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

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Game Warden

Day 4.

"The trails of the Wilderness Leadership School are rough, very rough. We sleep on the ground, get covered in fine dust, are bitten by mosquitoes, tortured by ticks and when the lions are active there is not much sleep.

A lot of time is spent fetching and carrying water and firewood. There is the washing of plates, dishes and mugs and the cooking on the open fire while looking out for scorpions on the edge of the burning logs. The bees come in swarms to feed from the honey jar and tiny ants march to the sugar, the bread and anything else edible."


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



Not sure if I was chewing rusk or had sucked in some beard hairs...


Charlie to Sabelo - "Look, the sun..."


I never saw Leyland without a smile. He was an inspiration.


Morning’s haggard faces, ragged hair trying to suck any sustenance from twice baked rusks, like the hard tack sailors chewed upon centuries before – supping on dirty river water coffee syrupy with sugar, heavy eyes, dry mouths, stinking clothes, cocophony of flatulence. Morning, once the sun comes up the strict regime of cleaning camp, every trace of evidence of our existence here wiped away, literally brushed up, washed up, only a couple of footprints remain. Cleaning plates with sand, packing away, camradery in the morning, talking, birds sing in distance, an elephant crosses the river, our guide sings Zulu songs as he cleans. The warmth of the sun spreads through wearied bodies and aching muscles lifting spirits. We still have a wide river to cross first stage in today’s route march. It will be a long day.

Fields of brightly coloured butterflies of many species lift off as you brush past the flowers they feed upon a kaleidoscope of metallic coloured wings flapping.

Be sure to pack enough clean underwear, clean socks. You don’t want to be soaking with sweat, salt leaching out into the clinging material damp stuck to your skin. Make sure to change before sleeping. Sleep dry, sleep comfortable. Don’t get trench foot. For a four day hike pack at least six pairs of undies, 6 pairs of socks, if the weather is fair you can wash and dry as you go. Everyday spray tick repellent on your gaiters, your boots, pepper ticks at this time of year will stick to your legs unnoticed. There’s no shame in checking your ankles, calves, thighs and scrotum for clinging ticks gorging themselves on your blood. I burn dried elephant dung on the fire to keep the mozzies at bay. Bring a beanie hat to keep your head and ears warm at night, it gets cold in the night and you wake damp with morning dew.

In terms of the last two walks from camp to camp it’s been quiet, today a short walk to the last camp which is upon the river, a rock escarpment backed by forested cliffs, it will be a hard place to sleep. A vulture circles in the trees on the opposite bank. As we were walking here we stopped to observe a very relaxed giraffe behind which were three rhinos, two males fighting for a female: we had a great view of them, clashing against each other, their aggression obvious stomping the ground as they challenged each other but in terms of the walk, other than the rhino it was quiet, uneventful, taking a break every fifteen minutes or so, Sabelo, “Are you guys okay? Is everyone all right?” and we just wanted to carry on get to camp, not stop so often.





I was worried for @@Bugs - this trail was tough for me and tougher for him. I think he was putting a brave face on the extent of his suffering - previous to setting off he'd told us how bad his knee was. Sucking down the iodine and energy powder charged brown river water, warm in the bottles. It’s hot, blazing sun upon your face, your neck, your arms. Tired, but at least the packs are lighter – we’ve eaten our way through the heavier rations, our bags easier to carry upon our shoulders today in the knowledge that tonight will be our last night in the wilderness before a short walk back to base camp, a short walk to civilization, a short walk to freedom. One wonders do we want to return, or carry on living this life which we’ve been doing for four days, measure passage of time by sun up sun down, camp to camp, meal to meal, making tea and coffee in the morning, tea and coffee in the afternoon, collecting water from sand holes in the river bed, lunch dinner basic hearty meals at home considered below average but here, one so hungry so appreciative anything hot and hearty is well received and quickly wolfed down.

Work harder drink lager work harder drink lager, the Cape turtle dove in the background, the hadeda ibis with its honking haunting calls. I concentrate on getting the fire going with Maggie, brewing tea. Tonight I'll be cooking and there's not much left.




Colour co-ordinated Charlies with the droewors and port wine.


Maggie assesses my culinary skills...


Certainly nothing fresh and I assemble all the tins together, canned veges, Shakalaka whatever that might be, the Charlies have some Droewors which I toss in with the last of my beard oil, some butter turned liquid and rancid. A packet of curry soup and the last of the tabasco. it's a curry of sorts with a big pot of rice. It's not up to what I've cooked previously for the team but what can I do? Everyone's so hungry they'll eat it without complaint.The Charlies and I finish the last of the port from a dented hip flask that could tell a few stories of its own. Then we eat. If farting was bad thus far, tonight's meal would prove to be the straw that broke the camel's back...


