I recently went on the excellent Olifants Wilderness Trail in Kruger. Ahead of the trip I was looking for information on what to expect and I was surprised to find almost nothing available on the internet.
I thought that I would knock together some information for those of you considering doing the trip – which I definitely recommend.
- 3PM pick-up on day one at Letaba
- 2.5 hour drive out to the wilderness camp
- Dinner and a bit of a welcome
The whole thing starts at the Letaba camp at 3PM (we started on a Sunday). You are picked up at the parking area behind the restaurant where the guides will load your luggage and collect indemnity forms (make sure that you sign them at reception ahead of time).
It is a 2.5 hour drive out to the wilderness camp and it could get chilly on the way. You travel in their game vehicle which is great for game viewing and we saw a lot during these drives. On the way out we stopped for a toilet break and got our first taste of relaxing outside of the game vehicle.
|Toilet break on the first evening|
We arrived at camp as it was getting dark (we went in late July) so there was just time to get our stuff moved into the huts. Thomas the cook prepared the first of many delicious meals which we ate in the boma. Nicol (the main guide) chatted us through the basic rules and what we should expect. Then it was bed time ready for an early rise.
|The game vehicle used for getting around|
Days 2 and 3
- Very early rise, some coffee and then onto the game vehicle to drive out for the walk
- Hike through the bush for a couple of hours
- Stop for some snacks and juice somewhere pretty (and shady)
- Hike for another couple of hours – back to the vehicle
- Back to camp for a delicious lunch and a shower
- Most of us used the time after lunch to get some sleep in
- There is an easier evening walk which you can bring a couple of drinks along for
- Well appreciated supper and then chatting around the fire as long as you feel like it
The actual game walking is done on days 2 and 3. We were all woken up a few minutes ahead of schedule by a hyena calling out from the fence at the toilets. Then it was a matter of rolling out of bed, grabbing some coffee and getting into the game vehicle. Nicol drove us out to a spot that felt good to him and then off we went.
The mornings are quite cold, but once you start walking it’s not too cold at all. The guides walk in front and the rest of us follow in single file. Most of the time it’s silent with everyone looking out for game. Nicol stopped fairly regularly to tell us about something interesting (tracks, plants, etc) along the way.
After 2-3 hours of walking we would find a shady spot to have a nice break. Some snacks and juice are handed out and everyone relaxes for a while. Invariably Nicol told us some interesting stories, or we just relaxed together.
|Taking a break|
After that it was about 2 hours hike back to the car and then back to camp for some lunch. After lunch we would all shower and have a sleep ahead of the afternoon hike. Afternoon hikes began around 3:30PM and both times we walked down to the river from the camp directly. The afternoon walks were more relaxed and I found them generally more beautiful.
|Enjoying the late afternoon view|
|Afternoon walk along the river|
In general we would get back to camp once things were pretty dark. Supper would be ready pretty quickly (which I always appreciated) and delicious. Nicol was a little quiet but in general we would get some interesting conversation going. He had stacks of extremely interesting stories about his experiences.
If you do this tour, you MUST get your guide talking about his experiences. I found his stories great, and this was when I learned most about the behavior of the different animals that we were encountering.
- Early rise, coffee and breakfast
- Climb onto the game vehicle and then the 2-3 drive back to Letaba
On the last morning you won’t need to get up as early as the other mornings. You also get breakfast before leaving which I enjoyed! It was quite sad to be leaving so soon, but we were lucky enough to see a hunting leopard about 300m out of the camp gates.
|An irritated elephant on the way back to Letaba|
On the whole the camp was really great. It is about 7km down river from the main Olifants camp, but it is miles from any other park visitors. There are 4 two-bed huts sleeping the 8 guests. Most of the action takes place on the ‘lapa’ around the fire and in the eating boma. The camp is kept very tidy and the food is great.
|View of the Olifants river from the camp|
Everything overlooks the Olifants River and the view is really good. There is a fence around the camp, but animals can get in and out if they want. We were warned to be quite careful when walking around at night, but most of the animals are so shy that I would say that is just being safe. We did hear hyena right outside the camp, and there were civet prints all over camp one morning.
|View of the camp in the morning|
The huts that you sleep in are basic, but OK. Nothing special, but everything that is needed. The lamps provided are very dim so you MUST take along some of your own light. We used LED lamps which made a huge difference.
The toilets and showers (two of each) are at the back of the camp and are surprisingly good. Hot water, flushing toilets, basin, etc. Their proximity to the fence of the camp did make a few of our group a little nervous.
Several members of our group were quite concerned about the safety issues. The animals roaming the park are to a large degree dangerous. Nicol told us that the only animals that they worry about are lions, leopards, buffalo, rhino and elephants (that’s why they are called the big 5).
Each ranger is very well trained and carrying a huge rifle, so I didn’t feel worried at all. Also, while chatting to Nicol it quickly became clear that they have excellent understanding of the different species’ behaviors. Both had had some scary encounters, but they are rare and relatively easily overcome.
The other reason that you are likely to feel quite safe is that the animals are quite afraid of people. It was quite a sobering experience to me to witness a group of 4 elephants running away at the sight of us. In general all of the animals are very afraid of people on foot and get out of there long before you can get close.
I was actually quite dissapointed with the game sightings. You don’t cover as much ground as when you are in a car, and the animals are far more afraid of people than cars. The net result is that while walking you probably won’t see too much. We had good (relatively) close rhino and elephant sightings which were very exciting. But for the rest we saw very little and as a result started feeling quite comfortable out there. The bush is much emptier than you think.
|Telling the others to keep quiet|
|Most crocs ran for it, this one was brave|
That said, there are LOTS and lots of tracks everywhere which the guides are very capable of reading. I really enjoyed learning about them, and I took great pride in being able to tell which animals had been through an area. The guides are VERY knowledgeable and keen to tell you about whatever you are interested in. Most interesting to me was information about the behavior of the different animals.
- Take a good hat and sun cream. We were there in the middle of winter and it was still hot during the days
- Take a backpack for your warmer clothes and extra food and water
- Take light. A head-torch is very useful, but make sure that at the very least you have a good torch
- Because of the season we didn’t worry about malaria. Make sure that you are comfortable with your malaria arrangements
- Bring some cash with to tip the guides
- Make sure that you get your guide talking about his experiences
- Bring along some drinks for the camp fridge
- I found the grass quite sparse and hiking in shorts was perfect. Nicol hiked in shorts and sandals!
All in all it was a great trip and I recommend it. Click here for all of the pics that I have uploaded.