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The Primitive Trail. Hluhluwe iMfolozi, Kwa-Zulu Natal.

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Game Warden

I shall start with a quote from Shakespeare's KING HENRY V:

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

And thus it was we few, we happy few, we band of brothers, brought together through Safaritalk, @@Bugs, @@Soukous, @@Peter Connan and I, standing at Mpila Camp atop a hill with the iMfolozi Game Reserve spread out below us. After months of planning, here we were, this grand adventure was about to begin...

So assiduously was the white rhino hunted all over Africa that by the end of the nineteenth century it was almost extinct. Suddenly it was discovered that the only population remaining was about fifty animals in the Umfolozi Game Reserve and a larger number in Uganda.

Voices of alarm began to be raised in Natal/Zululand. The governor was petitioned and at last, in 1895, game reserves were established at St Lucia, where a vast freshwater lake connects to the sea by an estuary; at Hluhluwe, a hilly region near the headwaters of Lake St Lucia; and at Umfolozi.

(Taken from "Into the River of Life. A Biography of Ian Player." By Graham Linscott, ISBN 978 1 86842 546 4.)


I recorded notes whilst undertaking the trail and have transcribed them here from my voice recorder. I only wish it were possible to include the sounds of the birds and insects, the African wilderness in the background...


It was a long drive in from St Lucia, taking about an hour and a quarter due to traffic.






Hluhluwe iMfolozi is a sacred wilderness place.


Quickly signed in, through the gate, game drive to Mpila Camp, on the way we stopped to see a good sized herd, perhaps thirty elephant and we took our position beside a large game drive vehicle – the eles surrounded us. It was encouraging to see a number of babies. After that we continued on directly to Mpila stopping only to look out over the Hluhluwe river, a number of potholes on the road, certain sections graded gravel, tarmac ripped up: is that a good thing? It probably cuts down on the number of vehicles speeding from sighting to sighting. On the other hand, if you are doing a game drive the driver really does have to concentrate on the road and not spotting.





At Mpila, signed in, the trail prepaid, for every member having a rhino card, didn’t have to pay conservation levy. At the camp we met up with the other trailists, Peter Connan, with Mark and Leyland, (friends of Bugs) and two other English chaps, Charles and Charlie. Martin, (Soukous), Bugs and I having arrived in the same car. We were a group of eight.


We had booked the trail directly with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, www.kznwildlife.com and special mention must go to Lwazi, the trails consultant who dealt with my requests and handled the booking, changing start dates so as to accommodate our group on the Primitive Trail following Indaba. For more details of the trail including suggested packing list, click here, (opens a PDF Webpage).


From Mpila we drove to the start point in a convoy, en route our guide stopping the vehicles and pointing out a large pride of lions on the opposite hillside, not too far from us, approximately twenty in total with a very large dominant male which was obvious at this distance even without binoculars.





On arriving at the start camp, we checked our own gear and Ezemvelo Wildlife provide you with backpacks, sleeping bags, bedrolls if you don’t have your own. You divide the food and utensils between the group and the food is everything for the four nights of the trail. Full packs weighing approx. 25 kilos although most of us look to be fit: ages range from thirty, (Charlie), all the way up to 68 with Leyland so wide ranging. Even if you think you are fit, after a day of walking with full packs, a distance of 18 kms according to the guide, you certainly feel it. By the time you arrive in camp your shoulders ache your hips aches, taking the pack off is a huge relief.


The Primitive Trail has been described as one of Africa's great safari adventures - setting off from camp with everything upon our backs, we'd soon be finding out...





Moments into the trail, our lead guide, Sabelo talks of the importance of using all our senses in the wilderness.


The first task is to cross the iMfolozi River. Gaiters off. Boots off. Socks off. Off we go...




It's of vital importance once across to thoroughly clean and dry your feet before putting socks back on. Some of us would suffer from painful blisters later on caused by sand rubbing against the soles of their feet, inside the socks.




