Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Asanja »

MBPT 18-24 July 2010

This was the first Mphogolo back-to-back back-packing trail.
The group arrived on the Sunday having booked two trails in a row.
A re-supply was organized for Wednesday, a vehicle drive in and met us with extra cloths and food, allowing the guest to only have to carry food and clothing for 3 days.
The Sunday afternoon we were dropped of south of Mooigesicht dam, there were general game and birds a plenty at the dam. During the late afternoon two elephant bulls came down to drink.
During the night there were the distant calls from lions and the next morning after packing up camp and a cup of coffee we headed out in their general direction.
Moving through the mopane scrub we heard a breeding herd of elephants moving of at great pace, having picked up our scent. The whole day was spent along the banks of the Phukwane river, we lunched in the area around Pukwane oos windmill.
Set up camp a little way of from the drinking trough and reservoir, amongst some very regal Leadwood trees.
Some were brave enough to indulge in dip in the reservoir, the rest Seattled from splashing on the edge of the drinking trough.
The night was quite.

The following morning two bulls rather tentatively came to drink at the reservoir were we had been bathing.
We headed inland for a short distance and then headed down the Shishloti ( Tsonga for “poacher) drainage.
Once we hit the Pukwane river again, we were met by a lone sable bull, a very rare sighting, who seemed to follow us as he appeared out our lunch spot again.
During lunch we were treated to a very timid nyala cow tentatively leading her tiny young across the dry river bed.
The night was spent camping behind a fallen fig tree in the river bed.

We packed up camp again and headed further down the river with the goal of rendezvous with the vhichle at 12 o’clock.
A breeding herd of elephants set the groups pulse a racing with an impressive display, reminding everyone of their sheer power. While setting up camp that afternoon a small group of buffalo were feeding on the ridge opposite.
That night we were paid a visited by three inquisitive lions, who raided our washing line, they put paid to a pair of underpants, a bikini top and a towel, which was recovered a hundred meters further along their exit route.
We tracked them for about 4km and saw were they had marked, and rested during the evening.
Unfortunately mother nature was against us and a little before lunch time the heavens opened, and erased the spoor.
We had ended up on the Zari spruit for lunch.
We spent another night at same camp sight interested to see if the lions would return, but were disappointed.
This incidence just goes to show the importance are keeping all your equipment stowed in your tent with you, less it be commandeered by one of the four legged creatures.
Also to ensure a peaceful nights sleep, bring along your whole tent, both your rain cover and actual tent!!
Or you will be down to erecting thorn branch bomas and using emergency blankets to keep dry!!

The last full day we headed first inland searching for a “mythical” giant tree and then down to Wik-and-weeg dam.
We spent lunch under a giant Nyala tree and were treated to watching a large breeding heard of elephants feeding not to far off. That evenings camp was nestled behind a fallen Brack thorn ( Acacia Robusta) and steep river bank.
The whole night the breeding heard of elephants could be heard doing what elephants do at night, the same as they do during the day, feeding and voicing their disapproval of us, as well as the mournful calls of hyenas.

The last morning we packed up and moved solemnly towards the pick up point, with the spell of wilderness gradually being corrupted as the thoughts of the “ real “ world filtered into subconscious.

It was the unanimous agreement of the group that conducting the trail over 6 nights was definitely beneficial, as it is only on the third day that one truly begins to relax and the grip of the “civilized” world loosens allowing the senses dulled by incessant bombardment in the cities to begin to reawaken and one can begin to appreciate the natural surroundings.
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Strider »

Hi All,

Just wanted to give quick feedback on the 2 trails I did last week.
The first running from the 25th to the 28th and the second running from the 28th to the 31st of July.
It was a great week out, enjoying some fantastic wilderness, exploring new areas, swimming in hot springs, digging for water and tracking game.
All in all, an awesome week in the untouched surrounds of the Kruger National Park.

Water is getting scarcer but searching for water is part of the adventure, while animals are also starting to focus on the remaining permanent water points which translates to good sightings.

Mphongolo Trail Report
25.07.2010 – 28.07.2010

We (6 guys from Pretoria, the trails assistant and me) left Shingwedzi Camp on a warm Sunday afternoon, and drove out to Ribye Waterhole, North West of Shingwedzi.
After the trail briefing and short wait for our gear (we forgot to take some equipment out of the trailer) we headed immediately south into the Wilderness, later swinging west to Matiovila Hot Spring.
It was a quiet afternoon sightings wise, and we found ourselves a great Campsite just after 4pm, under a Canopy of Tamboti Trees.
We were greeted by a pair of Giant Eagle Owls who we roosting in the area.
The guys setup Camp and immediately headed for the Hot Spring, the warm nutrient rich water too enticing for words.
In the evening some of the heavier loads had to be lightened and the first to go was the liquid refreshments, unfortunately it meant that most of the Camp roared like lions when they got to bed.

