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 Post subject: Wilderness Trail Tales
Unread postPosted: Wed Jan 12, 2011 1:41 pm 
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Wilderness Trail Tales

Part 1- Introduction


It was early in 1985 that I first had the opportunity to do a walking trail . A friends father had told me about his experiences on the Wolhuter Trail a few months prior . He told us how Douw Swanepoel , the trails ranger (later section ranger and a renowned crocodile expert , now deceased ) and ex SA Defence Force reconnaissance commando operator had shown them the skeleton of a buffalo he had had to shoot on trail a short while before hand , so having a keen interest in things connected with the SADF and in particular the "recces" , I wanted a "piece of the action" , the stories of lions roaring through the night at the adjacent waterhole through the night adding to my enthusiasm .
I had fairly recently become addicted to the Kruger after rediscovering the latent interest when visiting the Kruger on my first annual leave of my working life in "civvy street" some 18 months prior , and had read as many books I could regarding its history , one of which was Memories Of A Game Ranger by Harry Wolhuter . My enthusiasm thus sufficiently whetted , it was fitting that I booked 2 places on the Wolhuter trail , and myself and a friend departed for the Kruger close to midnight in a Honda Ballade 130 , registration number KFG 676 T , taking in the Long Tom Pass at dawn en route .

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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.


Last edited by ndloti on Thu Jan 13, 2011 4:20 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Wilderness Trail Tales
Unread postPosted: Wed Jan 12, 2011 2:55 pm 
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Sounds interesting...

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 Post subject: Re: Wilderness Trail Tales
Unread postPosted: Wed Jan 12, 2011 5:58 pm 
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Part 1 - Wolhuter Trail Feb / March 1985

I am writing each installment spontaneously and from memory - thus some detail has been forgotten .

I have after a mammoth effort of scanning the slides and posting and editing this , moved Part 1 further down to page 2 .

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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.


Last edited by ndloti on Mon Jan 24, 2011 9:47 pm, edited 6 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Wilderness Trail Tales
Unread postPosted: Wed Jan 12, 2011 6:25 pm 
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Thanks - 55 to go :) .

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 Post subject: Re: Wilderness Trail Tales
Unread postPosted: Thu Jan 13, 2011 11:10 am 
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Drat , so few ooh's , aah's & squeals of delight - obviously I need to post photos ?

There is more to come , though it could take some time . I think photos are necessary - finding and looking at them may just jog my memory and enrich my limited writing skills .
Memories tend to fade after so many years - and there were so many experiences that it is difficult to distinguish each enjoyable occurence and link to a particular trail .
I am writing these entirely from memory - I kept no diary and made no notes besides a piece of paper in an old wallet with the trail name and approximate date I walked .

Most of my pictures are on slides which I must view individually and have scanned , so there is a lot of work to do before I post Part 2 ...

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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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 Post subject: Re: Wilderness Trail Tales
Unread postPosted: Mon Jan 24, 2011 9:35 pm 
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ndloti wrote:
Part 1 - Wolhuter Trail Feb / March 1985

I am writing each installment spontaneously and from memory - thus some detail has been forgotten .

Image

Image

What a sight it was to stop on the Long Tom Pass with the valley below completely covered in mist all the way to Sabie and beyond , with only the tops of high ground visible above the cloud .

The Wolhuter trail left from Skukuza way back then , so we joined the group and left in an a well used white Land Rover station wagon and took the road towards Afsaal .
A short distance up the Voortrekker road lions were sighted and trails ranger Nardus du Plessis kindly reversed after climbing out to unhitch the trailer which would not budge as a wheel had fallen into an erosion gulley, the road having been badly eroded due to the recent heavy rain and flooding during cyclone Demoina
The lions reacted by disappearing into the long grass at the intrusion , so we were allowed out of the vehicle quite some excitement for me to be on foot with lions nearby !
After much bumping over the badly eroded roads and fording of deep drifts we eventually arrived at the base camp .

Image

(No , that is not me 26 years younger .)
Until 1986 Wolhuter trails camp was a tented camp – having been the prototype trails camp built in 1978 to a plan created by senior ranger Mike English – it was much more natural and basic than the trail camps that were subsequently built .
The tents were of a heavy duty vinyl material , the toilets were the long drop type and the shower was a thatch roofed reed enclosure , with cold water being supplied to a metal dustbin .
Those requiring a hot shower had to fetch it from the metal “donkey” boiler in buckets and climb up the ladder to add to the dustbin .
I believe the donkey is still there , but is no longer in use , gas geysers having replaced it , as did in 1986 flushing toilets and wooden thatch roofed A frame huts the tents .
Metal washstands , apparently surplus WW 2 items , as still seen in most trail camps (except the over modernised Napi camp) .

Image

What a feeling to be on foot in the wilderness , with my badly fitting leather “vellie” boots totally soaked within the first 10 minutes of squelching through the wet grass , the ground totally saturated so that my boots sank a cm into the ground on every step .

All the depressions were filled with water .

Image

Image


Although it was quite some months after the cyclone , most of the streams were crystal clear bubbling and running strongly .

Image

The grass was shoulder high and periodically we heard animals crashing away from us through the grass , we seldom saw them , even those at the front got fleeting views .

Breakfast was enjoyed alongside a crystal clear bubbling stream , a very soothing sound ...

Image

The rangers rifle barrel leaning against the riverbank with the butt sunk into the river sand , one of the many traquill scenes and sounds I will never forget .