En route we were stopped in our tracks on the trail by a large male elephant which stood his ground. There are two guides for the eight trailists, bearing in mind you are carrying everything you need they are not going to put you too close to the wildlife and so after observing the male elephant for a while we moved off and took an alternative route. Continuing in we encountered two white rhino, the larger, an older female with younger calf. We were advised to stand behind a tree and having been to Zim, one appreciates that the guiding is slightly different, where you have one or two guests with the armed guide which means the guide can read the situation differently whereas here of course, there are two guides with eight trailists. The rhino were inquisitive but not boisterous, not aggressive, the guides shooed them away with hand gestures and shouts: we had a fantastic view of them, Peter having taken some tremendous photos.




"Take a break guys." Grabbing five minutes rest during the first 18kms...




Bugs looking towards camp.



1st Campsite.


First night then after 18kms we arrive at the campsite which is on a low cliff, a beautiful area on the Black iMfolozi River, on a bend with some stunning hills to our left which capture the bronze light of the sunset, the river, low, stretching away to our left and right in a gentle curve, buffalo at one end.


We are all completely knackered. And to be honest, as a few of the chaps have said, the actual physical aspect of the trail wasn’t enjoyable on the first day as it’s basically a mantra of stepafterstepafterstep, you can’t afford to look up and around and appreciate the surroundings because if you trip over with that kind of weight on your back you’re going to twist an ankle at best, or break it at worst, really hurt yourself so it’s really a case of having to concentrate on the walking, on the getting there.


On arrival at camp you set out where you are going to sleep, obviously no tents, you roll out the bed mats, sleeping bags, tarpaulin sheet: we watched a rhino lumbering across the river and crunching into the grass not far from where we were.




Dicing vegetables ready for dinner.


Making dinner, bush style.


I jumped at the chance to cook so setting up two small camp fires to do everything at once I prepared spaghetti Bolognese which yes, is different to the one I’ll do at home because I didn’t have all the ingredients to hand. Luckily I had some olive oil, Charles and Charlie had some red wine which I reduced down, and made a pretty good approximation of what I’d do at home. It took longer than I thought, everybody was tired so I was happy to cook for the team in the bush. We ate when it was dark because we’d arrived quite late, but general feedback was good: unbelievably it was only seven thirty and people were sliding off to bed so, suffering insomnia I volunteered to take a few hours on first watch round the camp fire, which stretched through to about eleven o'clock. You keep the fire burning, wood collected on the trail, a billy can of water drawn from a hole dug in the sand river bed simmering away in the embers to top up on coffee. Bugs was lying close by, I was sat up and doing a perimeter patrol, we’d be talking, it’s funny because you get to know the various snoring patterns and tones - the sound of people farting, rolling around on the hard floor – eventually everyone went to sleep, I couldn’t at eight o’clock but at eleven I started feeling drowsy. I’d heard hyenas howling at one stage earlier on my watch, the sawing cough of a leopard which the next day was confirmed by the spoor in the river bed.


Throughout the evening quite an impressive electric storm came towards us from up country, a number of lightning flashes lit up the sky, the river, the forked lighting hit it - lit the river up in a jagged silver ribbon but alas Peter had not set up his camera to record it. From being pitch black to vivid bright flashes: incredibly impressive, lit up the river the water silver, the sky black it was oppressive, thunder crashing banging on in the background it was amazing and still the camp slept on, snoring, farting. I was alone in the wilds of Africa as close as one could be to nature at its most raw. Earlier in the evening I was sure I’d heard lions roaring somewhere in the distance: this was before the rains started. It was a brief shower but in this brief shower everyone frantically packed up their gear, I just continued to sit in my teeshirt, getting wet – I could see there were stars visible in the sky: the rain wouldn’t last long, I knew it.



Night: I think one of the Charlies brewing river water tea at change of shifts. Lions roaring in the background.


At 11 o’clock I woke Charles up, it was his shift, but we sat around drinking river water tea and coffee, each of us took an hour or two keeping watch over the camp. Our guides had gone to bed, it was up to us. I’d told him about the hyena, I’d told him about the lions, the leopard and very soon after the lions started up again: they didn’t stop for the whole night and at one stage they seemed to be surrounding the campsite so I only managed to get a couple of hours sleep waking to see Peter doing some early morning photography.