After dinner we sit round discussing how much the trail has meant to each of us. I choose the theme of soil, picking up a handful of sand and letting it run through my fingers. We have to protect everything, not just an individual species. Without saving the environment and ecosystem as a whole, nothing stands a chance...



The billy was kept boiling through the night. Here we are watching the rhino...

At night so many sounds so much going on sitting up with those on watch I cannot sleep. Drinking caffeine, flashing the light round the river, directly in front of us. I recall the storm coming in and gently soaking us, lions roaring but a few nights before and when sleep does come it's fitful, one doesn’t dream, sleeping, waking, what is one, what is the other? Everything broken by the circling light of the watchman’s torch above you, aound you. Woken by the change of watches, someone new taking over, you hear the billy can being knocked, clanked, hear fuel being piled upon the fire, hear soft spoken conversation exchanges, the lions they grunt and roar and growl and get closer and closer: in the dark you hear everything, amplified. Hyenas across the river, howling, cackling, whooping, somewhere. Baboons complaining, fighting, squabbling. All the time the symphony of insects all around, flitting things bump into your face, buzzing the sonar echo of bats flying through camp and still those lions roar in the night and at some stage you are awake and asleep simultaneously.

There comes splashing at various times: Sabelo has told us not to go too far from camp confines for here are we wide open to the approach of many animals. Not as protected as in those previous sites. Earlier a buffalo came close to lie down on a sand back perhaps reassured by our presence and knowing the fire might keep predators at bay. A grumpy black rhino with it's head down sloshes through the river towards us: he hasn't realised we are there, he suddenly turns and charges back across and crashes into the bushes on the opposite bank. Bugs and I have high powered torches shining upon his progress. But wait, what are those eyes glowing. "Leopard!" Bugs says and sure enough in the dark we glimpse it slink into the shadows, a momentary sighting but now we've seen the big five...

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I commend you on your writing Matt, you certainly have brought the trip to life.


Would anyone do it again I wonder but more importantly, how did it change you?

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@@Soukous, you thoughts and pics on the Trail, so real,sobering yet exhilarating. I KNOW I could have not done it. Without donkeys and porters...and at least a net around me....



However, I became a bit distracted from all your meanderings.....



As I am entitled, I've changed my mind.....this should be the cover pic for ST next magazine - A sellout for sure.




Charlie, the new ST cover model

Surely, this cougar is not that only only one noting this, this LOL :rolleyes:







PS..those who "know" me. know I am teasing Martin; those that don't..yes, I appreciate a pic as that in a trip report - who wouldn't? :D

esp after all the tales of snoring and farting fellows enjoying one hell of a time together. Eye Candy is a good thing. A Relief in fact.

Edited by graceland
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@@Soukous, you thoughts and pics on the Trail, so real,sobering yet exhilarating. I KNOW I could have not done it. Without donkeys and porters...and at least a net around me....



However, I became a bit distracted from all your meanderings.....



As I am entitled, I've changed my mind.....this should be the cover pic for ST next magazine - A sellout for sure.




Charlie, the new ST cover model

Surely, this cougar is not that only only one noting this, this LOL :rolleyes:







PS..those who "know" me. know I am teasing Martin; those that don't..yes, I appreciate a pic as that in a trip report - who wouldn't? :D

esp after all the tales of snoring and farting fellows enjoying one hell of a time together. Eye Candy is a good thing. A Relief in fact.

+1, @@graceland, er, Cougar, another one trending? :D


Haha, I think Matt is going to ban us from his report if we keep glossing over his terrific writing and picking out the next magazine cover GQ style!

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@@graceland. He's properly accessorized too! And he looks amazingly clean. Men's Vogue cover material for sure. I'd still go for the gritty, hanging-in there machismo of the Bugs shot, but there's room for debate I'll admit.


@@Soukous. That camera is looking good - giving you really nice colours to my eyes. I like the "aerial" shots. Actually prefer the colour ones I think.... at first look. The water stories are sobering. Made me go and get a big glass of nice, clean cool water (no need to imagine the heat where I am. Ahhhhhhh!

Edited by pault
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Day 4


@@Game Warden has mentioned a few times now his inability to sleep. What he has not mentioned is that when he can't sleep he talks. He talks to whomever happens to be on watch and if he is on watch he talks to himself or into his voice recorder.