The next morning we packed up Camp and headed south via Mafayeni and onto the Phugwane.
We found fresh Buffalo tracks on the way which we tracked west, coming across a fantastic herd of almost 150 animals! After-which we continued south to the river stopping at Ndlulamithi Waterhole, which was almost dry and had a rather unique aroma. We collected water and took siesta, before heading west along the river. J
Just before Boomplaas, we found a permanent water point, with Giraffe, Zebra, Impala, Baboons, Waterbuck, Klipspringer and more Buffalo.
We setup Camp and went for a swim as the sun called time on the day.
In the evening we sat around the fire discussing the day’s sightings and route ahead.
The Full Moon came out and turned night into Day, allowing us to see up and down the river with ease! Overnight, we had 2 hyenas come in close serenading us with their whooping call.

Realising that we had now walked quite far from our pickup we decided to head up river to the Zari and change our collection point.
On the way there we a wide variety of general game: Impalas, Baboons, Waterbuck, Kudu, Grysbok, Warthog, and Crocodile.
We walked through several extremely beautiful areas, including the fantastic Leadwood forest and past some gigantic Nyala Trees.
We also took time to visit the Zari Graves before stopping for lunch at the Zari Waterhole, where a lone Bull Hippo was making his final stand as the water dried up around him.


I decided that instead of waking my colleague earlier that day that I would wait till lunch to make the call and change our collection point.
What an error!?
The Satellite phone had switched on in my bag somewhere along route (likely on Day 1 already) and had gone completely flat!
We couldn’t phone and change the pickup point and were now 12km (straight line distance) from our pickup.
We had no choice but to trek back with all our gear to our Campsite just before Boomplaas.
Fortunately it wasn’t a long walk, and took us through several open areas where the general game was a plenty.
Lesson to be learnt:
Be rude, phone before you go!

On our final morning, and knowing we had a long walk out, we decided to wake up that little bit earlier.
Everyone was excited to get back, and the talk of cold beers and burgers became everybody’s motivation!
We headed North at a good pace, lighter than when we started (though some believed they were fitter as well) making great time in the cool weather.
On the way we came across Waterbuck and Impala, and, as if to say good-bye, we heard Elephants trumpeting upstream as we crossed the Mphongolo River just before the pickup point.

Our pickup was on time and although we were tired and slightly dirtier than when we started, all thoroughly enjoyed the experience!

Mphongolo Trail Report
28.07.2010 – 31.07.2010

After a quick shower and a bag re-pack I was ready to go out again.
The guests were an unusual bunch, 3 Spaniards (who were very quick to point out they weren’t soccer supporters), and 2 single South Africans.
Our drop off would be at the Zari Spruit an hour & fifteen minute drive out of Camp.
On the way were lucky enough to see a wide variety of game including Elies, Waterbuck, Impala, Baboons, Hippo, and Nyala.
After an uneventful drop off, we did the safety briefing before heading east along the Zari to our Campsite.
The area was teaming with activity; we found fresh tracks of a wide variety of game that were travelling up and down the Zari Spruit.
On the way we were lucky enough to bump into a female White *** and Calf, who we got a great sighting of through the Mopanes.
We setup Camp that evening at Zari Waterhole.
The night sky was exquisite as the moon only made an appearance just before 9pm.
In the evening we were able to spot a Civet foraging under a nearby Jackalberry, and once we were all in bed, a Leopard let us know that this was its area!

The next morning, we headed east without packs, hoping to find the Buffalo herds of the previous trail.
We walked the northern bank of the Phugwane passing Boomplaas before climbing a small Koppie to enjoy the view during breakfast.
We looped back on the southern bank, searching for the Buffalo herds but without luck.
On the way though we came across loads of general game: Impala, Giraffe, Waterbuck, Warthog, Baboons, Grysbok and Bushbuck.
After a long morning walk, we got back to Camp just after noon, everyone choosing to get some shut eye during siesta.
In the afternoon, we walked south to a local Baobab tree which is home to 2 lovely Leopard Orchids, before returning to Camp for a swim before the sun turned the horizon orange, red and then almost purple.
We all sat on a Leadwood stump and watched it go down in silence as the fire burned beautifully alongside us and the day was coming to an end.
Words could not describe that moment well enough. Just pure peaceful wilderness!

Just as you start to have fun, nature has a way of letting you know she is in charge.
As the afternoon wind died down in the evening, dark clouds slowly moved in from the east and with them they brought rain. Fortunately for us not the torrential downpour type which would require an emergency Camp location change but the irritating drizzle type!
I lay in bed contemplating on whether to pack up and move on (like the plan was) or to wait it out, leave Camp as is and go for a walk once it stopped.
Once I thought it was abating I got out quickly chatted to everyone, and realised that most wanted to stay in their tents, not move Camp and listen to the drizzle.
An hour passed and it looked like the rain was here to stay and since we have nothing else to do, we all decided to go for a walk up stream and see what we could see… and well… in all honesty it wasn’t much.
The drizzle seem to irritate the animals just as much as it irritated us, and everyone was lying low.
Though, we did find some waterbuck, impala and crocodile on our way to Wik & Weeg Dam.
At around noon the sun came out; drying us off and bringing life back to the bush.
The birds began to sing and life could go on, nobody worse for wear.
In the afternoon, we went for a short relaxed walk north, we decided to do it in complete silence, just to listen, smell and feel the bush around us.
I think it is one of the most relaxing things you can do, and it almost makes you want to stay silent for ever!
That evening, the stars seems to be slightly better than before and the Civet came round to bid us farewell

