_up:
Looking forward to more!
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Bundi
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread postby Bundi » Fri Oct 12, 2012 7:19 pm

Day 2: We woke up early enough and made a quick breakfast happily chatting away with our walking companions. We soon realized that the people accompanying you on the trip would also play a big part in the success thereof and we were very fortunate to have a brilliant group of people, including the two guides Hans and Francois. During the next few days we would become good friends and shared countless jokes and stories.
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After breakfast we started hiking and with the breeze in our backs realized we would not see much wild on the morning strip. We did however found nyala and impala and followed a honey guide without success, found some aardvark, warthog and porcupine burrows and learnt some very interesting facts about nature in general. It was a morning well spent and thoroughly enjoyed.
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The highlight of the day was when we entered the Phugwane forest, which was a very impressive stretch of huge and ancient Nyala Berries, Jackal Berries, Wild Figs and Leadwoods, ensuring a continues carpet of shade. We spent about 3 hours having lunch and a nap under one of these giants and continued slowly back towards camp, while enjoying an aerial display of three or four birds of prey including a giant eagle owl.
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Back at camp we again fetched water from our riverbed pit and enjoyed a good bush bath, followed by dinner, more stories and a well-deserved night’s rest, but no night time visitors this time around.
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ecojunkie
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread postby ecojunkie » Fri Oct 12, 2012 7:24 pm

I did the trail last month, and my tent was pitched just where you are all sitting! Had a rhino try to join me in the 'shower' behind a tree off behind this area.
Smiling is contagious. Start an epidemic today!

Have you read the entrance permit? Do you KNOW the Conditions of Entry?

Completed over 6 years in Kruger in my caravan.

If I was normal I wouldn't be me!

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Bundi
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread postby Bundi » Fri Oct 12, 2012 7:38 pm

Day 3: We woke up at the crack of dawn and while having breakfast and even more stories, got ready for the day’s walk. This time around we walked into the breeze and sure enough saw plenty game including a beautiful elephant bull, warthogs, giraffe and impala.
Around brunch time, we spent about an hour in the shade of a beautiful Jackal Berry, overlooking the riverbed.
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Soon after we came across two unmarked graves which apparently belonged to gold thieves from early 1900’s, who were successfully hunted down by a bounty hunter and buried on site.
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Lunch was spent under the shade of a massive Nyala Berry and it was interesting to lie and watch a small colony of bees making nest in the same tree. We continued on to the impressive riverbank at Big Bend, before ending the day in a quick route march back to camp.
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After another well-deserved bush shower, we took a short walk where we had a sun downer while enjoying a spectacular sunset. Dinner followed and the sad realization that our trip was almost over sunk in slowly.
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Bundi
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread postby Bundi » Fri Oct 12, 2012 7:47 pm

Day 4: Saddened to head home so soon, but also excited to share everything we experienced with loved ones brought mixed feelings to the group. We broke up camp and rehabilitated the sight in such a way not even a footprint was left behind. En route to the rendezvous point, we spent a last half hour in the soft sand of a riverbed, before heading back where we were greeted by a few ice cold ones.
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Elsa
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread postby Elsa » Fri Oct 12, 2012 9:33 pm

Bundi! what an excellent trail, report and pics! :clap:
Sounded amazing and I can see why you are so keen to do another.
Thanks so much for sharing it with us! :thumbs_up:
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