Guest Blog: Pafuri Walking Trail Trip Report by Mike Blackburn

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You’ll see a lot more of these guest blog posts on the blog in the months to come as guests share their own experiences whilst out on safari with us. Whilst there is no shortage of trip reports compiled by our team, its always nice to hear about (and see) a trip through the eyes of our guests. Add to that the fact that pour team is literally scattered throughout the continent for the next couple of months its great to have guests sharing their experiences and keeping the blog ticking for us!

This particular trip report is from our recent reccie safari to the north Kruger which will be the venue for our 2016 Pafuri Walking Trail Photographic Expedition and was kindly put together by Mike Blackburn.

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“Easy big boy, easy. We don’t mean you any harm.” As Andrew our guide calmly spoke these words, I was searching for an escape route.  Rule number 1 is “whatever happens, do not run!” If the large bull elephant not 10 metres away had come any closer, I think I may have broken rule number 1. Unfortunately he did, with much head-shaking and dust. We, however, stayed put, he only came three steps closer and we were left exhilarated, amazed and, most importantly unharmed!

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This is the sort of experience one is able to get as a guest of Wild-Eye at Return Africa Walking trails in the Makuleke concession North of the Levhuvhu river in KNP. Every walk starts with the safety briefing where the five rules are reinforced –  the previously mentioned don’t run, stay behind the rifles, walk in single file, obey instructions rapidly and effectively, and keep quiet. The important hand signals are refreshed and we set off behind the extremely knowledgeable and competent team of Andrew and Tan. Walking in the Kruger National Park is somewhat surreal. Nowhere are the rules about staying in your vehicle, no arms outside etc more enforced than in Kruger. And here we were, walking! One can really be part of the bush when you hear it, smell it and feel it under your feet – a truly unique and special experience.

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Andrew stops us at an innocuous looking Palm tree and tells us about the many uses of the leaves (baskets), crown (protein) and fruit (palm ivory, baboon delicacy). Palm wine is mentioned but he denies partaking. We come across the skeleton of a buffalo, sadly with evidence of being caught in a poacher’s snare. We look at spoor, we pick and smell leaves, we watch dung beetles.  We walk onto the banks of the great, green, greasy Limpopo – find that it is none of these and only trickling along. We may have crossed into Zimbabwe and back again but we’ll deny any knowledge of this if pressed. Great excitement ensues when fresh lion spoor are spotted heading from Zimbabwe into the Kruger Park. All the time Tan keeps watch on the banks.

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This area is rich in history being part of the Ivory trail. We visit the ruins of Fernandez’ store where signs of turmoil (in the form of spent cartridges) lie on the ground. This was an important source of supplies for those intrepid hunters from a bygone time who went in search of big Ivory. Andrew’s passion for the area really shines through and we leave determined to read up on this exciting period.

Back in camp it’s time for brunch – cottage pie, bacon, sausage, salad, cereal and fruit. Downtime is for showering in the bucket showers, birding, laying about on the comfy couches in the shade of the large Natal Mahogany and, if you’re really lucky, a quick dip in the nearby Levhuvhu. Before the afternoon activity we fill up on Ma Ellen’s fabulous ice tea and we’re back on the vehicle.

North of the river lies a massive fever tree forest. When one thinks fever trees you don’t imagine them in a forest. It has to be seen to be believed. Today’s assignment is to photograph plains game in the unusual (for Africa) forested environment. We’re looking for scale and identifiable elements. What we get is beyond our wildest imagination. We know there are elephants in the area and we want them between us and the forest. Andrew climbs a fever tree to glass the elephants. I wonder idly if the dust on the fever tree is still lucky if you collect it while falling out of said tree.

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The elephants are on the move. It looks like they are going to get between us and the sun. This is good news. We approach carefully. This is a breeding herd so extreme care is required. We position ourselves, we improve on the position. We try to become part of the foliage. The wind is in our favour. The sun begins setting. Some thoughtful creature has kicked up a huge amount of dust. Andrew Beck shows me the back of his camera – gorgeous orange light breaking through a fever tree silhouette. “Insert elephant here”, he says. We move forward again, and then it happens – the sun, the elephant, the trees and us all align and photographic nirvana is obtained.

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We walk back to the game vehicle in silence, knowing we have had a once in a lifetime experience. Sundowners and some epic astrophotography happen on the bridge over the Luvhuvhu while the elephants crash about on the riverbed below.

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We eat dinner out in the open and a Giant Eagle Owl vocalises in the distance.

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As the lamps are extinguished pitch darkness envelops the camp. There is no electricity, no cell signal and no wifi. This is proper Africa. We sleep like logs on the beds in the safari tents. It’s not luxurious in the typical bush lodge sense, but we’re very comfortable. In the morning there is excitement – the lions have been heard and we head out to track them. Spoiler alert – we didn’t find them. But to track a lion on foot is a privilege afforded to few. Andrew’s enthusiasm boils over – this is a man who loves his tracking. We get close – a bush emits a loud growl and Tan swears she saw a shape disappearing into the bush that looked a lot like a male lion. But we are out of time and must pack up to get home.

Did we get killer images? Maybe.

Did we experience Kruger in a way we’ve never before? Definitely.

This trip is to be recommended.

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I can echo Mike’s sentiments. This is a truly special part of the world. There may not be photographic opportunities around every corner but the few opportunities that do present themselves are spectacular and made even more special by the fact that one is on foot in one of South Africa’s most remote and protected conservation areas.

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Our 2016 pafuri walking Trail Photogrpahic Expedition will see 6 guests exploring this wilderness region on foot for 6 nights and 7 days. If you have a keen sense of adventure and are looking for something truly unique, you simply have to join us!

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Guest Blogger

If you would like to contribute to the Wild Eye blog send a mail to gerry@wild-eye.co.za

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