The next morning we packed up, and began our journey back to the collection point.
Our route took us past our previous days tracks, and less than 100m from our Camp, with our Campsite still within site, we found fresh Lioness spoor from the night before.
She came down to drink, watched us for a little while and then moved on.
Amazing! On the way out we tracked buffalo, and found where a leopard had chased after a Porcupine.
We also found 3 White *** grazing next to the Zari, who unfortunately got our scent and ran off rather quickly.

After collection, our drive took us past a breeding herd of Elies, and while watching them a magnificent Sable Bull walked out onto the the management road, looked at us for a little while and then disappeared into the the bush!

It was a great way to finish off the trail!
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by G@mespotter »

Ai strider..... There are no pictures needed to discribe that feeling when you're watching the sun seting like that with a crackling fire next to you, and a few peeps who appreciate nature the way you do!

Definitely can't wait to have experienced this Backpack Trail, I think once a year should become my MINIMUM :whistle:

Still agree that a tight group who knows eachother will just make such experience even better. Cannot wait to see the stars like that at night, or hear a leopard rasping through the night, lying in your thin sheeted tent. Man I envy you and your jobs. I even more appreciate your reports back, and hope to join you very often.

In the meantime, walk save and enjoy it while you can! :mrgreen:
Last edited by G@mespotter on Tue Aug 03, 2010 3:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Walking is the best way to explore Kruger: 2x Olifants Backpack Trail (2009, 2016), 3x Mphongolo Backpack Trail (2011, 2013, 2015), 1x Mathikithi Wilderness Trail (2022).
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Katamboega »

Did a Mphongolo trail from the 1-4 August.
We walked the area from Malahlapanga-Mahlahluvane.

As always a unforgettable experience, good guests.
7 friends that do quite a bit of hiking around South Africa.
But their first wilderness experience in the Kruger National Park.

On the first afternoon we did not go to far from the drop of point before we encountered our first game, Impala and water birds along the Mphongolo.
In the first big open area we met a big elephant bull with very impressive ivory.
I don't think he has been named yet in the emerging tuskers project as an impressive bull like him would not have gone unnoticed. Unfortunately he might have kept to the wilderness areas for the last couple of years and will not be seen again unless you bump into him on one of the Mphongolo trails, he looks old and i think the chances of him crossing a tourist road in the near future seems unlikely.
He isn't as big as the magnificent seven but a encounter with one of Africa's monarchs at close quarters in such splendid surrounding will be something you will always remember.
We sat there watching him for a couple of minutes, he was feeding venting his bowels and we could hear him communicate with one of his far of Buddy's with his low communication rumbles, he never even knew we were there.

After this we headed to Malahlapanga were we encountered more general game and bumped into a young male lion, he ran of into the thickets with a couple of rumbles as we unknowingly disturbed his sleep.

We pitched camp a couple of hundred meters away from the hot water spring and got settled into camp routine, as we were getting ready to go and collect water we could figure out by the amount of ox peckers coming and going from the water that there must be a buffalo heard about.
At the water we found the tracks of a big breeding herd that had drunk there during the morning.
As buffalo usually ruminate after drinking and don't move too much during the heat of the day we decided to track them.
We found were they had been resting and marched on their track to catch up to them before sunset. after about 900m we could hear them in the distance and picked up some more speed as they were feeding along at quite a pace.
Suddenly the noise changed and was coming closer, through the mopanies we could see a large breading herd of elephant coming in our direction.
We moved out of their way and let the pass.
the sound their bodies made threw the dry grass and dying mopane leaves amazing never hearing any plodding from their feet. After another Km we caught up to them and viewed them from a termite mound. we headed strait back to camp before sunset but found ellies close to our camp and only got back into camp routine as normal wen it was starting to get dark.

During the night the lion from the afternoon repaid us by keeping most of the guest awake by roaring close by all night and calling some friends over just to ensure that the nightly ablutions had to wait for the light of day.

The next day we headed inland and back along the Mphongolo to Malahlapanga, we spent the whole day out with some wonderful sightings and experiences, that night we spent at the same place with elephants for sunset and elephants during the night coming for a drink.

We headed down the Mphongolo the next day to later camp close to Mahlahluvane.

During our breakfast break we were sitting close to the water on some rocks when a herd of elephant came down to drink, we watched them come and go without ever knowing that we were so close to them, later during the day we got ourselves between two groups of elephant and needed to get our boots dirty wile crossing the river so as not to disturb them.