We always knew when Matt was asleep because he wasn't talking. :rolleyes:

Yesterday evening we had watched the water level in the river rising and wondered how high it might reach during the night. By the morning though, the level had started to go down.


Breakfast was becoming more and more frugal - for me at least - and this morning it was just a mug of black tea and some wine gums.

With that out of the way we could clean up our campsite, removing all traces of our stay and set off.


Matt was ready to roll - or maybe just lying down in case he fell asleep.



with Mark and Leyland on standby to help him get up





our day began with us crossing the river.











Because of the high water level most of the nice dry sand had disappeared and our feet were covered in mud by the time we reached the other shore. It was a struggle to try and get them clean enough to put on shoes and socks. More sand in my shoes did nothing to improve my blisters.


As usual, Sebelo would stop every once in a while to explain something about the flora we were passing. On this occasion he showed us how small wasps built their nest on a thorn bush, becoming another layer of defence against browsers.



more flowers



and a very cheerful @@Bugs - what was in that red cocktail??



We encountered a lone male giraffe who seemed completely unconcerned by our presence. When we first saw him I took a photo, expecting him walk away



but he just stood there and let us get closer and closer





Shortly afterwards our progress was halted when we spotted - well Sebelo spotted - a rhino ahead of us. One rhino turned out to be three. Apparently a male was trying to separate a female from her calf so that he could mate.

We could see bits of the encounter but mostly it was a lot of snorting and grunting and Sebelo made sure we didn't get too close.



When Sebelo told us to start collecting firewood we knew that we were getting close to camp. Surprisingly another rocky outcrop by the river bank.


We'd arrived in camp pretty early and so once we'd dug our wells we took the opportunity to cross over the river and lie on the grass in the shade of some large trees. If only we'd remembered to bring a picnic and a chilled bottle of wine it would have been perfect.


Back on the other side I had to do some running repairs on my feet. One of the blisters had burst and was full of river sand. I needed to get the sand out and so the only thing I could do was cut it open and wash the sand out. @@Bugs took great glee in helping me, squirting a jet of water into the wound to flush it out. Crude, but it worked.

I poured in some Betadine solution to kill any germs and then, for good measure, I dropped in some tea tree oil. Oh shit! why did I do that?

Bugs swears that when the two solutions mingled they started fizzing, all I remember was the pain.

Like a true friend Bugs became very solicitous about the state of my blisters after that - constantly asking if I wanted him to help me do it again. Bastard, I think he'd had so much fun and wanted to see it again - he may even have been selling tickets.

Strangely though, when I asked him if he wanted me to help him tend his own blisters he declined and said that they were much better now.


That evening we were treated to a wonderful sunset



followed by a meal that I hope I never have to eat again. Tins of Chakalaka (both mild & spicy and hot & spicy varieties), tins of vegetables and a few bits of droiwors all stirred up together with a few spices.

To be fair, Matt did a great job as camp cook, but the ingredients he had to work with put even his skills to the test.


This was the first night that I didn't hear lions, but we did have buffalo and rhino splashing about in the river.



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Nice post @@Soukous, I think @@Game Warden asked me what the highlight of the trip was, I suppose it could have been when he stopped talking.. No wait, it could have been the picture of you grinding you teeth squirming in pain while your feet fizzed.

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I hate to see the" Trail" come to an end, but know there must be more to come last day. Excellent writings of course; I'd expect nothing less; bring us into the fold. And the pics and video tell the story up close and personal.


Great admiration for you fellows. A test for sure; but no matter, a bonding experience in the bush. I was hoping you'd have some supplies dropped in so we could continue this adventure :P I know some folks here have access to air craft.


Magnificent must have some tales of her own to tell. We must find her and get her to talk :rolleyes:

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Peter Connan

Breakfast is always an opportunity to explore the camp surroundings for me.








The Monarch butterfly lays it's eggs in the young branches of the Tambotie Milkwood tree. As the caterpillars hatch and grow, a bulge starts forming. This is what it looks like when they have eventually metamorphosed back into butterflies and left:




The inside of their cosy little home:



Wait a bit:



White-fronted Bee-eaters:





This is what I was photographing while Matt photographed me:



Vuture checking us out:



I was also surprised by the abnormally-incautious Giraffe:





And this encounter demonstrated clearly why the collective noun for Rhinos is a crash:





I tried to video this, but only proved to myself once again what @@Soukous also mentions in his review of his great little camera: one needs a viewfinder when working in the bush.