Upon a rock at the first camp, whilst others slept and on my watch I constructed a cairn of stones, one atop the other: it stood high above everywhere else and building it, carefully, laboriously, one stop atop another I thought of Ian Player, I thought of what he’d wanted to achieve, the wilderness trails, the connection with wildlife, you can’t protect it if you don’t experience it, how much he’d love iMfolozi. I thought of what he’d done during his life, everything he’d achieved, everything he’d saved, his passions, and am thankful for the fact that because of him, his foresight, I was still able to appreciate this place, and those like me are still able to and even as I sit here in the middle of the African wilderness, threats abound, the poaching, killing of rhino for its horn, human encroachment, the mining taking place on the outskirts of this park, threatening its waterways, every now and then one can hear a loud boom, an explosion going off in the mine and across the horizon one sees the lights of communities in the distance outside the park boundaries the lights at night staining the sky florescent pollution. The stones cannot remain. Leave no trace is the mantra. They will stay two days balancing and then will I take them down reverently. I never got to meet Ian Player, but still he’s influenced me and Safaritalk, if I can achieve one percent of what he did through his life it will be something and have meaning to me.


I'll leave it to @@Bugs, @@Soukous and @@Peter Connan to share their thoughts and photos from day one before I continue on with day two...


Edit. Of course some of the images in my posts were taken by me, some by Bugs and I'm doing the honours uploading them to the report.

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Peter Connan

Up at 11h30 and in the car by midnight, I was a'rarin to go!


My early start and quiet roads had me at the entrance gate by 06h30, so I could take a nice slow game drive to Mpila. The Zululand hills make for fabulous scenery, with the beautiful iMfolozi river an ever-present marvel!



Roadside Kudu





At Mpila I take a short break, dress in shorts and get my kit ready before heading back to reception, where I get my first sight of the beard, and I know I'm in the right place.



The Safaritalk group at Mpila, L-R: Leland, @@Soukous, @@Bugs, me (the shorty), Mark and @@Game Warden


We book in and head to the trails camp,



Lions on the hill


And just a bit further up, another group of trailists looking at Zebra. Wonder if they ever saw the lions.




where we get our food and equipment, have a quick cold lunch and off we go. Our route remains fairly close to the river most of the time, where Dagga Bulls are will become a freqeunt sight over the next few days.



Our first (only) kill: an ant-lion strikes!



The great thing about walking is that one sees so much more. Conservation starts with the little things, and the insects and small plants are an important part of what keeps it all going.




A dung beetle



Look closely, and you will see that it has ticks or mites all over it.



Sycamore Figs


Edited by Peter Connan
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Peter Connan

Meeting any of the larger animals while on foot is a very different prospect than when seeing them from a safri vehicle. When you are yourself weighed down with 25-odd kilograms of useless junk and tired from having walked further than at any time in the last twenty years adds further spice!








More Dagga bulls:



Some Woolly-necked Storks:



And three vultures:



A pretty large terrapin:



Our guide used this opportunity to explain the toiletry habits of male and female Rhino, how to tell the two species apart, the importance of dung beetles and the life of elephant flies, all in one midden!





During the trail, we encountered rhino several times, often at uncomfortably close quarters.






The largest rhino horn I have ever seen.


I barely made the rocky climb up to our first campsite, but the view was definately worth it!


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Peter Connan

Matt made us a wonderful dinner.




I choose the first watch so that I can do some star photography after the moon has set, but the light pollution from townships neighboring on the reserve make it a bit tricky.






But in so doing I miss the whole thunderstorm (sleeping is one of the things I am better at!). I did notice that my sleeping bag was a bit wetter than I had expected.




For those interested, my photos in this trip report were all taken with a Nikon D7000. I took three lenses, a 300mm f4 (usually used in conjunction with a 1.4 teleconverter), an old manual-focus 55mm f2.8 Nikkor lens, whith which I took exactly 2 photos, one of which the photo of Matt cutting veggies, and @@Soukous's 10-20mm Sigma. I also took a borrowed lightweight tripod, two spare batteries and a cable release.


The photos of animals, birds, insects and plants were all taken with the 300mm, usually in either Aperture Priority or ISO priority (manual mode but with auto-ISO enabled). Landscapes and stars were mostly taken in full manual mode.

Edited by Peter Connan
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Just a few photos from that first day from me. Matt is telling the story.


We, @@Bugs, @@Game Warden & I, overnighted in St Lucia on our way to iMfolozi and met up with Mark and Leyland.