At camp that night we could hear leopard and a herd of buffalo that came to say goodbye the next morning drinking at the waterhole close to camp wile we were packing up our packs.

just another lekker trail.
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Asanja »

MBPT 4-7 August

The group comprised 5 young gents from Jo berg and a couple from Pretoria.
We headed out on the hour and a half drive to the drop of point along the Boubop drainage line, on route passing at least 10 different breeding herds of elephant all along the Shingwedzi river.
With the bush drying up the elephants in particular are feeding closer to permanent water.

The first afternoon we headed in a easterly direction towards the Phondo hills windmill.
In that area there are large open sodic sites and plenty of general game, impala, wildebeest, warthog, giraffe.
We set up camp a little way of from the windmill and went about collecting firewood, hand fresh water, there is still some surface water at that point in the drainage, but we chose to put in a little effort and dig a small well to collect the drinking water.
While sitting around the fire preparing “ delicious” dehydrated food the lions made their presence known.
During the night those that were not snoring ( not many!!) heard leopards, hyenas, and in the early morning giant eagle owls and fire necked night jar and ground hornbills.

We packed up day packs and enough water to last the whole day out, and set of towards the Phondo hills.
We scrambled up the first koppie and enjoyed a relaxed breakfast ad awesome view of the area.
We made the treacherous decent and on route to the next koppie we were alerted to by the red billed oxpecker and sighted two buffalo bulls in the scrub, they quickly picked us up as we tried to approach closer, the undergrowth and rocky terrain made a quite approach tricky.
They blundered off through the bush.
We lunched under 4 regal nyala trees on the banks of the bouboup .
When we reached camp and headed down to the drainage to collect water we found “ our drinking spot already occupied” by a breeding herd of elephant.
We snatched what we could and headed back up to camp.
After a little wait and a good look around, I took one “ volunteer” to carry the two buckets and we snuck back into the drainage and quickly collected another 20l just to get us through the night.
The dehydrated food packs loosing their appeal, and the breeding herd in the area lead to an early night.

On the last full morning we packed up camp and headed upstream moving along the northern bank of the drainage, which is much thicker and dense when compared to the southern bank.
The day was hot and windy ( typical August weather) and there was the lovely smell of smoke in the air, nothing smells like a bush fire.
We were afforded a fantastic opportunity to view a young elephant bull and he appeared latter again at the reservoir.
with a little more cover he was a little more confident and gave the group a little of a display.
After the bull had lost interested in us we headed to the reservoir, we after a little bit of coaxing the 5 gents ventured into the pea green waters of the reservoir for a cool dip, while the other couple selected the less strenuous climb into the water troughs.
The water level of the reservoir is getting quite low indicating that the area is being heavily utilized by game as a water point, this is also made more evident by the wagon wheel effect of game paths coming into the troughs.
After the swim we headed out to a large open area were we set up camp for the last night.
The last morning was cold and windy, making game and bird spotting difficult however the bush is never quite, we found a lovely stand of impala lilies flowering.
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Elsa »

Thanks for more wonderful and exciting reports Asanja & Katamboega. :clap:
Must be fascinating to see the veld and bush/water changing with the seasons and how the animals adapt to that.
Take time each day to be with nature
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Zappel »

Hello everybody,

I will be doing the Mphongolo Trail at the end of October :dance: - and at the moment I am searching for a lightweight tent. The one I have set my eyes on only comes in a bright yellow. Does that matter? - Or is it better to go for a more neutral coloured tent?

And what about the sleeping bag: mine has got a 'comfort' temperature of 14° C. I think that should be alright for end of Oct. What do you think?

Many greetings,
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by ndloti »

The bright yellow colored tent is not an issue - your clothing should be of a more neutral colour .

The sleeping bag will be warm emough - unless an very intense cold front passes by , which is most unlikely for the end of October - minimum early morning temperatures should not be less than 10 degrees centigrade .
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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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Katamboega »

Some info that you might enjoy.

Mphongolo Wilderness Back Pack Trail

The far north of the kruger national park is well know for its elephant and buffalo population, mopani trees and baobabs.
what is not well know is that it has incredible diversity in animal and plant life, the best opportunities for experiencing wilderness and solitude and there is vast tracks of land that have never been explored by tourist that come to the park.
The best description of the area is “Mananganaga”.Mananga meaning wilderness in Shangane and Manangananga is used for the description of wilderness in its purest form, punctuating the vastness and size.
The area is Kruger parks largest Wilderness area and extends from north of the Shingwedzi river to a buffer zone just south of the Punda tourist road(H13) with the Shisha and Mphongolo rivers forming the eastern boundary.
The western boundary is a management road a couple of Km in from the park boundary.

