A walking safari in Kruger with National Park’s rangers
Our walking safari guides – South African National Park rangers Faisal and Dingan -were just fantastic. They were funny and engaging, so incredibly skilled and deeply respectful. We met before dawn had cracked, at 5.15 in the morning in the Lower Sabie car park, our indemnity forms signed and ready for hand over. After a short briefing off we went, 8 tourists and 2 guides, out of the gate a good half hour before anyone else. We tried our luck for a kilometre or so down the road in one direction before turning around and heading across the river. We needed to drive slowly, dawn was just breaking and we certainly couldn’t start walking before it got light enough – to see for 100 metres our guides told us. We parked the vehicle off the road and got out. Adjusting our cameras and jackets (it was cold that time of the morning) while Faisal and Dingan loaded their rifles. They then gave us the key briefing, explaining how we should walk and behave and what we should do if anything dangerous happened.
Then we were off, first stop a very big bone!! I just love these ranger-led walks into the African bush. So different to driving around in a vehicle. An opportunity to smell, touch and hear the bush. A time to remember how vulnerable we humans are, how careful and respectful we need to be of the world in which we live.
Time to slow down and consider the bone. Which animal did it belong too? It was very big … yes a giraffe’s leg. Lots of quizzes as we made our way on this walk – which dried animal skin was this? Not an elephant or a buffalo, but a hippo that had died during the recent drought. Yes, here’s the hippo’s skull, how amazing its teeth look.
Time to stop and consider poo. Whose poo is it? Do giraffe really make such tiny little poos? Wow, I totally didn’t know bull elephants can poo while they walk – that’s why those poos all present in a wonky line down the middle of the road.
Time to identify the grinding stone and groove, to stop and remember that Kruger is a recent invention. That Kruger is the land of a range of different African communities who were dispossessed of their land as the western ideal of conservation was formed last century.
Time to appreciate how lucky and privileged we were to be walking through the bush. To stop and be quiet. To listen to the different birds calls – as Dingan said, the birds celebrating making it through another night – francolins, hornbills, doves! Two lilac breasted rollers in a courtship moment, the male roller showing off with some fancy flying.
Time to be amazed at our guides skill as they stop and point out a leopard – yes a leopard!! About 100 metres away – there it is, across the Sabie River, on the riverbank chilling out. Up it gets and casually strolls about ten metres before flopping down again. Numerous cars drive by on the road above the leopard’s head – oblivious of who’s relaxing below them.
Time to be watched – watched by the wary herds of impalas, not at all relaxed like when we’re in a vehicle. Here I am keenly aware that we’re out of place. Watched by the warthog before he trots off, watched by the hyena who see us way before we see her and darts away so quickly that none of us see.
Time to take notice of the plants and learn about the flowers, leaves and bark, the trees and those who live on and depend on them
Time to totally immerse oneself in the moment. Time to tread softly, carefully, respectfully. Time to thank the magic bush and our fabulous guides for returning us safely home.
Travel Africa organised this 3 day Kruger trip in August 2017 – total cost AUD$600 for 2 people including car hire, accommodation, morning walk and night drive. Excludes conservation fees (AUD$30 per person per day), petrol (approx. AUD$65) and food and drink (approx. AUD$10 per person per meal).