Part 1 - Wolhuter Trail Feb / March 1985
I am writing each installment spontaneously and from memory - thus some detail has been forgotten .
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 .
(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) .
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 .
Although it was quite some months after the cyclone , most of the streams were crystal clear bubbling and running strongly .
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 ...
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 .
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 .
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 .
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 …