A night at the St Lucia Ski Boat club was not exactly ideal preparation for our hike but the food and drink were most welcome.


Hippos in the St Lucia estuary



Hadeda Ibis



@@Game Warden is loaded and ready



as are the rest of us



Our guide Sebelo



And the lady with the rifle, Magnificent (Maggie) our backup guide.



Crossing the White Umfolozi river



elephant encounter



Sebelo guides us around a rhino





@@Peter Connan photographing dung beetles with a 300mm lens - that's a first for me :P



A welcome break - backpacks off, 10 minutes for the sweat to dry



Our first camp, on a rocky outcrop overlooking the river



Matt slaving over dinner



For this trip, because we would be carrying backpacks, I did not adhere to my usual camera equipment policy.

Usually I carry all my gear in a photo backpack (2 bodies, 3 lenses etc) but as I only have one back and that was occupied with an even less comfortable backpack I decided that I would bring nothing but a small compact camera with me. Actually it is probably more accurate to call it a bridge camera - an Olympus Stylus 1. It has a built in zoom lens ranging from 28mm to 300mm.


Over the course of the trail I was mostly very happy with my little Olympus, especially it's insignificant weight and I looked with admiration at @@Peter Connan for staying true to his DSLR.

There were a couple of instances when i would have preferred to have my DSLR, most particularly when I missed a shot because my camera was going through it's startup sequence, but on the whole it was a revelation.

I can heartily recommend this little baby as a safari camera.

Edited by Soukous
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For those who'd like to have a rough idea of where we went, I took co-ordinates of each of our camps and plotted them on Google Earth.


The route we took between camps is anyone's guess but at least it gives you a rough idea of the trail.





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Most impressive, gents (and Maggie)


I'd say I would strive to accomplish this adventure and it'd be on my bucket list...but I am way too prissy for that. So I will just sit back and enjoy the ride...well, walk.



And I cannot imagine carrying those packs. Where was the wine and gin packed. Oh right you have to be on watch...aaaggh that would be your worst nightmare with me. :blink:


@@Soukous thanks for the map. I was really going to embarrass myself and ask, Now just WHERE were you? Where are you headed? and, Do you get a lift back B)


@GameWarden, very industrious undertaking for all of you, but most justifiably one who admits to sitting on his bum all day behind the ST computer...this is going to be a great read!


@ Peter Connan I cannot believe you also carried that gear. You must have left your clothes at home.


And @@Bugs, I imagine you LED :D the brigade.


I bet Sebalo will write his own trip report on this one!


That was one scary rhino...but glad it was there for you...Incredible horn.

Edited by graceland
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Tom Kellie

Most impressive, gents (and Maggie)


I'd say I would strive to accomplish this adventure and it'd be on my bucket list...but I am way too prissy for that. So I will just sit back and enjoy the ride...well, walk.


And I cannot imagine carrying those packs. Where was the wine and gin packed. Oh right you have to be on watch...aaaggh that would be your worst nightmare with me. :blink:


~ @@graceland


The thought of you on night watch on guard for roaming lions is enough to make me grin.

Tom K.

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Tom Kellie

post-49296-0-76701000-1432684308_thumb.jpg post-49296-0-63467200-1432684322_thumb.jpg

~ @@Soukous


The images above were both taken with an Olympic Stylus 1?


The hippo shot makes me think of certain ancient Egyptian depictions of hippos amongst reeds.

Great saturated color.

I'm gobsmacked that it was possible for you gents to walk so near to rhinos.

What a trek!

Tom K.

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Tom Kellie


~ @@Bugs


Seeing is believing!

Tom K.

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Tom Kellie

post-49296-0-92280200-1432684758_thumb.jpg post-49296-0-39132100-1432684795_thumb.jpg

~ @@Game Warden


Most Impressive!

Your trip report adds an entirely different dimension to my perception of Safaritalk.

No champagne breakfasts in balloons or sit-down dinners of haute cuisine in the bush here.

The authenticity and proximity to wildlife is the BEST!

I greatly like your Shakespeare quotation to set the mood.

Tom K.

Edited by Tom Kellie
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Lovely river shots Peter and the little things came out well too.. Great campsite shots Martin. And great storytelling and information, Matt. It's going to be an excellent report. I have to say rather you than me, but I am glad you did it.