Edited by Peter Connan
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Peter Connan

This was a "short day", but I seemed to be getting more tired more quickly every day, and it was a relief when we arrived at our next camp just in time for lunch.


The bread was finished, so today was Provitas, Salticracks and Eat-some-mores instead. Fortunately there was still some cheese and Salami left to zoosh it up.




Poster-Charlie digging for water:



Heading for Siesta:



Pied Wagtail hunting the riverbank:





After Siesta, the two Charlies bribed Sibela to take them for a game walk. I tagged along. We followed the river for a while, finding a buffalo carcass not far from camp, just old enough to have been stripped bare. We decided to sit on the riverbank waiting for something to come and drink. Apart from a congress of baboons on the other side that took offence, not much else was seen apart from an endless parade of butterflies visiting the flowers.













Eventually, just before sunset, a herd of buffalo came to drink.



Back at camp we had an awesome sunset, and I wish I had set up for a timelapse series, but instead had to be content with a couple of normal shots.







Once again, I had the morning watch and tried one last time to capture some stars.



While wandering around taking photos, with frequent breaks to look around for threats, a rhino crossed the river from the other side,




My torch on it all the time. It arrived on our side and I lost sight of it behind some reeds, but shortly it must have got wind of us. Snort Snort and back across the river. Splashsplashsplash!



Edited by Peter Connan
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Beautiful short day pics @@Peter Connan; loved the stars and the sunset. But your small creature pics were just exquisite. And of course seeing a herd. and a hippo. It is Africa afteraall. A very evocative photo of one of the boys' splashing his face in the golden sunset.


Sorry you were running out of food - good thing you are heading back!


I imagine the first thing on everyone's mind was a huge riproaring steak, (or Pasta)! Followed by a brandy :D and a soak - for 24 hours!




BTW, do we get a question and answer period at the end of this tale; I have plenty B)

Edited by graceland
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Peter Connan

@@graceland, actually, what was uppermost in most of our minds (dreams?) was a good bath and some clean clothes!


For me specifically, second on the list was a bacon and egg brekkie.

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@@graceland, actually, what was uppermost in most of our minds (dreams?) was a good bath and some clean clothes!


For me specifically, second on the list was a bacon and egg brekkie.


I can only imagine. (and imagine I did...as far as that will go for me :wacko: ) But a burger and fries with a glass of pinot would be my first stop after the bath!

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Very cool trip, very nice report, very good photos!

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Game Warden

Day 5.



This is a wilderness area where man should only walk, canoe or ride on horseback away from the sights and sounds of human installations. It is our job to try to keep it as wild and primitive as possible - hard work in this twentieth century where the battle cry of humanity is development.

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


An interlude for an interview: I recorded this with Sabelo on day 1 before setting out and what you read below is a transcript of our conversation.

“What is the feedback from people who do this trail? How does it change their lives?”

“Okay, what I experience on the trail since starting in 2007, some people who come on the trail don’t come as a big group, just on their own to experience a new thing in their life. Some try to keep the stress away, some of them have just been divorced, some have lost members of their family, some just want to connect with their surroundings, change their lives: I used to call this the place of paradise.”

“When they set out, do they have an idea of what it’s going to be like? Are they open minded?

“No, some of them come not knowing what it’s about – they start to connect with the surrounding nature, to get used to it. For instance, I remember one day, I was hosting eight doctors, they were coming from Cape Town, one of the them didn’t want to do the night watch, I told her to embrace it. She did it with her husband, for the second night she did it by herself because that’s when she started to adapt – it wasn’t a dangerous thing. I want to use this from Newton: “When body A exerts a force on body B: body B will exert a force on body A with the opposite direction and same magnitude.”, that’s how the surroundings just react on us. That’s why when I’m taking people on the trail I like to emphasis two way respect and enjoyment: if I’m using those two words I’m not meaning respect another human, just respect the whole surrounding and also enjoy. If I use the word enjoy, it means to use our senses, you can’t enjoy without using our senses. On the trail use all your six senses to meet the spirit of the wild.”

“Do you think when people have finished the trail they have changed?”

“Jah, they have changed because some of them before booking the trail are just rushing to do this and this, then as soon as they come on the trail I say, "Guys, it’s not about rushing". You are coming from a busy place, your life is all one big rush. You come here, it’s all about to just relax. Also use all your six senses and reconnect because we are part of the four kingdoms: plant, animal, the rock and the human kingdoms. Those are the four elements, fire, water, earth, air they are the elements ruling the whole nature state. Without those there would be no spirit in the world.”

