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Olifants River Back-pack Trail

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dianne
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Olifants River Back-pack Trail

Unread post by dianne » Thu Jul 06, 2006 2:10 pm

Anyone done the Olifants back pack trail?

Olifants River Hiking Brochure [pdf]
Last edited by dianne on Wed Jul 12, 2006 2:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Unread post by dianne » Wed Jul 12, 2006 10:38 am

We commenced the trail at 15h00 on Friday 20 May 2005 after being dropped off near the Mamba Weir a few kilometers east of the western boundary, where the Olifants enters the Kruger National Park. The group was lead by experienced guides - Andrew Desmet and Hein Grobler, who had previously undertaken the trail in order to broadly plan the duration and possible overnight spots. The six other participants included Olifants duty manager, Mari du Plessis, Olifants guide, Brendon Pienaar, Tamsin Corrie, Howard Spencer-Wilson, Juanita Grobler and myself.
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The weather was mild and partly cloudy with some dark clouds looming on the eastern horizon. All were a little tense and excited about the prospect of going into the bush for three nights with everything one requires on your back.

We were still within sight of the vehicle when Mari's sole came off her shoe and this was subsequently sent back with the drop-off vehicle to be repaired in Phalaborwa and she continued on sandals for the 4,5 kilometres until the first overnight spot.

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The first few kilometres run along a management track leading to a cul de sac, which provides an opportunity for participants to adjust and get used to their backpacks. The landscape is undulating with outcrops of quartz and clear signs of mica visible in the area.

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Tents were erected between a large Weeping Boer-bean (Schotia brachypetala) and a large Leadwood (Combretum imberbe) next to the river, yet away from any game paths, especially those used by hippopotamus!!

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The evening was about as perfect as one would require for a night in the bush, no wind, the moon close to full and a comfortable temperature.

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We enjoyed dinner and with all the excitement and preparation of the day we retired at about 21h00 to a light drizzle, which only lasted for a short while. It took some getting used to sleeping on the thin roll-up mattresses that we used in the tents...but wow. Here we were, about as close to Kruger as one can get...

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Day Two to follow
Last edited by dianne on Thu Jul 13, 2006 9:23 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Unread post by dianne » Thu Jul 13, 2006 9:32 am

We arose early and Andrew and Howard left to pick up the repaired boots for Mari which had been left in a tree by the guide, Phillip Zitha (who dropped us off the previous day) and who had kindly arranged for their repair in Phalaborwa.

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ImageAs a result, we departed a little later than planned, about 07h30. The weather was quite overcast for most of day, making it ideal for walking.
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We had breakfast at about 09h30 at the base of the koppie with white quartz outcrops and orange coloured lichens growing on them.
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We proceeded to the Tshutsi mouth for our lunch break where we were then able to wash and swim in the safe shallows of the Olifants River.

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It was just before our departure, at about 15h00, when we were surprised by a breeding herd of elephant that approached from the southern bank. The wind was in our favour and we were able to get a great view of the estimated 40 to 50 animals as they drank and proceeded in our direction.
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We were eventually compelled to make our presence known, resulting in them charging off, back in a southerly direction. Certainly a fabulous experience! We proceeded along the bank until about 17h00, when we chose an overnight spot next to some rocky outcrops adjacent to a pool with about a dozen hippo.

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They kept us entertained throughout the evening and the night with their obstinate honking at our presence on the bank of their pool. It was full moon and the night remained quite cloudless, making it, once again, a superb night to sleep out in the bush.


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Last edited by dianne on Fri Jul 14, 2006 7:45 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Unread post by dianne » Thu Jul 13, 2006 6:42 pm

We arose quite early, as soon as it became light enough, about 05h30, and departed camp at about 06h30.
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As it was appearing to be less cloudy than previous days, we attempted to get some distance behind us before the bushveld started heating up. We combined the lunch and breakfast breaks with a long siesta in the mouth of the Misumani from about 10h30 to 14h00.

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We also washed and swam in the rapids near there. We then walked until about 16h30 and crossed to the southern bank near the mouth of the Nhlaralumi River, as the riverbed was very wide and water flows closer to this bank.

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We chose a spot next to some Feverberry trees (Croton megalabotrys), and also a medium sized Nkhuhlu tree, Trichilia emetica (Natal Mahogany).
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We retired at about 21h30, once again in a bright, full-moon and cloudless night.