Image

One morning we rested in a wide river bed and two rhinos came crashing through the grass onto the sand some 100 metres distant , our first clear sighting of them .

Image

They moved off before I could take a photo , in fact the moment was so special I did not even think of getting my camera ready .
To see such large animals up close on foot for the first time without the security of a vehicle around one was exciting , particularly so when the ranger carefully watched for signs that they may flee in our direction if they heard or scented us .
The Wolhuter trails area literally crawles with rhino - one can expect at least 20 rhino sightings per day at times when the vegetation is less dense .


Besides the odd fleeting glance at an antelope through the the shoulder high grass , we saw little general game .
We did see the odd giraffe and an elephant passing at a few hundred metres away which we hoped to catch up to , but its speed indicated it was in a hurry and not feeding .

Image

There were chairs around the fireside , those of the old fashioned metal type , with cushions of the same green vinyl as the tents .
Dinner was the good wholesome fare that the trails are renowned for .

On the last afternoon I decided to stay in the camp to enjoy some tranquility and quiet time .
Three others joined me , seemingly also having tired of the tall stories related by one trailist who seemed to have a vivid imagination – amongst other tall stories he related how his uncle / father / brother at some stage killed two leopards that attacked him by knocking their heads together – perhaps he was evaluating our intelligence …


A Genet visited us at dusk before the group returned to camp and it later returned to for food scraps , quite accustomed to people by then , coming from behind and feeding off plates left under our chairs .
No lions roared at night - although if they did I would probably not have heard them I sleep like a log in the wilderness - I experience total tranquility when in the wilderness .

After returning to Skukuza I took a detour en route to Satara to visit a lodge in Sabi Sand private reserve , where a year later I worked for some six months .

Needless to say I was hooked on the wilderness by the time we left Wolhuter , and two fellow trailists told me how beautifully the Olifants trails camp was situated … so not long after returning to the city I phoned National Parks Board reservations office …

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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.


Last edited by ndloti on Sat Jan 29, 2011 8:53 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Wilderness Trail Tales
Unread postPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2011 8:42 am 
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Ndloti, Thank you for all the effort and
time.. :clap: :clap:
Can't wait for the rest.

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 Post subject: Re: Wilderness Trail Tales
Unread postPosted: Sat Jan 29, 2011 9:35 pm 
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I added a few more pics above to Part 1 - Wolhuter Trail .

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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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 Post subject: Re: Wilderness Trail Tales
Unread postPosted: Sat Jan 29, 2011 10:24 pm 
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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 .

Image

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 .

Image Image


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 .

Image

Later we came across a large python which moved into the vegetation .

Image Image

Image

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 .

Image

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 .

Image

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 …

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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.


Last edited by ndloti on Sun Jan 30, 2011 8:52 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Wilderness Trail Tales
Unread postPosted: Sat Jan 29, 2011 10:53 pm 
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That cloud cover in your first post is incredible! never seen anything like it :mrgreen:

Thoroughly enjoyed reading about your time spent on the olifants trail. It sounds like a very special place and I can imagine your excitement :thumbs_up:

Eagerly awaiting more :popcorn:

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 Post subject: Re: Wilderness Trail Tales
Unread postPosted: Sun Jan 30, 2011 6:06 pm 
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Your ability to capture a memory in words expertly enough to forward your experiences and images to our minds is superb, Ndloti, and I am thoroughly enthralled with your descriptions and memoirs!! Loving every minute spent on this thread, and eagerly awaiting more, and more, and more ...
:clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap:

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 Post subject: Re: Wilderness Trail Tales
Unread postPosted: Sun Jan 30, 2011 6:08 pm 
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BTW, why was the Gorge camp closed to the general public, after being in use successfully for many years?

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 Post subject: Re: Wilderness Trail Tales
Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 01, 2011 8:52 am 
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ndloti wrote:
own , I imagine it was due to accessibility , the distance from a main camp (support & administration) and the time to travel there , as well as the road surface - it is rough going , particularly after rainfall .


:thumbs_up:

But now it's part of the trail camp, right?

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 Post subject: Re: Wilderness Trail Tales
Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 01, 2011 10:20 am 
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own , I do not know the exact location where Gorge was situated , though a trails ranger did once point out some poles which were lying on the ground which he said were remnants of a building . These were at different location to the trails camp , a few km east of it , which is at the point where the road leading from Bangu windmill arrives at the Olifants river .

I will make enquiries with Mike English , ex trails and section ranger , or perhaps Joep Stevens can assist .

EDIT :

Just spoken to Mike English , he tells me that Gorge camp was in fact on high ground at the point where the road from Bangu windmill meets up with the Olifants river .

He will confirm the grid reference off one of his old maps and I will post such .

Image

Here is an old map showing Gorge , the trails camp is roughly one quarter distance between Gorge and Olifants tourist camp .

Image

Google Image

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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.


Last edited by ndloti on Wed Feb 02, 2011 9:41 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Wilderness Trail Tales
Unread postPosted: Wed Feb 02, 2011 6:46 am 
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Thanks for the interesting information on Gorge, Ndloti. :thumbs_up: :thumbs_up: :thumbs_up: Looking at old map, I often wondered where that camp was situated and why it no longer is accessible. Thanks, you have adequately cleared that up in my mind. :D

With the Gorge camp at the Bangu-Olifants intersection, it must have been "Gorgeous" indeed - lovely scenery around there!

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