Mananga or Wilderness is an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled
(Meaning not subject to human controls and manipulation that hampers the free play of natural events) by man, where man himself is a visitor and does not remain.. ..
retained its primeval character and influence….without improvements and human habitation… protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions… affected by forces of nature… outstanding opportunities for solitude, primitive and unconfined recreation and is of sufficient size to make practicable its preservation and use in a unimpaired condition
Wilderness (environment of solitude) is a natural mental resource having the same basic relation to mans ultimate thought and culture as coal, timber, oil, gold and other physical resources have to his mental needs

Ref: Leopold , Aldo 1949. A sand county Almanac. Reprint 1982. Oxford University press. New York

Nash, Roderick 1982. Wilderness and the American mind. Yale University press, New Haven Connecticut

Humans have always been part of wilderness it is only since they have become mechanized that our impact on the environment has become lasting.
Only by cutting our ties with the modern world can we once more enjoy and appreciate the environment without causing long lasting disturbances.
Primitive man could live in the environment without causing unnatural effects, and was part of the environment.
Primitive people were at one with nature.
Being just as important as any other organism, playing his role as a scavenger, hunter gatherer

Backpacking is the perfect opportunity to encourage an appreciation of natural processes and, impart the value of the wilderness setting for personal growth and human understanding.
By being self sufficient you can start to enjoy the wonderful opportunities that only wilderness can provide.
Hiking in solitude with no other traces of man and the freedom of going were you please with no time restraints or deadlines you can live and appreciate nature as one of its own creations again and maybe relive the peace and tranquility of our ancestors.

The diversity of the geology provides several different habitats for wildlife and some of the most spectacular sights.
Warm water springs, that have water throughout the year, beautiful koppies, tall mopani forest and the most amazing specimens of other trees like Nyalatreas and Leadwood’s that you can’t help taking your hat of in respect to their age.
With this bounty of botanical wanders you will be right in assuming that nature has blessed this wilderness with it’s more than bountiful bird life.

Visitors to this area will notice that the area is completely different to the places that they visit along the tourist roads when they drive threw the north, Mopane/redbushwillow woodlands with massive Alluvial plains rather than the mopane scrub that they would be used to.

The area boast a richness of cultural history for any South African whether u a descendant of Shoshangane, Van Riebeek or a subject of the queen all of our ancestors have had their fare share of run-ins in this area and have left us with just enough to keep us wandering.

Extract from a trails diary:
Day 2 Mphongolo trail- woke up with the Francolins.
Packed up camp and cleaned the fire place.
Decided with the group that it would be grate to try and track the lions that we had heard during the evening,
Found their track 2km from our camp and tracked them for another 5km before resting for lunch in the shade of a Nyala tree close to Pondo hills.
After lunch pitched camp close to the waterhole and had a swim.
Continued tracking the lions in the afternoon as we knew they weren’t far of,700m later we found them still sleeping in the shade of some Mlala palms and snuck up on them.
After we snuck away again we continued for 1.5 km upstream along the Bububu to a seep were we found a nice tusker having a drink with a small group of younger bulls in the background.
On our way back to our camp we met with our friends Mr. Leo and co. unexpectedly and they made of in the direction of camp. During the night we heard our friends, and the hyenas laughing at the king for his hasty retreat, some ellies came close but avoided the camp.

Discription: and things you need to know about the trail

The Mphongolo Trail is a primitive Back Packing Trail which starts from Shingwedzi Camp and is conducted in the large wilderness area between the Shingwedzi and Mphongolo rivers.
The trail stretches over 4 days and three nights, with departures every Wednesday and Sunday between 1 February and 30 November.
This trail allows its participants to spend three nights in this wilderness area without having the constraints of having to get to the next point or of following a prescribed route.
The trail allows the trail leader to decide when & where to camp and how far & which route to follow.
Hikers can leave their cars at Shingwedzi Camp in the designated parking area.
The activity will be conducted by two experienced Trails Rangers and the maximum number of participants will be kept to eight people per trail with a minimum of 4 people.
Guests are expected to provide their own camping equipment and food for the duration of the trail.
There are no overnight huts on this trail.
As the safety of hikers is of major importance, all participants have to bring tents and sleep in them every night while they are walking the trail.
Participants will be responsible for setting up their own tents and for cooking their own food.
No rubbish bins or toilets are provided at any of the overnight stops and the trail operates on a strictly “take it in, take it out” basis and strictly adheres to a “no trace camping” ethic.
Please only use biodegradable products – soaps and detergents – on the trail.
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Brenden »

The time had finally arrived for two super excited guides and eight trailists to venture into the Mphongolo Wilderness for the first time in the 2011 season.

Day 1. After our initial meeting and briefing we were loaded onto the open game drive vehicle and transported to the northern part of the Mphongolo Loop, just north of Shingwedzi Rest Camp.
We were dropped off between Sandpiper and Tomlinson windmills on the sandy Phugwane River.
The heat was intense, but the excitement urged us westwards in search of water and adventure.
It was rather evident that we were the only animals moving during this, rather warm, part of the day.
We had to frequent the shade as the water breaks eliminated any signs of dehydration.
Ahead of the group two young elephant bulls crossed the dry riverbed.
They must have picked up our scent as they crossed the open area with confidence, while still very much alert.
Behind them small bird parties crashed to the sandy riverbed – water!
Tents popped up in a flash as we selected a suitable camping area in the shade of some Apple leaf trees on the southern side of the riverbed.
We did not have to dig deep for clean water; the rain season was kind.
The camp fire flickered as we watched the river and trees light up; it was the day after full moon and the vernal equinox.
The first day of autumn had arrived and the lions near our camp celebrated the change of season loudly all night long.