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We were awoken at about 23h40 by the snort of a large animal very close to camp. We were to find out in the ensuing, very tense minutes that it was a black rhino that had approached the river from the south and was surprised to find these alien structures set up in her territory. Fortunately, the rhino decided on the better option, namely to walk off, much to all of our relief. Upon investigation the next morning, it was found that he had stood six meters from Mari's tent. Needless to say, Mari (and others) experienced some very anxious minutes. The very distinctive snort, the heavy breathing and the feeling of absolute vulnerability (tucked into a small, light canvass tent of 1x1x2m) will remain with me for a long time.

Well done to all, in particular Andrew and Hein, for choosing to remain still, resulting in the animal moving off. Big congratulations also to Mari for enduring the anxiety, yet remaining dead still! Needless to say the remainder of the night was spent quite sleepless with the all the adrenalin in the veins.

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Last installment tomorrow...
Last edited by dianne on Fri Jul 14, 2006 7:50 am, edited 3 times in total.

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Unread post by dianne » Fri Jul 14, 2006 7:57 am

It was with a sense of accomplishment, yet nostalgia that we embarked on the last short day. We left camp at 06h30, crossing over to the northern bank before undertaking the last six kilometers to the finishing point of the trail.
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We had a sense of accomplishment because we had virtually successfully completed the first trial run of what is hoped to become a huge success in the future. Nostalgia because of the short window, of three odd days in paradise, that was about to come to an end. We had a brief breakfast stop two kilometers from the finishing point where Julias Mkansi was expecting us at 10h00. [img]

We were, however, afforded a few more exciting moments at the finishing point as a breeding herd of elephant, of unknown number, had chosen that area as their feeding place for the morning. As they had already sensed the guide at the finishing point, they were already nervous. Needless to say, our approach from the opposite side added to the alarm amongst the herd, which fortunately quickly moved off to the north and away from the river. After this moment of raised heart beats we thoroughly enjoyed the cold drinks that Hein had arranged to be brought along in the pick-up vehicle.

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During the two middle days we walked approximately fourteen kilometres per day, with an approximate walking time (excluding meals and stops) of seven hours per day. Thanks to those who initiated this concept many years ago and thank you to Ben, Hein and Andrew for taking it the next step to implementation.
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JOEP STEVENS
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Unread post by dianne » Tue Jul 18, 2006 8:01 am

You may all have seen this already-but here is the brochure which answers questions about cooking, what to bring, What’s provided etc...
brochure

And here's a reply from the park activities manager

[quote]
Regarding your questions:

1) You have to book the whole trail (1-8 persons) and cannot book per person, the price is R9600.00. There are various reasons for this but it is mainly because of the primitive nature of the trail (bathing/ ablutions etc) and it is therefore better for the group to know one another.

2) Its a three night four day trail with no facilities and you must bring along all your own gear and food, we only supply the two guides.
They bring along their own food & hiking equipment, rifles, satellite phone for emergencies, radio fro emergencies, emergency first aid kit,

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Unread post by KNP Spokesman » Wed Nov 08, 2006 9:52 am

Hi Forumites

Like other products - Lebombo Eco Trail etc - the Olifants Back Pack Trail closes over the summer months but will reopen on April 1, 2007.

Kind regards
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Olifants River Backpackng Hiking Trail

Unread post by HikerFlo » Mon Apr 16, 2007 3:34 pm

We were lucky enough to be able to do the ORBHT from Saturday 7 April until Wednesday 11 April 2007. What an awesome experience. We were all experienced hikers, but this was something out of this world. We were warned beforehand that the chances of us seeing much game were pretty slim, but we were well rewarded, and I would like to mention how extremely experienced, knowledgeable of all flora and fauna, and professional our two guides were - Brendan Pienaar and Michael Paxton. Our safety was their priority at all times, and this trail comes very highly recommended. A must for any nature lover!!
Flo Smith

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Unread post by Lourens » Mon Jun 18, 2007 5:46 pm

:D Good day to you all,

I did my first back pack trail from the 22nd of April until the 25th. It was undescribable!!!!!! I personally believe the guests make or break an experience like this. Luckily I had a hikers group and it was excellent.

The pick up point is in Olifants Rest Camp, 08:00 the morning. You are being driven to Phalaborwa Gate where you drive all the way down to the Western Border fence and start walking at about 12:00. The whole trail is about 45 km's long, which is over 4 days and 3 nights. You walk all the way next to the Olifants river, depends on the Guides, if you walk THROUGH it as well, believe SEASON will play a massive role. Talk about the fauna and flora, drink the water from the river, bath and swim in the river, it is definitely recommended.

It depends on the guides how many Kilometres will be covered on each day, you only have to be at "Wildevy" on the 4th day at 12:00, and from there back to civilazation.

I hope Skydiver's report will also give some extra information.