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Tom Kellie

post-49296-0-18575200-1432685060_thumb.jpg post-49296-0-00926500-1432685078_thumb.jpg post-49296-0-12895700-1432685099_thumb.jpg post-49296-0-78569100-1432685216_thumb.jpg

~ @@Peter Connan


Glory Be! This trip report is a revelation.

Scarab mites, no less.

I'd wondered if I was nuts to photograph flies with a 400mm lens — after seeing you in action, I know I'm not alone.

Love the bumblebee with yellow blooms.

Your choice of images is superb.

I had no idea that you gents were off on this trek together, somehow having missed that it was planned.

The genuine closeness to nature is more than impressive — as my students would say, it's AWESOME!

Thank you for these images and the commentary.

Tom K.

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For those who'd like to have a rough idea of where we went, I took co-ordinates of each of our camps and plotted them on Google Earth.


The route we took between camps is anyone's guess but at least it gives you a rough idea of the trail.



I had no idea where I was, glad that someone was taking notice.


I must say that little camera of yours took some quite impressive pictures.


I have handed all my photos to the GW and don't have any to post. So get on with it.

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Tom Kellie

I had no idea where I was, glad that someone was taking notice.


I must say that little camera of yours took some quite impressive pictures.


I have handed all my photos to the GW and don't have any to post. So get on with it.


~ @@Bugs

On foot with the rhinos...

Mighty fine.

Tom K.

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Hi guys - loving this trip report ! Some amazing photos. I will be following with relish.

Having only done the Base camp trail a couple of times I will use this report to persuade the wife to go "Primitive" one day ;-)

Sebelo is a fantastic guide and Magnificent is very reassuring as the sweeper.

Looking forward to the next update.

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Game Warden

Day 2:

As a Natal Park's Board ranger, Ian Player himself was an agent of government. Suddenly it came home to him that his duty, his calling, was not just the wildlife management and anti-poaching activities of a ranger; it was, more importantly, to preserve the ancient African Wilderness where it still existed in pockets of Zululand, and to make the wilderness experience available to as many people as possible. He had discovered his life's mission... or it had discovered him.


The essence of a Wilderness Trail is simplicity. carry what you need. Take as little as possible. Keep your eyes and ears open and absorb what is about you. Listen to what the trail rangers tell you - and obey; your safety could depend upon it.


And fear was an almost inevitable part of the experience...

(Taken from "Into the River of Life. A Biography of Ian Player." By Graham Linscott, ISBN 978 1 86842 546 4.)


I pack down brufen: I feel unwell. The sleepless night has affected me. My head aches, my ears ache. I think it’s the flu. My back aches in places that have never ached before - a hard rock mattress and the damp of the storm. Everyone else was wearing a beanie hat or something. I hadn't. My ears were cold in the night. Minutes had been hours following my turn on the watch and those lions had been like the chime of a clock. Marking the passage of time. Everyone has a medical kit and together we are prepared for anything. Of all things though I was not expecting the flu...






You have to realize the water is drawn from the river, what happens is you dig a hole in the river bed, the water filters up from the sand, you scoop it from the hole. You then boil it, but also we drank it straight, but I dropped Iodine in just to be sure. It becomes routine: drawing water, boiling the billy can: with no soft drinks or beer to sustain you caffeine and sugar keeps you going. Even before putting tea or coffee in the water it's brown anyway. Still tastes good though...





It was a beautiful morning, clear sky, the storm had cleansed the dust away: we had coffee, a handful of crunchy granola and set off without packs for another 15 kms.




There are certainly a range of characters in our group, on the walk which was a lot freer without packs you just have a water bottle. We stopped to see 4 rhino in quick succession, two mothers, two calves both times, the second pair were hidden quite deeply in the bush and we approached quite close without realizing, backing away.



Can you spot the lions? No, neither could we...


