Part 2 : Olifants Wilderness Trail - April 1985
By now I was thoroughly hooked and scarcely two months after returning from the Wolhuter trail I was en-route to the KNP again in April 1985 , traveling through the night , passing Witbank with the eery sight of blueish glowing coals rolling down the side of the ash dump alongside the freeway , the cars tyres whining over the ripples of the roadways concrete surface . Arriving at Rabelais Dam (the damwall has since been flattened) soon after Orpen gate opened I was exhausted and took a nap , the hot sun on my face waking me up a while later .
At Letaba we met the trails ranger, Johan Fourie and tracker Fanuel . Johan , a civil engineer , ex Air Force pilot and now game ranger was no stranger to me , I having been stationed at Windhoek in the old South West Africa (now Namibia) where Johan was the pilot who flew the VIP Beechcraft Queen Air which was the personal aircraft of the general Officer Commanding the SWA territorial forces commander , the well known author of SWA bushwar books , General Jannie Geldenhuys , whom I regularly encountered in the passages of the HQ .
(Incidentally the aircraft was one of four that were abandoned at various airfields in southern Angola at the start of the Angolan civil war in 1975 , and which were pounced upon by the SA Defence Force .)
We were late in leaving Letaba in a well used white Land Rover station wagon , and a while after passing Balule it was discovered one of the vehicles tyres had a puncture . We were allowed to alight from the vehicle which was quite exciting as the sun was sinking rapidly and there were lions murmuring in the distance , but no matter who tried to loosen a very tight wheel nut , that one would not budge .
Eventually the strong young fellow who was accompanying his girlfriend and future father-in- law managed to free the nuts by seemingly effortlessly knocking them loose with a large stone , and we were on our way , without hearing more from the lions .
We entered the wilderness area at Bangu windmill after dropping the wire cable that bars entrance to the road – incidentally the same road led to Gorge picnic spot and the camp of the same name in days gone by .
From there on I felt at home again , the ugliness of concrete structures and crowds of people far from my mind . As we had arrived well after sunset we could not appreciate the beautiful setting . I sat outside the hut after all had turned in , listening to the sound of hippo snorting and the water rushing over the rapids below camp , the sound fading periodically as the breeze changed direction .
Daybreak revealed a magnificent vista over the river towards the bend in the river , where a short distance beyond view it merges with the Letaba river .
The camp is sited along the Olifants river high above the river level with a magnificent view of the flood plain . Accomodation is A framed wooden thatched huts .
We followed a well trodden hippo “road” , they were already travelling some distance at night to find grazing , and we came across a hyena on a morning walk not far from camp .
Later we came across a large python which moved into the vegetation .
The rapids below the camp may now be submerged by the rivers raised water level as the Massingir dam downstream in Mozambique is now filled .
Fish – bream if I recall – were migrating upstream and we were treated to this rare sight , also no longer possible due to the dam subsequently built downstream .
The vegetation was fairly sparse as the area had largely escaped the torrents that the southern KNP had experienced during the previous seasons cyclone . This view is towards the Balule / Bangu road .
The trails area is adjacent to the foothills of the Lebombo range and is rocky and does not support large concentrations of game as grazing is fairly scarce close to the eastern ridge but is better to the south . General game was seen periodically .
One afternoon we walked towards the confluence of the Olifants and Letaba rivers which is some 3 km downstream from the camp . A short while after leaving , Fanuel spotted lions hightailing away from us , and we found a waterbuck kill under some vegetation . Thus satisfied we spent some time in silence on large rocks on the edge of the river , watching hippos a few metres below us while they grunted , replies coming from the many pods of hippo in the area . We admired the sunset reflecting over the water to the west was spectacular .
The Lebombo range to the east providing a majestic backdrop when viewed from our position on the rocks level with the water .
The Olifants trail seemed like "deepest Africa" , probably due to the long drive and added excitement of seeing more game than on the previous trail , the setting and wide vistas appealed to me .
I was very keen to do more wilderness trails , but besides my leave being in defecit by then I was forced to economise due to an employment offer at a game lodge in Sabi Sand private game reserve which would reduce my income to a quarter of what I was earning .
It would be some 10 months till I ventured out on foot in the Kruger again . The position did not materialize immediately and it was some 10 months before I went on the Bushmans trail , shortly whereafter at very short notice I ended up in the Sabi Sand reserve .
On arriving back at Letaba I made my way to Shingwedzi , my first visit to the north , and by far not my last , as in this area I found the tranquility that I have returned to savour on at least 20 subsequent visits …