And so on Sunday afternoon the time arrived. Ranger-guides Ronnie and Saul met us, and four fellow trailists, at the designated spot in Pretoriuskop for the start of our time on the Napi Wilderness Trail in the Kruger National Park. Excitedly we packed all our baggage into the trailer, ensuring that our cameras and binoculars stayed close at hand, and clambered into the open game viewing vehicle that would transport us into the Wilderness.
We had barely left camp when we encountered our first special sighting: a magnificent sable antelope bull – a prime specimen of one of the rarest species in Kruger! As good an omen as one could hope for at the start of such an epic adventure.
It took about an hour to reach the Napi Wilderness Trail’s base camp, our home for the next three nights. Located on a bend in the Biyamiti River between Pretoriuskop and Skukuza, the camp consists of four two-sleeper tents (with en-suite bathrooms!) with a central thatched “dining room” and cement slab for the obligatory nightly campfire. There’s no electricity (or cellphone reception) at the camp, with gas-powered geysers in the bathrooms and paraffin and solar lamps used for lighting. We also meet Armondo, the camp’s shy caretaker and talented cook.
After a good night’s sleep we are guided out of camp by Ronnie and Saul just after sunrise (and a welcome rusk or two dipped in an even more welcome cup of coffee!). We cross a few dry stream beds, stand beside mud wallows and rhino dung middens, gape in awe at the enormous size of an elephant skull, watch astonished as Ronnie coax two dozen (maybe even more) tiny spiders from a communal nest, listen to him explain the intricacies of trapping egg-stealing snakes with the shell of a dead Giant African Land Snail and enjoy a picnic in the unexpected downpour of a winter rainstorm, all the while soaking in the Napi wilderness surrounding us. Heading back to camp we find our way blocked by a huge herd of one of Africa’s most dangerous animals; the African Buffalo, but under the safe guidance of the two rangers we’re free to admire these powerful creatures at close quarters until one cantankerous bull, separated from the herd and with the devil’s fire burning in his eyes, decides it is time for us to move on…
Relaxing back at home base we find out that the human guests are not the only ones waiting for Armondo to finish preparing lunch, as a pack of Dwarf Mongooses scurry around his kitchen hoping for a few scraps (that never came). We also find out that the camp is alive with birds and small reptiles, and that there’s also a wide variety of wildlife arriving at the small waterhole in front of camp to quench their first.
Our late afternoon is spent walking a short circuit around some of the enormous granitic outcrops, which is such a familiar sight in this part of the Kruger Park, before enjoying a glowing red African sunset from one of these special vantage points. Driving back to camp we pass the busy den of a clan of Spotted Hyenas, where the cute cubs have everyone on the vehicle smiling from ear to ear, and again find our road back in the darkness blocked by a herd of buffalo.
At night there’s just as much life inside as outside the Napi Wilderness Trail’s base camp. At least three species of owl frequent the camp, their distinct calls punctuating our fireside conversations, and walking around with a spotlight is sure to show up some interesting nocturnal bugs!
We heard lions roaring during the night, but I didn’t expect that we’d come across their fresh tracks as close to camp as we did the next morning. Our ranger-guides tried their best to follow the big cats, but they must have been aware that we were tracking them and only led us in circles. This strategy did however bring us close to another enormous herd of buffaloes – likely the lions were stalking the same herd when they became aware of us. Ronnie and Saul brought us to a small termite mound where we could stand and watch as the herd approached closer and closer. Being confronted by a throng of bellowing buffaloes, hundreds strong in number and probably less than 30 meters from us by the time we moved out of their way, surely must be my favourite memory of the Napi Wilderness Trail.
Lunchtime in camp is just another excuse to appreciate the plethora of wildlife species both inside and outside the camp’s low perimeter fence from a more relaxed position, and although there isn’t much sitting going on once you start following birds between the tents trying for decent photographs of them, it is still an utterly relaxing exercise!
Our final outing from the camp is a drive with expert guide Saul at the wheel to Transport Dam. We enjoy our sundowners in the presence of hippos, crocodiles and a menagerie of thirsty animals and birds before returning to camp, and a traditional braai (barbeque) prepared by Armondo, passing the hyena den again on the way.
After dinner we go in search of the camp’s owls again, and while the Pearl-Spotted Owlets only serenaded us with their calls without posing for photos, the African Scops Owls and African Barred Owlets were much more accommodating.
Come Wednesday morning and Armondo’s beating on his breakfast drum signaled that our time on the Napi Wilderness Trail has come to an end. After a hearty breakfast, with scrumptious freshly baked bread, we’re off back to Pretoriuskop and civilisation. Another sighting of a sable antelope and then a pride of lions feeding on a young buffalo helps to bring some consolation…
The 60km drive from Pretoriuskop down to Malelane Gate went far too quickly for our liking. Lucky for my sister she could join up with her husband at Malelane Gate for four more nights’ stay in the Park, but for me, my mom and brother it was time to head back to hectic Gauteng.
This was my third Wilderness Trail experience in the Kruger National Park; having previously participated in the Olifants and Sweni WIlderness Trails (follow the links to read about those trips). South African National Parks offers a total of seven Wilderness Trails and three Backpack Trails in the Kruger National Park, each three nights in duration and accommodating no more than 8 participants twice a week (commencing Wednesdays and Sundays), and guided by two knowledgeable rangers.