“How did you become involved in wildlife conservation?”

“To be honest, I didn’t know I’d work for Ezemvelo because I was interested in electrical engineering but there was something that just lead me to come into this thing because when I was young I’d just lost my parent: then when I finished matric I went to school of tourism, then from there I started to work at Birdlife South Africa, then I worked as a freelance guide, then from there I start to be involved in the Wilderness Trail, I used to work also as a bird specialist and I was involved with nature. I did lots of courses like environmental education, permaculture course, leaving no trace trekking. Also as soon as I joined iMfolozi Wilderness Trail I started to teach kids in schools around Hluhluwe iMfolozi, I used to run some projects we called them the WCAP, (Wilderness Culture Awareness Project) teaching them about the park’s diversity then I’d select seven, eight with their teacher and I’d take them to the wilderness camp to do a lot of activities, animal tracking, bush interpretation, historical, anthropological about the bushmen then on the last day would be story day where they would write down what they’d learned and later share it round the fire. After I’d visit them at their school and we’d do a presentation so that those who hadn’t done the trail could just learn from them. We’d liaise between the park and local communities but now there is no one to continue just doing those projects because now I work full time and there is no funding.”

“So you think it’s very important for young people to be involved in the wildlife and wilderness?”

“Jah, it’s very important to teach the kids when they are very young, it should be easy for them to spread the information to their parents and friends, so that now we have a problem with rhino poaching, if you can just educate the people outside, that’s the best way to educate, together you see.”

“What is your message to young people? What do you want to say?”

“For them I want to say that most people take nature for granted but nature is alive you see and once you get involved in nature it gives you a lot of things. Most of the people just go and work far away but there is so much to do in the park and to educate their friends. Important to bring them into the park to see nature, to experience real life – it’s a web of life.”

“What is the most important thing you can do?”


“Most important thing is the local communities, they don’t have a clue about these things, even also at my village, close to the park, they wanna just build some mine and most of the people just need the mine because they know the mine will give them some money and all those things. Just imagine after the last tree has been cut down and the last fish has been caught and the last river poisoned - they can’t live in the mine.”




The toilet area becomes a minefield of discarded dumps, you really don’t want to dig up somebody else’s evacuated bowels in the morning mist: it’s a dead place. People sneak off into the bush, hidden, you just make out the top of their heads above the undergrowth as they squat down. I’d taken some Imodium in the hope of blocking myself up. It had been only slightly succesful.


This huge yellow and black spider with legs like porcupine quills was spinning its web in tall grass through which I walked. Strands like ropes, I found it upon my inner thigh making a beeline for my crotch, luckily I caught it in time, brushed it away – probably a brand new species, the first time its been seen. Maybe it will save the park from illegal mining. It took one sniff of what was inside my underpants and soon disappeared. Last seen heading for the hills.

Everything that I tried to pack as dirty and clean was all mixed up anyway. I had no shame in sniffing out what was cleanest. I was so tired I didn’t care. We all smelt bad so no one noticed.

The last morning packing away camp the sense that the adventure is over, coming to an end, the euphoria of having completed the trail thick essence in the morning air wishing perhaps we could stay forever. Of course we still have a river to cross. A black rhino was there this morning, saw us, and splashed across: we’ll follow its spoor in the direction of Mpila camp and then the rest of our trip through Kwa-Zulu Natal. We still have many places left to explore.


A bull elephant stood guard atop the cliffs over our camp keeping guard this ancient grey sentinel of the night – none of us knew how long he’d been there, watching us defficate into his paradise. He followed us down to the river to drink. We watched him quietly and with respect.










We arrive back in camp, zero eight forty five hours the 16th May 2015, (even then having to bypass a small herd of buffalo en route), tired aching thrilled and exhilarated and this is where we have the team photo taken. Where we shed our packs and bag up fetid stinking clothes which have clung to us. Where we drop pots and plates and cups and forks. Bedrolls and sleeping bag, backpacks. Where we want to hug our guides but embarrassed by the way we smell, just grip wrists and say thank you. Give them tips and talk one last time. Whilst we head off into KZN, when will they lead another trip into the wilderness I wonder.

It’s where we say goodbye to Charles and Charlie, to Mark and Leyland as they go off in separate ways. Peter and I, Bugs and Martin, we’ll be heading to Mpila camp, to drink some beers and reflect. On what was, a primitive trail indeed.


“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”



“Never, never, never give up.”

Winston Churchill.

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Fascinating trip report. Imbibing it with quotes from Dr Player and interviews with guides, along with Peter's photography make it truly excellent in Africa's oldest national park. Awaiting more!