We were approaching the Black iMfolozi River, further on from where camp was, watching kudu, impala, we were watching nyala on the opposite bank, a huge cliff to our right where we were later to have lunch, (one of the many sites from where King Shaka of the Zulus would throw his victims to their deaths, an eerie place full of foreboding…) There were buffalo in the river. The group had broken into two, Bugs and I with Magnificent, our guide, lingering a little, a slower pace. Bugs is saying to be quiet as we drop down to the river bank, I’m sure I’ve heard something, I say, “Bugs!” in a growled whisper. Buffalo, rhino, something, whatever, close, Bugs is thinking buffalo and then suddenly there comes roaring right beside us, a lioness charging out of the bushes at us, no more than five meters away, in front, a male lion acting aggressively towards the front of the column, the lioness charges, we backed up, Bugs and I at this point in front of our guide. Fighting the urge to run, standing big, tall, we got back behind Maggie, she’d not even had time to chamber a round, she raised the rifle, Sabelo came alongside, the lioness charged a second time - it was hectic. All noise, growling, heartbeats, deep breaths, the looks on our faces; shock. Some fear. The lioness, big, close, a warning roar, had she come on a third time it would have been curtains for us, she was pawing the ground, almost bouncing up and down, I don’t know who was more surprised, us or her. Afraid. Magnificent had handled herself extremely well. There was nothing more she could have done at the time of the first charge and if that lioness had carried on it would have had us, had Bugs and I... now Maggie and Sabelo pointing rifles at the lioness shouting at it. Totally unexpected: we hadn’t tracked her, this was a chance, surprise encounter which could have been very dangerous for us, the guide and indeed the lioness, luckily we moved back slowly, the lioness retreated and we took another route but the male lion, I don’t know where he was now but he’d been coming behind the group, he hadn’t charged, as we dropped down into a riverine gully, a blind alley again he was growling, roaring approaching was there, we could see him about twenty meters away, it was more nerve wracking there was no escape you were in a cut off valley in this riverine but we did avoid them and dropped down into the river, breathing hard, adrenaline kicking in, there had been no time to be scared, just stand up big in front of the lioness, not run, not give in and turn our backs to her. Alas Bugs had switched off his Go pro seconds beforehand and in the confusion, panic, I hadn't taken photos. I think maybe Martin had.



Spoor in the riverbed. All the time we were looking behind us: we could still hear those lions.





We climbed to the high point, Below us this incredible vista of river and veldt. Buffalo, giraffe, rhino dotted our view. Shaka’s Rock where we lunched on cheese and ham sandwiches and chocolate biscuits, supped on warm iodine laced water from our flasks and there came animated conversation with our guides and fellow trailists, all we could talk of was those lions - my recollection was different to others: and in fact it had just been the three of us who had been witness to the first charge, how close it had come beside us. No one could talk about anything else. It was here, now that emotions surfaced and we realised just how close, and lucky, we had been. I talked with Magnificent and thanked her. A tagged vulture flew the thermals only a few meters from where we sat. I slept a little in the sun. Snored gently and dribbled into my beard.


And then we walked back to camp, uneventful in comparison tot he morning: it's hard to concentrate on the small details and I lost myself a bit in my own thoughts, mechanically placing feet, swinging arms, I was starting to feel somewhat better, the brufen had worked its way through my system and the brief sleep atop Shaka's Rock revived me.



Back in camp, Sabelo would be cooking, beef stew and pap.


We spent the afternoon in the river. So refreshing: dig a hole in the sand - sink you buttocks down into it - let the water flow across you. Once out you dried off within minutes in the sun. As dinner approached we saw the level was rising quite quickly and within a few hours of our return fewer of the sandbars we'd walked across in the morning remained. A steady stream of effluent was flowing down, sticks, things floating.


A relaxed afternoon after a hectic thrilling morning.


Rhino crossing the river again away to our right.



All were hungry, night two was the only one when I didn't cook.


Maggie handled the lion incident extremely well.


Whilst dinner was being prepared, I chatted with Magnificent about the lion charge. What follows is the transcript of our conversation...


“Tell me about the lion charge.”


“Okay, the time we saw the lion, I get a fright a little bit but then I know how to handle this thing and Sabelo came in to help me. I was back where Sabelo was, he was facing the lion he was busy in front of us.”


“When did you chamber the round?”


“I chambered after Sabelo came to us it was then I chambered.”


“So that was after the first charge but before the second charge?”


“Yes, yes.”


“How did you feel about myself and Bugs because we were slightly infront of you? What was your first thought when the lion appeared?”


“My first thought was to just look at the lion. Then I was ready to make sure to stay clean, clear it’s when I start to chamber, when I see she’s coming. That’s why.”


