Napi Wilderness Trail

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.

 

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28 thoughts on “Napi Wilderness Trail

  1. Joanne Sisco

    Wow – you get to go on the coolest hikes!! In comparison, I’m excited if I see a rabbit 😉
    At the same time, I’d have to admit that I would be rather nervous up-close-and-personal with the wildlife. All I’d be thinking about is whether the African Buffalo are going to stampede in our direction!!

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      The possibility of a stampede is exactly why the rangers made us stand at the termite mound, Joanne! As there were lions stalking the herd, they might have started running should they detect the lions, and we would have had to duck behind the termite mound if they came our way, so that they would pass us by. But when they eventually were that close, our rangers made the call to move off, as there would just not have been enough time for the whole group of people to get behind the mound before the buffaloes closed the gap. A most thrilling encounter!

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Thanks Teresa!

      We were so fascinated by just how many spiders came crawling out of the nest that I didn’t even think what it would feel like if they came crawling up my back and neck…
      😀

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  2. John

    I´m speechless! So many beautiful pictures you have taken! I must admit that I´m jealous of you. 🙂 What a beautiful nature, and what nice animals! Even that your picture are so good taken, so make the text about each picture that it will be 100%. As I said before, I admire your knowledge of the animals and nature where you live! It´s people like you who make the world to understan how important the nature in Afrika is. Each animal has its place in the food chain. Disappears a species, it affects many other animals. Great blog, and great job you do, Dries! One question, What lens do you use? I use for the most my Tamron 150-600 mm when I´m out in the nature, but have other lenses with me. I love to take HDR picture, then I use a smaller lens.
    Your panorama pictures is amazing. I want to visit South Africa, and stay for at least one month. It´s a Mecka! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Thanks so very much for the kind words, John. We really do appreciate it!

      Most of the pictures are taken with a Canon EOS1200D fitted with a Canon 70-300mm lens, and then I use a small Canon A700 Compact camera (more than 10 years old) for the landscape shots. I do not like changing lenses on the DSLR camera when we are out in the bush, as it is so easy for dust to get into the camera.

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