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An excellent report - I have really enjoyed the different perspectives - written and pictorial - the interviews along the way. It is an impressive achievement to complete these trails - and I admire you all for doing it. I know it is beyond me but it has been a real pleasure going with through the different stages. (It may be a good thing that smells are not yet transmitted via the internet!).


Well done to all of you.

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excellent TR Matt, thanks for doing all the hard work.

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Peter Connan

Once in the river, Sibelo looked back and saw the elephant bull browsing on the river bank above what had just been our camp. I was in the middle of the river, and just turned around to take a couple of snaps before continuing the slog through the thigh-deep water.






On the other side, we went through the process of trying to get our feet clean enough to put our socks and shoes back on. By the time we were done, the ellie had made it's way down to the water's edge and was quietly drinking water. What a start to the day!





Martin and I shamelessly stood snapping the ellie as it drank, but it was obvious that everybody else was in a hurry. I get like this, lagging, not wanting this to end. Every other day, I had been walking as far up the column as I could get, today I was at the back, with Maggie, not wanting to leave...




Black Stork



Nesting vultures.



A final Rhino



And so we came over the hill to see the roofs and water tanks of the trails base camp, releived because the suffering was just about over, but dissapointed because the adventure would end with it.


It was just an hour's walk today, but I spent most of it pondrering again on the realization that most things worth doing are not easy, and that we as humans never grow except through suffering and adversity, that these are the things that shape us.


Matt mentioned in a previous post how we were marching toward freedom, but to me it felt exactly the opposite, as if I was marching voluntarily back into captivity. On the other hand, I was also thinking how I am a child of Africa, with Africa in my blood and unable to survive anywhere else in the world, but at the same time blessed that I do not need to travel half-way around the globe to experience Africa once again.


African sky blue, your children wait for the dawn
African sky blue, soon a new day will be born
African sky blue
African sky blue, will you bless my life?
African sunshine, soon you will warm your children's eyes
The African river water will dance and leap in your morning light
African sunshine
African river water, will you bless my life?


Johnny Cleg, African Sky Blue.



With thanks to @@PCNW

Edited by Peter Connan
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stunning sunset shot @@Peter Connan.

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I am personally so glad that you experienced this wilderness in South Africa, not some remote far distant place in Kenya, Tanzania or Botswana etc. you all contribute to a story that goes beyond your words to save the rhino, save these unique and special places. You inspire us to take risks and explore beyond our limited horizons. Thank you

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This was a "short day", but I seemed to be getting more tired more quickly every day, and it was a relief when we arrived at our next camp just in time for lunch.


The bread was finished, so today was Provitas, Salticracks and Eat-some-mores instead. Fortunately there was still some cheese and Salami left to zoosh it up.



Provitas, salticracks but especially eat-sum-mores (much better than munch-a-lots!) have been my staple diet in the field for years!!!

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There was a real sense of purpose in camp this morning.

This was our last morning and everyone was eager to get back to base camp.

Once we'd cleaned up our camp site – The attention to detail of Sebelo in this regard was exemplary. Every trace was erased. Before even building our camp fires he and Maggie would gather sand or stones to make a base for the fire so that it did not scorch the rocks and could be swept away.

Any leftover firewood was thrown into the bushes rather than leaving a pile waiting for the next people to come through. Sebelo told us that these overnight camp spots are checked regularly to ensure that they remain pristine. Admirable.

I was as eager as everyone else to get going but I had a small problem. The first thing we had to do was cross the river one last time. I'd put plasters on my blisters and the wanted to try and protect them.

I thought of wearing socks to walk through the water but @@Bugs came up with a better idea – use a plastic bag.

Someone gave me a large plastic bag into which I put the foot with the open blister. Then, holding the bag up with one hand to stop water getting in I waded into the river. I felt ridiculous and I am sure I looked ridiculous – which I am sure was an integral part of Bugs' plan.

We were almost halfway across when someone told us to look behind us. There, on top of the cliff above our camp was an elephant, right on the edge munching away at the bushes.

I was severely tempted to just drop the bag and grab my camera, hang the consequences.

At least @@Peter Connan was occupied photographing the elephant and not me dragging my foot across the river in a plastic bag.

By the time I reached the far side it was clear that the bag had not been entirely waterproof.

I sat down and got our my medical kit to change the dressings while everyone else watched the elephant which had begun to walk down from the cliff top to the river.