Day 2. It had to be an early rise as spikes would once again dish out some punishment.
We loaded our backpacks and travelled North West towards the hot water springs of Mfayeni and Matilayovila.
We had covered the distance by 10:00, but the friendly greetings we received from Warthog and Impala at Mfayeni water point had to be left behind.
This water was not suitable for consumption and we needed to travel towards Matilayovila (the water that boils).
A dense stand of Tambotie trees provided us with a suitable camping site near the spring.
Animal life was rather reserved although the bird life was phenomenal around this little oasis.
The afternoon walk was pleasant as we enjoyed a light rain shower before locating an elephant bull.
The large Mopane trees created a cathedral like atmosphere, something that reminded me of Moremi in Botswana.
The hyeanas were fairly active at night, but we had no unwelcome visitors to our camp that night.

Day 3. It was time to pack up and head back towards the river.
We rambled down a well walked elephant path, hot on the heels of a male leopard.
As we entered the shade of a large Jackalberry tree on the banks of the Phugwane, three Verraux’s Eagle Owls were flushed and settled in some large trees on the opposite bank of the river.
Two Wahlberg’s Eagles were not pleased as they continually mobbed the large Owls.
The attention was just too much and the Owls had to evacuate the area.
Around the corner we bumped into a few grey giants, we couldn’t really tell how many there were, the vegetation was rather thick and we had to focus on the six Elephants that were visible and closest to us.
We managed to get a rather average view of them, but the extent of the herd was very apparent when they crossed the riverbed near our water point later that afternoon.
A great big breeding herd of approximately 40 animals passed before us.
On our way further east in the late afternoon suitable camping sites were plentiful but water was scarce.
It took extra effort to locate water, but we all understood the nature of the trail at this stage and each participant will never look at their tap in the kitchen basin in the same again.
What a convenience it has proved to be!
The lions were vocal all night long.

Day 4. Sometimes nature is kind enough to share a special moment.
This morning we would be at the right place at the right time.
I had already started searching for a suitable breakfast site from the southern bank of the Phugwane River when movement, amongst the sedges, in the riverbed caught the corner of my eye.
It was rather typical of the illusive cat, dropping down at the first sight of something unfamiliar or threatening.
However the leopard didn’t have much cover, I was rather nervous that he would disappear before everyone could get a glimpse. Rather unexpected he casually stood up and started walking in our direction, completely relaxed.
He was heading for a wide tributary just in front of us.
We waited for him to enter the tributary and then moved forward to get a better view from right above him.
There we were, locked in a staring match at about twenty meters apart with a perfect view of each other.
He seemed to grow bored of us first and leisurely strolled into the thickets higher up the tributary – thanks for sharing!

We were collected at 10:00 and rather sad to be leaving the wilderness.
"Keep the Wind in your face, the Sun on your back and the Wilderness deep in your heart".
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Elsa »

Brenden, Welcome to the forum and thanks for a full and interesting report on a fantastic trail with some awesome sightings. :clap: :dance:
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by G@mespotter »

Ai... NOW we are talking! I simply can't wait to do my 2nd backpack trail.... LESS THAN 4 WEEKS TO GO! This time around we're just a little bit better prepared and know what to expect!! Just awesome... Did some rough 'training' with my old man last saturday, did a stiff 6,5km hike with 18km in 3 hours and 20 min. OK that was a little bit extreme, the hills kind of took all life out of me, but rather a hard training session. Will mean the Backpack Trail is going to be a 'breeze' haha :)

Just a question, what is general recommendation for the amount of water we should take with. Spkoe to some guides who did the Mphongolo last year, told me the norm is 4/5 litre? Judt a bit diffrent than the Olifants as there is no constant steady river for watering purposes... Will still miss those Olifants river baths at 4 o'clock though!!

Looks like I'll try to stick to 16/17kg, maybe a bit heavy but I need a whole 'pick a pay' hehe... Just have to buy may gaiters, then I'm sorted.

AWESOME that these guys saw leopard on foot on the first trial of 2011. Nevertheless, the bush experience itself is simply enough for me, and it will take some time to get back to earth after this whole adventure. Welcome to the formus too Brenden, and hope you will entertain us with pics aswell some time?? I think we'll do a fundraising for Katamboega :twisted: : Camera equipment... :tongue:

Thanks for the update :thumbs_up:
Walking is the best way to explore Kruger: 2x Olifants Backpack Trail (2009, 2016), 3x Mphongolo Backpack Trail (2011, 2013, 2015), 1x Mathikithi Wilderness Trail (2022).
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Brenden »

So, Hans and I found ourselves in the heart of the Mphongolo Wilderness once again.
It was a hot Wednesday afternoon and the scattered thundershowers from the previous night made excellent work of increasing the humidity to uncomfortable levels.
We were dropped off at Shibauwene on the western extent of the Mphongolo River as our plan was to head straight towards the hot springs of Malahlapanga.