“When would you have shot the lion, if you had had to?”


“If I see it’s coming and charging this way I will shoot. If it was busy running nothing I could do there.”


“So you realized she had stopped.”




“And she was telling us, “I’m here!””


“Yes – it was only that.”


“When did you realize I and my friend were actually in front of you, not behind?”


“You weren’t close to the lion because already I pushed you to Sabelo.”


“It was just us two with you.”


“Yes, I push you to Sabelo to the other group.”


“That’s right you were happy we weren’t in too much danger?”


“To me, as I saw the situation, there was nothing happening there. Unless she was coming to charge again I would say wait before she come.”


“Were you worried about how we’d react?”


"No, because I give you the command and you follow my instruction. So your response was very good. It’s when I realized nothing would happen because you didn’t run and you just go to the other people and it seems as if the group is combined and then the situation would be clear.”


“And you were saying earlier that’s the closest you’ve come to a lion with guests.”


“Yes it happened to bump into the lion at a close range.”


“And it was a surprise?”


“It was a surprise to the lion and to us because we didn’t know there was some lion there.”


“And what was your first thought when you heard the noise of the lion roaring?”


“I know for sure it’s a lion and then how to handle the people around me, which way I can make everything happen quickly for me.”


“So you are happy with your decision?”


“I’m happy wih my decision for sure.”


“And you were happy with the way we acted.”


“Yes I’m happy with you and I’m sure about that.”


After dinner, once the plates and pots had been cleared away we sat by the fire and listened to Sabelo as he explained to us what the word Ubuntu really means...



Sabelo, (with the nocturnal sounds of Africa in the background): “Okay guys I hope you are all familiar with the word Ubuntu. Because we used to hear important men like Desmond Tutu talk about that word Ubuntu. But guys, all of that thing came from that thing surrounding us. I used to call that leadership because they were just leading us. Sometimes guys you will come up close to the animals like the zebras, giraffe, impalas, wildebeest and kudu sometimes with each of those animals I’m saying they have Ubuntu. Because the word Ubuntu is helping each other do you see because they have different senses one has got good eyesight, bad eyesight, one good hearing like wildebeest that’s what it means. Also the bushman knows about that word and also what is interesting is some people they talking about the word Ubuntu but they don’t know where it comes from and also they don’t just do Ubuntu. Do you see. Because it’s about people because some of my neighbours just have two rooms and I have to help them because Ubuntu means helping each other. Many years ago the Zulus at night used to communicate by using the fire. That’s why guys, fire very important in the bush. How can they communicate and also they were used to preparing some dinner later after the sunset. And because people they have a lot of food, other people they know they have a lot of food because of the big fire with a lot of smoke. The neighbours that don’t have a fire there is no smoke in this family, maybe they have a problem: next day those people with the big fire are going to visit those people with no fire and ask, guys are you okay? Then they will reply in Zulu, the cat is lying on the fireplace which means there is no food. Then those people will just help those people by giving them some food. The people with no fire and no smoke might ask those people with the big fire and lots of smoke if they have something to eat. And also guys, the men who have a lot of cattle , if they don’t have cattle they can’t help. Sabelo here has a lot of family and has just six cattle with calves so I milk the cattle for my family. We share the cattle, when some are born we give the cattle to others to help them and that is Ubuntu. The people would look out for each other and help each other. But now the people are more selfish and we are not helping each other. When I was a boy we would ask a neighbor for salt or mealie meal and help each other. Now we rush for money that is not the way to Ubuntu.”

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What a thrilling trip report. Hearing the different voices, putting faces to safaritalk names and seeing different photos - great stuff.

I think I wouldn't be able to stand up with the pack on, let alone walk so far!

It does look an amazing activity - I love the views and description of the camp.

And the lion encounter - wow. It sounds like you all behaved well and Magnificent lived up to her name.


@@Game Warden

Perhaps the adrenaline from the lion encounter helped you feel better ?( :) )

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The lion charge did add a bit of excitement. Martin was unfazed and insisted that we needed a closer encounter next time. To be honest - on reflection I was quite relieved that it was a lion charging out the bush and not a buffalo, and it happened so quickly that we really didn't get time to soil ourselves.


The highlight for me was being able to "swim" after the long hot days walk.