Sebelo was getting nervous; he was sure the elephant wanted to cross the river. He kept looking anxiously at me, keen to get moving but there wasn't much I could do to hurry up so I just concentrated on what I was doing.

The elephant reached the water's edge and stopped to drink.




Eventually I got my shoes back on and my pack on my back.

The elephant was still there drinking. It was watching us but hadn't yet begun to cross the river so I thought I may as well take a few photos. I don't think Sebelo was too happy as Peter & I stood there clicking away, but I reckoned that if the elephant did begin to cross in our direction we would have plenty of time for evasive action.

It was a relatively short – but painful – hike back to base camp but we saw plenty of wildlife along the way.

There seemed to be rhinos in every thicket.



We passed a pair of white backed vultures on their nest.


Back at base camp we gratefully took off our packs and after an obligatory 'after' photo we returned to Ezemvelo those bits of kit that were theirs, along with any remaining food supplies.

This was where we would all go our separate ways. Mark and Leyland had to rush almost immediately. The rest of us took the opportunity to scrape off our clothes and have a shower (calm down @@graceland, individually, not all at once) Sheer bliss.

Charlie & Charlie then set off for Johannesburg whilst Peter, Matt, Bugs & I returned to Mpila for a cold beer. Now I was starting to feel human again.

We passed a small group of buffaloes on our way back to Mpila


and then as we were driving through the park on our way to Hluhluwe we saw this giraffe which very kindly stopped to drink.


but, overall we all commented on how little general game we'd seen over the past 5 days and especially on our drive though the park.

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Game Warden


To sum up the primitive trail...


Cost: (At the time we booked up, obviously may change... ) 2900 Rand. (Plus a conservation levy is paid per person per night. International visitors pay 145 rand per night, South Africans, 75 rand per night.) It is worth purchasing the Ezemvelo Kzn Wildlife Rhino Card which gives free access to all of the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife reserves for 1 year from the date of purchase, so if going on to visit other reserves, as did, you will have substantial savings. (And it also goes to funding Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife conservation aims. For more details click here.)


How to book: I booked and arranged this trip, for six people, (there were an additional two people in the party who I did not book for), directly through the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife booking office, the details of which I've included below. The person who dealt with my requests and details in a very professional and competent manner was Lwazi Nxumalo to whom I am most grateful. Please do mention www.safaritalk.net if enquiring about this, or the other wilderness trails.

Central Reservations Office

KZN Wildlife
P.O. Box 13069

Telephone: (033) 845 1067 or 845 1000. Fax: (033) 845 1001

Email : trails@kznwildlife.com

Website: www.kznwildlife.com

OR (enquiries only)

The Officer-in-Charge, iMfolozi Wilderness Trails
iMfolozi Game Reserve
Postnet Suite 30
Private Bag X013

Telephone (035) 5508478. Fax (035) 5508480.

Email: mftrails@kznwildlife.com (make heading: 'Trails Enquiry')

There are also two Facebook pages, iMfolozi Game Reserve and iMfolozi Wilderness Trails Group both of which are worth joining if you use FB so as to keep up to date with happenings at iMfolozi.


Logistics: You will have to get to Mpila Camp in iMfolozi at around 9 am. The reserve is approx 270 km north of Durban, or, you can do as we did and stay in St Lucia the night prior and budget on taking 2-3 hours to get to Mpila, including signing in and the game drive from the gate to the camp. We entered via the Nyalazi Gate.


The Primitive trail runs with a minimum of 6 and maximum of 8 participants: therefore if you can get a group together and book out the whole trail it is a better option, otherwise you may not have enough people signing up to do the trail on your preferred dates. Also speaking with Sabelo, it was obvious we were very lucky in having a unified group who all worked together and helped out. By joining others you don't know may prove to make the trail more arduous, if you don't get on with each other...


iMfolozi is a malaria area: MALARIA WARNING All our wilderness trails take place in areas where there is a risk of contracting malaria. Participants are advised to take anti-malaria precautions as a matter of course. Please consult a medical practitioner in this regard. (Taken from the iMfolozi Wilderness Trails brochure - pdf webpage)


What to pack: The brochure as linked to above has a comprehensive packing list but from my own observations, the following things were important...