"This is the Mphongolo Wilderness and we need to treat it like a powerful stranger; we must ask permission to know it and be known" I rehearsed as we started walking.
It is easy to become too confident out here.

Day 1: The heat was definitely a limiting factor over the first stretch, but nevertheless we came across a large gang of Banded Mongoose and a couple of Impalas.
The game paths were littered with Elephant and White *** tracks and the area had a good energy.
It was not long before we reached the pan-like expanse of Malahlapanga and our camping site for the first two nights.
A second glance across the open area revealed a lone White *** bull grazing peacefully at the other end – perfect!
As the sun and hikers were settling, a small breeding herd of Elephants came down to drink, luckily they didn’t hang around for too long as we had to collect water from the same source before dark.
The first night was quiet with the exception of a single Leopard call in the distance.

Day 2: At least we beat the Sun to it, but I would have to lie if I said the group’s rising was as impressive as that of the Sun. Southbound we travelled with the lighter and smaller day packs as we crossed impressive sodic sites along the Malahlapanga drainage line.
We encountered Kudu and Zebra before settling in the shade for a breakfast break.
It was heating up rapidly and we had a short while left to explore before the sun would force us to stop and rest.
It was a long, but peaceful afternoon in the shady riverbed – a perfect time to reflect and gain insight.
The large elephant path guided us right back to camp.
It was time to refill water bottles and start our afternoon routine.
We were pleasantly interrupted by a large herd of Buffalo feeding at one of the vegetation islands on the open area.
The wind and sun was in our favour and we could find cover behind the Mopane trees close by.
We made a silent approach and before long were locked in a standoff with this impressive breeding herd.
Their nerve snapped before ours and we advanced a little as the Buffalo retreated.
Round 2 - once again they decided to move off, but this time they didn’t return.
We continued back to camp and relaxed in our natural Jacuzzi before dark and filling our bellies.
It was a clear and quiet night.

Day 3: Camp was packed up and we were ready to head east along the Mphongolo River.
The river does not flow at this time of the year, but it holds large pools of water.
The surrounding terrain is magical and I will surely miss the point if I try to express it in words.
We picked up some Black *** tracks along a well walked animal path.
General game was plentiful and the bird life superb.
Shortly after our breakfast break we located another White *** bull, we had relatively good views, but he moved deeper into the thicker vegetation.
We had hardly left the sighting when we were met by another breeding herd of Buffalo.
We worked our way around to settle in the shaded riverbed where we could dig for cool water in the sand.
The river narrowed as we travelled further east that afternoon.
General game was once again plentiful and a female leopard had to dash from her cover just in front of us as we unsuspectedly approached.
We had located the perfect camp spot for our final night.
The quiet night was handed over to the lions that overwhelmed it with their calls all night long.

Day 4: The overcast weather brought some relief to the otherwise warm time on trail.
We tried to search for the Lions, but we could only locate their fresh tracks momentarily.
It was already time to head for the firebreak and our pick up point as we greeted the Wilderness.

Until we have the pleasure of meeting you again Mphongolo.
"Keep the Wind in your face, the Sun on your back and the Wilderness deep in your heart".
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by G@mespotter »

Just an appetiser... I have wonderful pics but did not have time to share them yet.

On the Pondo hills, with the Bubu river in the backgroud, Pondo watermill in the far distance... 8)

Walking is the best way to explore Kruger: 2x Olifants Backpack Trail (2009, 2016), 3x Mphongolo Backpack Trail (2011, 2013, 2015), 1x Mathikithi Wilderness Trail (2022).
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Re: Mphongolo Back Pack Trail

Unread post by Matthew Burnett »

Hi all, thought I’d share a Mphongolo trail that myself (as lead) and Hans Ensiling (back-up) conducted from the 17th-20th of April 2011. not to make you all envious but to let you know how great they are. :)

We (Hans and I) were excited, the Snyman group of four were equally so and to end it we had a great trail with brilliant game sightings but what was really enjoyable was the beauty of the Phugwane River and surrounding streams.

