Quick Review: Mphongolo Backpack Wilderness Trail, Kruger National Park
The Mphongolo Wilderness Trail is the newest adventure activity offered by the Kruger National Park and it is one of the greatest trekking wilderness experiences I have ever had. It is a unique 3 night and 3 day trail which has no route and no daily schedule. You the guest determine how far, for how long, and how much of this 900 km2 area you want to explore. You carry all your food and equipment with you, collecting water on the way and camping out every night. You are escorted by highly trained and skilled Wilderness Trails Rangers, who not only provide you with protection but teach you to enjoy this unique area by interpreting the signs, sounds and interactions of the different fauna and flora.
Our wilderness rangers, Robbie, and Julie, interpreted all aspects of the bush from tracks to insects to wild flowers, making it an interesting and rewarding experience every time we ventured out on foot. They offered tips on how to collect water by digging for it, explained how to use flint to make fire, pointed out edible fruit, demonstrated how to use trees for survival (to make rope etc) and built shelters to protect us from the rain. Their knowledge of the area, not only its natural phenomena but the historical aspects of the area was astounding. If anything, you should just do this trail to learn about the bush from some of the most skilled and knowledgably guides in the industry.
The greatest aspect of this trail is that you don’t need to finish as there is no end point, making for easy hiking. You may choose to Camp up in one spot for the 3 nights and explore the local area, or hike with backpacks in the morning, setup Camp at lunch and then explore without packs in the afternoon, or you could go the full hog, and trek everyday with packs on exploring as much as you can! This makes it accessible to all, our group included a 62 year old Maths teacher, who according to her own admissions was not fit, but she never struggled and loved every second of it.
The wildlife is abundant but due to the remoteness of the area, rather skittish. Nevertheless, by utilising the weather conditions and vegetation, we were able to approach a wide variety of game and had some fantastic sightings. We came across Impala, Giraffe, Waterbuck, Nyala, Zebra, Kudu, Warthog, Steenbok as well as other little critters like Banded and Dwarf Mongoose. And yes, we also found the Big stuff too, with awesome sightings of Elephant and Buffalo, while we spent time tracking and finding (!!) Lion on foot, a pride of 10!!! The area also boasts White Rhino, Roan and Sable Antelope, Eland, Cheetah, while signs of leopard were everywhere. Bird life is prolific (especially since most of the summer visitors are still here), and we must have sighted over a 100 birds without actually trying.
The atmosphere is unbelievable; it is so quite with no man-made noises. This even troubled some of the guests who actually struggled to sleep the first night. The stars in the night sky are fantastic unaffected by unnatural light, with clear views of Orion, Taurus (only briefly), Leo, Centauries, the Southern Cross, Canis Major and Canis Minor easily visible.
We lay on our backs watching satellites float by while listening to Hyeanas call out into the night! We had no watches, and determined our activities according to our bodies, we woke up to Francolin calling in the morning, ate when we were hungry and went to bed when we were tired, we forgot about daily routines and work schedules. We swam in hot springs (a first for me in Kruger), and bathed in fast flowing rivers. On the final day we all felt in sync with our environment, and incredibly revitalised.
I would suggest this trail to anyone who is keen on a completely different wildlife experience. It goes far beyond the standard safari, and you will gain far more out of the 3 days on foot in the wilderness, than you will doing a standard vehicle safari to Kruger.