  • At least 6 pairs of underwear, remember to change at night into clean and dry undergarments. Sleep dry, sleep comfortable.
  • At least 6 pairs of socks. Again, socks get sweaty, covered in mud, wet from river crossings etc. Although you may have time to dry stuff in the sun, if you leave anything out overnight, it gets wet from the dew. (At least in my experience on this trail at this time of year.)
  • Two pairs of shorts and 1 pair of long hiking pants. Inevitably shorts/trousers will get damp with sweat.
  • At least 4 tee shirts, quick drying material.
  • Gaiters. (Stops your legs being scratched, insects, thorns etc getting in your boots.)
  • A fleece jacket. You may not have to wear it, though the night shift might get chilly, but it also makes a good pillow.
  • Large bin bags, one to keep dirty stuff in, the other to keep clean stuff dry.
  • Flip flops for slopping round camp in.
  • Travel towl to clean your feet with after river crossings.
  • Large brimmed hat or cap.
  • Beanie/fleece hat to cover head and ears as night as it does get cold.
  • Head torch.
  • Watch to count hours on night shift. Stops you having to ask others what the time is. (I tried to count by seeing how long a branch took to burn to ashes but it wasn't reliable.)
  • Handwash, (no wash soap)
  • Sun cream.
  • Insect repellent.
  • Tick spray, (we took Bayticol), to spray on boots, gaiters, trousers etc. (Depending on time of year, pepper ticks can be an issue.)
  • Some light energy snacks, i.e., trail mix.
  • Rehydrate powders.
  • A walking pole would be useful.
  • Sunglasses: not just for the obvious but for eye protection when pushing through bushes and past branches.
  • Enough packs of tissues. (I got a runny nose and soon ran out...)

(Note when packing, divide the metal plate, cup and spoon into seperate areas of your backpack or you spend 18kms clanking along annoying everyone...)


What not to pack:

  • Heavy binoculars.
  • SLRs and mega focal length lenses.
  • Reference books/field guides.
  • (Anything that significantly adds to the weight of the pack.)
  • Shampoos, shower gels, perfumes, aftershaves etc. You are not permitted to use soaps in the rivers and you don't need to smell like you are going nightclubbing.

Medical provisions: (perhaps if going as a group pre arrange who takes what - these are some of the things I took however it's not an extensive list. You may have your own special requirements)

  • Plasters.
  • Iodine, (both to clean wounds and purify one's drinking supply).
  • Vaseline, (to seal cuts, scratches. A few times some people were quite badly grazed pushing through bushes).
  • Small saline solutions: (to wash out eyes, clean cuts etc).
  • Insect bite cream.
  • Anti inflamatory tablets. (You do ache after lugging the kit long distances then sleeping on rocks).
  • Malaria tablets.
  • Imodium.

(However a medical kit is also carried by your guide.)


If I've missed anything out, perhaps @@Bugs, @@Soukous and @@Peter Connan can add their thoughts.


You must know what an undertaking the primitive trail is. It is hard work, physical work, it tests your stamina and fitness and also your mind. It is tiring and you have to work. (If you enjoy cooking as much as I do, volunteer immediately to cook as there is nothing more fine for me than preparing supper for a large group over an open fire. It was something I really derived pleasure from doing.) Nights are long and uncomfortable but you see amazing star scapes and drink hot coffee whilst lions roar close to camp. Africa is all around you and in the night to see lions in the river, a buffalo, rhinos splashing and grunting their way through the water is incredible. This trail is an adventure. No frills. Once you start you can't just give up, give in. Sit down and go no further. You push yourself and at times concentrate on the footfalls of your companion in front. But at the end of the day, when you drop the pack and sit at camp you have achieved something amazing, (and correct me if I'm wrong but I believe we are the first Safaritalkers to have done this trail?) You rely on your colleagues to help and inspire you. You test their patience. (And knowing that I did on at least one occasion I publicly offer my apologies to you all). You learn about the wilderness because you are part of it, moreso than sitting in a game drive vehicle: the days don't stop after dinner when you go back to a tent or your room: that is the excitment, day and night, you are part of this wilderness. Part of Player's dream. His epitaph. It is excitement mixed with a little fear, with wonderment stirred in and doses of tiredness and aching muscles. It is a concoction like no other safari, and if you are physically able and really love the wilderness experience, is something each of us should do, at least once.


Not every trail is witness to as much as we saw, and not every trail will lions charge you. iMfolozi is known for its large and health rhino population and we were lucky in having many close up encounters. As @@Soukous says above, there wasn't that much game; @@Bugs, I believe this is due to the lion numbers and other numerous predators?


This was one of the most challenging things I've done. Harder at times than certain parts of the Kilimanjaro climb. There's no chocolate covered strawberries and a welcoming fruit juice or scented hand towel on arrival every day. But you can say "I've done it." And so I guess the question remains, would I do it again? YES. So who's coming with me next time...



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