Day 1: We took the long drive to the Mooigesig drop-off point and walked to the dam where we set-up our first camp.
Having a slight drizzle on the way to the drop-off and a little on the walk this didn’t dampen our mood and made walking enjoyable as opposed to hot and exhausted.
On arrival at the dam there were many vultures within the vicinity especially on the opposite bank.
We decided to set up camp before we went to investigate, since we just arrived at our camp site and still had time for a short afternoon walk.
Once every one had settled and was ready for another short walk we walked up the Maswitakali stream walking away from the heightened activity of vultures.
A ways up the stream we heard impala barking, we went to investigate but they soon stopped barking, after a while we gave up the search, only later to find coming back down the stream fresh lion spoor of at least two lions heading towards our camp.
Following them they lead us straight past out camp and an past old buffalo carcass of which was the reason for the vultures in the vicinity.
One could see the tail drag marks from crocodiles where they had moved out of the dam to scavenge off the carcass.
Being a couple of days old there were no fresh signs of any other scavenges other than vultures and the lions had moved down past the dam.
Getting dark we went back to camp and settled in for the night.

Day 2: The weather again overcast this time without drizzle, made walking an ease.
We started off early down the Maswitakali heading off to the great Phugwane River.
Not too long walking under the tall riverine trees, both Hans and I were alerted by the sound of a barking predator that had seen us and ran-off.
We stopped to listen and followed to where we had heard it run-off.
We found the tracks of a lioness that had suddenly started to run, knowing what we were following we followed with caution and heightened senses, finding tracks of at least four lioness.
When suddenly Hans found the spoor of a cub, knowing what this meant and within split seconds the mother let us know she didn’t want us around by a soft growl becoming intense as we readied our rifles.
Hans slowly back everyone out of the area with myself not far behind.
we back out on to a spot where we were elevated on top of a donga looking across at where the lioness was.
Watching for her in the long grass we couldn’t see her but still hearing her soft growl, when from the opposite side of the donga another lioness came out with her tail twirling and broad stance towards us.
Knowing we were safe we watched her stop and then ran back and away.
Getting the message they wanted us away, we backed out of the area and continued down the stream stopping to brief everyone on the occurrence and settle the nerves of those that hadn’t been charged by a lioness with cubs before.
In continuing a ways down the stream, we came across a lone white *** bull sleeping in the sandy bed of the stream, we watched him attentively listening to our movement in the grass as we positioned ourselves to see him; the ox-peckers had also alerted him to our presence.
Eventually he got up, looked around, saw us and then ran-off.
We commenced and after a long walk down the Maswitakali stream we come out onto the great Phugwane River.
Looking down the river we saw two young elephant bulls drinking below a cliff, so both Hans and I had the same thought as to climb to the top of the ridge and look down on the elephants drinking.
The plan came together and we watched the elephants drinking and pushing each other around below us.
After they had moved off we went down and took over the waterhole to get water and have our lunch break. While we were sitting there a huge African Rock Python come slithering past, alerted by our presence slowly made his way into the safety of a rock crevice.
The afternoon walk was rather uneventful in light of our morning sightings.
We made way to the Mashadya-Phugwane confluence.
Finding a nice spot under an enormous fig tree over hanging the sandy river bed we decided to camp under it.
We set-up camp and after a short walk up the Mashadya stream we were all very tired from the days preceding and had a relaxed evening around the fire.

Day 3: Having covered a large distance the day before, the distance to cover wasn’t great and so we had a relaxed morning cleaned up camp and headed off to our next campsite.
Walking under and past huge trees to the likes of Mopane, Nyalaberry, Jackalberry, Leadwood, Sycomorous fig the area dwarfed us.
The odd impala herd and a small herd of blue wildebeest were spotted but what stood out was a group of warthogs.
Watching them going about what warthogs do from the opposite bank.
We firstly saw the male whom had some of the largest tusk in the district, later his harem of three ladies and a group of 6 piglets followed moving about in the river bed.
We then shortly arrived at our campsite and set up camp under a massive Nyalaberry tree, we settled in and had our lunch, with water nearby; we filled the bottles and waited or the afternoon.
Our afternoon walk lead us up the Hlanganini stream, with a fair amount of giraffe tracks we eventually found one when looping back onto the Phugwane River.
Stopping to overlook the river we watched an impala herd come down to drink and move away hurriedly when realizing we were watching them.
We got back to camp early and headed down to the watering hole to clean ourselves up a little and collect water, after this heading back to the camp, both Hans and I were alerted to Impala barking, we figured there most be some predator in the area and so we quickly got our group together and followed, again the impala stopped barking as we drew closer, but scanning the area, we saw a huge male leopard come up out of the Hlanganini stream stop look at us and then dart behind a mopane, he waited there for a while and then ran-off into the mopanes.
The night was quiet with the odd sound of hyeana in the distance breaking the silence.

Day 4: We headed off early, with the intention of walking to Dili’s seepline before our pick-up.
Walking along the Phugwane past the magnificent trees we disturbed a buffalo at Dili waterhole, we watched him from the opposite bank as he saw us and caught wind of us he ran-off.
Just further on we came across a dead elephant that had been in his permanent slumber for more or less a week and 5 days.
The cause of death uncertain, but having a nice set of tusk he looked like an elderly bull.
We arrived at Dili seepline and looked over the river from the cliff above enjoying our last few moments before the pick-up vehicle came to take us away from what we had borrowed for a while.
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