It was excellent and I will definitely again be a guide on this lifetime experience.

Good evening to all... :D

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Incident on Olifants River Back Pack Trail

Unread post by KNP Spokesman » Fri Aug 24, 2007 2:28 pm

Hi Forum Folks

This is just to let you know about an incident that happened on the Olifants Back Pack Trail in the Kruger National Park (KNP) this week (August 20 - 24, 2007) and to tell you about the amazing response time that helped give this story a happy ending.

The Back Pack Trail group departed Olifants Rest Camp on schedule on Monday August 20, 2007 and disembarked the trail vehicle at the begin point. There were the usual component of two armed guides and a full component of eight walkers/guests. I am sure they were really looking forward to this, one of our most exciting wilderness products.

Everything went smoothly until around 15:00 on the first day of the four day (three night) trail. They were walking on the Southern bank of the Olifants River, around three kilometres downstream of Hell's Eden when the group encountered a breeding herd of elephant. One cow broke away from the herd and attacked the group.

The guides fired but the elephant continued its attack, lancing one of the guest's backpack with its tusk. By this time, the guide was in a position to fire a "kill" shot and fired, the elephant fell and the guest, a woman from Port Elizabeth, was extricated from between the front legs.

It is believed that the cow attacked the group as it heard a distress call from an elephant calf.

After ensuring that all other guests were fine, the guides attended the woman from Port Elizabeth and decided to evacuate her (and her husband) to the nearest medical help. Using the sponsored satellite telephone that the trail guides carry, a call was placed to the KNP's Activities Manager who noted the groups' exact position using GPS.

An alert call was made to one of the SANParks helicopters - presently busy with census operations in the far north of the KNP - which reacted immediately and sped to the GPS co-ordinates given via satellite telephone.

The helicopter - Eurocopter AS350 B3 Squirrel - arrived on the scene at 16:07 and took both the injured woman and her husband to the KNP's regional office near Phalaborwa Entrance Gate. Transport was arranged to take her directly to a Phalaborwa doctor, who diagnosed a small fracture in one of the facial bones. The woman was sitting in the consulting rooms, waiting for X-rays, at 16:30.

Accommodation was arranged at a lodge in Phalaborwa which enabled the husband to go and retrieve their luggage at Olifants Rest Camp (where the luggage of this couple was stored in a vehicle belonging to one of the other people on the trail - they were doing this trail as a group of friends). After a night's rest at the lodge, the couple flew back to Port Elizabeth on Tuesday August 21, 2007.

Meanwhile, it was decided to offer the rest of the group still on the trail the option to withdraw, which they accepted, and transport was laid on to take them back to Olifants Rest Camp to get their luggage and vehicles. They were also debriefed by the KNP's Activities Manager. As Olifants was full that night, accommodation was arranged for the group at Letaba Rest Camp. The group opted to continue their stay in the Kruger.

One of the major concerns for this product when the plan was first submitted during the late 1980s was the lack of suitable communications methods if an incident had to happen. With the advent of small, convenient satellite telephones, this product could eventually receive the green light and this incident shows how effective technology can be to bring someone in need of medical care from the middle of the wilderness to medical care in less than an hour and a half.

KNP management is still investigating the incident but is pleased that the emergency procedures worked so well. We hope that the guest has a speedy recovery.

Kind regards
KNP Spokesman
Last edited by KNP Spokesman on Fri Aug 24, 2007 3:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Unread post by cougar » Thu Aug 30, 2007 4:25 pm

I'm curious to hear your thoughts: do you think that there is a slightly higher risk of encountering situations like this when you walk along a river course like the Oliphants? It seems to me that most of the big breeding herds that I saw during my one visit were all very near the bigger rivers.

I'm purely asking out of curiosity and am not trying to stir things up. BB's rough calculations certainly put things into proper perspective.

I also am curious to hear if at least some of the animals that are frequently in the areas where walks/trails are normally done become noticeably more accustomed to human presence.

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Unread post by bucky » Thu Aug 30, 2007 7:38 pm

The threat is very minimal , and also after chatting to Erwing at Lower sabie in my last trip , it seems like they are implementing some sort of advanced course for guides also , so as to increase the safety of walkers .

Cougar , undoubtably a river walk will be more dangerous , because there is a higher density of animals along the river for one, animals are also far more nervous along the waters edge when drinking than out in the bush .
You encounter hippo , which are not usually found in the middle of the bush .
You can potentially scare an animal , as you come up and could possibly make it feel cornered with you on 1 side and the river on the other , where in the bush it would run away from you .