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Wonderful storytelling, Matt! And wonderful images - thanks to all of you for that. I have always wanted to do this trail (after hearing & reading about it from @Kavita) but those backpacks could be a real deal breaker :(


Hmmm, can one hire a porter at all? That would be sorta sissy for the Primitive Trail, I know, but could potentially open up this adventure to people like me.

Edited by Sangeeta
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What an encounter! And thanks Matt for the interview afterwards with Magnificent. I am sure at some point you may tell us how she became a guide. I find it fascinating.


There is not a lot of Ubuntu in this world, but I believe it you are to find it, it may well be in Africa. Perhaps even in the ST world. I agree with @TonyQ; after all these years putting names to faces is quite rewarding in itself.


Looking forward to the next days ahead.


@@Sangeeta, I bet we could find a porter or two and just not tell anyone we did it-- No need to spread malicious gossip. :rolleyes:

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Peter Connan

While we get ready for our walk, I take the opportunity to photograph our neighbours.





Golden orb spider


I am chuffed to be walking without the pack, but Sibelo still sets a fairly blistering pace. At the first bend in the river, not more than 400m from camp, we find fresh tracks. Lion, leopard and wild dog had all come to drink here during the night, and several rhino had crossed, both black and white.



Wild dog spoor.




We head into the high country, away from the river. It's obvious that it's been a dry year, and away from the riverbed there is very little grass. However, many of the watering-holes still have water and obviously some of the smaller game still don't need to approach the river. Sibelo is looking for wild dog, and we follow their tracks for a while but finally lose them.


Sibelo is exceptionally knowledgeable about birds, knowing every sound! Wish we could have spent more time birding.



Water Thick-knee.



Acacia pied Barbet



I am told this is a flightless wasp?



Two magnificent Impala rams.


Each trailist was given a pack of personal snacks at the beginning of the trail: an apple, a pear, a couple of oranges, a chocolate bar, a acket of chewy sweets and a packet of Game powder. This is our snacks for the week, but obviously some guys were clever enough to bring something extra. Not me though, I am carrying too many lenses. Idiot.


Break time









After a break and an explanation of why thick-skinned game wallow and rub, we head back down to the river.


More Impala



I love the way the cliffs drop straight into the river in places.




We come across two mother-and-calf pairs of white Rhino as we get closer to the river.





Edited by Peter Connan
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Peter Connan

@@graceland, They also offer a three-day trial where donkeys are used to carry the kit!

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Peter Connan

We are still negotiating our way around the last pair of Rhino, and the bush is pretty thick. Sibelo is getting slightly agitated because some of the guys are chatting, but I am hearing something else, a deep rumbling, growling sound. At first I am not sure if it's an Ellie or a buff. I am right behind Sibelo, and try to draw his attention, pointing to my ear and then to the left front, but he doesn't understand, and the next moment it's too late as the lioness explodes from the thick bush. Up with the camera, but all I can see is brown. I lift my eye from the viewfinder and realize it's Sibelo's elbow as he aims the rifle. I drop down a few inches and snap.



By my maths, this is about 14m.


Darn twigs, I better try again!



Go away, she Growls...


(Just for these two photos, I reckon it was worth lugging a proper camera around.)

The lioness stops, it's charge not backed up by the male on the right, but now we are caught between the lions and the rhino. Sibelo manages to extricate us and we head down to cross the river.



Our target.


One of the lionesses was crossing, but she slinks back as she sees us.




Before we head up the hill, Sibelo explains how Tannin-producing plants communicate with each other and sour their leaves, and how the animals have learnt to deal with this by keeping on the move and always feeding up-wind. He also explains about how some plants use thorns instead.










Not much further, we come across a Wildebeest skull with a new resident.




Lunch (cheese, salami and tomato sandwiches prepared by the magnificent Maggie) is served on a high point with magnificent views of the river, where dagga bulls laze.





Tagged Lapped-faced Vulture





The beard catches some Z's

Edited by Peter Connan
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Peter Connan

Back at camp, this intersting flower is pollenated by flies instead of bees, and to achieve this it smells like something died.






This morning, I aim the camera slightly west to get away from the township's lights.




Before the sun comes up, a rhino crosses the river.



Edited by Peter Connan
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