Apart from all that , I would love to do a river walk , purely for the larger amount of plant and animal species to be discovered than elsewhere .


At the end of the day there are 2 things to consider here .

1 - SANparks outlook
They will surely weigh up the advantages versus risks or disadvantages here , so if the walks are still going , then obviously its o.k.

2 - Tourist outlook
If you are going to be going on a walk , then you need to face up to the fact that you are walking in the animals territory , and that things could potentially happen , so know that there are risks , even if they are minimal .
Do not take the attitude that this is a "walk in the park" .
Last edited by bucky on Fri Aug 31, 2007 4:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Unread post by KNP Spokesman » Fri Aug 31, 2007 3:41 pm

Hi Everyone

Thanks for the feedback. BB's stats are probably close to the actual. There has only been one serious injury on a trail - the said rhino incident from Biyamiti a few year's back - and very few minor injuries. I have been here for almost five years now and I only know of three animals killed under these circumstances - this elephant now, an elephant on a Skukuza morning walk and an elephant on the Lebombo Overland Eco Trail.

There have been other animals shot to protect human life but these have been on our ranger patrols (ie not tourism activities).

I spoke to KNP Activities Manager again today about the incident and this subject in general and he is again confident that the aim or goal is to prevent human injuries/fatalities in those situations which the guide, in this case, was certainly able to do. A human life is and will always be worth more than an animal (no matter how much we love animals) and this is the basic principle our guides live and work by on these activities.

Hi Cougar

Although Bucky is more or less correct, it is a seasonal thing too that more animals are found near rivers. This is winter and the Olifants River is a major source of water for all creatures in the KNP (including people). It therefore makes sense that walks will encounter more animals (particularly elephant) near the rivers at this dry time of year.

When the KNP's tourist road network was laid out, one of the primary considerations was the access to water which is why the roads follow our major rivers for relatively long distances.

After the rains, the animals will actually move back into the veld and it is often very difficult to find animals during December/January/February for this reason. What we call veldwater is commonly found (even in the mountains around Berg en Dal).

These trails are only operated during the winter months for two simple reasons - its not fun walking in the rain (in spite of what that old singer says) and secondly it is too hot and we worried that people might suffer heat exposure.

Kind regards
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Unread post by Imberbe » Fri Aug 31, 2007 11:05 pm

It is true that there seldom is a serious incident that leads to injury of humans on walks.

It is important to remember that animals actually see humans as a danger. We are the number one predator and they tend to avoid us. I often say that I feel a lot safer walking in the bush than walking in the city!

Incidents usually happen where a situation arise where they cannot avoid us, and they feel threatened. Say you surprise a buffalo in the reeds, or a sleeping rhino. Now they feel they can't flee, so they have to fight!

There are of course exceptions, and these animals you as a guide are trained to avoid. These would include, predators feeding, most animals with young, an elephant bull in musth etc.

As for the training of guides in Kruger. I can assure you that there are some of the most experienced and capable people in the industry that handle the training. I do not know all the guides, but I have utmost confidence in the trainers.

Proper training is critical, because that prevents humans from making silly mistakes. Often where a situation do arise, it is purely the guides (and sometimes the guests) fault. You find some guides (and now I am not speaking about any SANPARKS guides) who are too macho and pushes a situation too far to impress the guests. Others think they know everything because they have spent some time in the bush, or become blaze and sloppy.

Still others rely too much on their guns! As a guide you should always handle a situation as if you are un-armed! Your gun should be the last resort! Rather rely on knowledge and cunning to handle a situation. (Maybe that is why there are so few incidents in the parks) Having said that ... if you must shoot you must be able to shoot fast, accurate and without hesitation. :wink:
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Unread post by Meandering Mouse » Tue Sep 11, 2007 5:37 pm

Maussie, I have not done the trail but I have spoken to a couple of rangers who have lead the trail.
Their advice to me was, keep fit. Pack carefully, don't take what you don't need and take water purifying tablets. Keep well hydrated, make sure that you know and like your fellow hikers. Try to take something for the ground to make sleeping comfortable.
A lot of the trail is in completely "virgin" territory, so there is always the danger of a twisted ankle. Also, carrying all your own gear along this uneven terrain demands a lot of stamina. The one ranger said that his biggest problem was dealing with the heat, as it hard work in high temperatures.
As far as I know, you are kept pretty close together at all times. If anyone needs to "use the spade", the ranger will check for safety and stand discreetly "on guard".
The one ranger advised to take instant noodles and John West tuna. Oatsoeasy was also easy to carry and mix, as were mueslie health bars. I think one can also get individual packets of Pronutro (my choice).
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