The Kruger Park Walking trails are three-night guided walking tours which include a Wilderness experience like no other. From exploring areas in the park that are virtually untouched by people to learning new things, it’s one of the most surreal, intense, and special safari experiences possible. When Peter and I knew that we would be back in South Africa for a few months, we jumped at the opportunity to join the Mathikithi trail with four of our closest friends. The Kruger Park has a number of different trails to choose from, but we opted for this one since it’s close to the Satara camp. Also, we only booked a couple of months in advance so many of the other trails were already fully booked. You have to book as long as a year in advance for certain Kruger Park walking trails.
Our Kruger Park walking trails experience was even more incredible than we had anticipated. We made the most of our trip to the Kruger by spending a whole week there. We stayed at the Boulders camp (private accommodation) for two nights and the Talamati camp for one night, prior to joining for the trail which was from a Wednesday afternoon until Saturday morning. Each trail accommodates 8 people. We were a group of six friends and joined by another two guys. At the camp there are two rangers and a cook who prepares delicious safari-type meals for the group.
About the Kruger Park walking trails
The Mathikithi Fly Camp is a replacement of the N’watinwambu Fly Camp. This means that it’s a temporary camp. Once the N’watinwambu Camp has been renovated, it will be moved back there. Situated 6 km South West of Satara camp, next to N’watinwambu Creek, the Mathikithi trail is in lion territory. The Satara area of the Kruger park is home to the highest concentration of lions in South Africa.
Since Mathikithi is a temporary setup, it’s a tented camp consisting of four tents. Each tent has been furnished with two single beds, sleeping two people each. Inside the tent you will find a canvas wardrobe and luggage rack. It’s a rustic and spartan setting, equipped with solar systems to make provision for lighting. There’s a communal social area in the form of an open campfire – what more could you ask for!? Many of the permanent camps of the Kruger Park Walking trails have accommodation consisting of A-frame huts. But we felt that the tents are a lot more authentic. There are communal bathrooms consisting of four cubicles. Two of the cubicles are found in between two of the tents, and equipped with shower and toilet facilities (two tents share one shower). The middle two cubicles consist of a toilet and basin.
The four guest tents are situated next to each other on a riverbed. The park was extremely dry during our stay so the river was dry. But from our tent we saw giraffe, Kudu, and Impala on the riverbed everyday. At night we could hear the calls of lion, hyena, and leopard. There’s something so magical about the night sounds of the Bush. Even more magical is knowing that you are in the middle of the wild surrounded by very few people. It’s so quiet and peaceful. The staff tents are situated on the other side of the camp. The kitchen, dining area, and social area in the middle.
The Kruger Park walking trails are one of the only ways to experience the true essence of the Bush. Here’s a peak at what to expect if you’re thinking of doing one of the Kruger Park walking trails.
Day 1: Arriving for the Mathikithi trail
After spending an amazing night at the Talamati camp – we saw four of the Big five; Elephant, Buffalo, lion, and leopard, as well as jackal, baboon and Kudu, all at the waterhole from the hide within the camp, it was time to make our way down to the Satara camp for our experience of the Kruger Park walking trails. Satara is the meeting point. This is where we could leave our cars and meet the rangers to take us to the camp. The drive down from Talamati took a few hours – with a few pit stops including brunch, along the way. We reached Satara camp at about 2pm and were due to meet for the trail by 3pm. So we stocked up on snacks and drinks, signed in at reception, got our stuff together and then it was time!
We were met by Joas and Ronnie who would be our rangers for the next three days. They packed all our stuff in the trailer, we hopped in the game vehicle and we were ready for an eventful few days ahead. It was about a 30 minute drive to where we would be spending our next few days out in the wild. When we arrived at the camp the excitement really kicked in. We unpacked our things and made ourselves right at home. There is no walking involved on day one. Instead you get settled in, get to know the group (if you don’t already), enjoy a specially prepared meal, and be sure to have an early night because it’s a 4am wake up call.
That evening we sat around the campfire and listened to everything that Joas and Ronnie had to tell us about the trail. They told us all about our itinerary for the next few days and shared plenty of past stories. Most importantly they explained to us that the Kruger Park walking trails are not about seeing the Big 5. It’s about experiencing the sheer magic of the Bush. It’s about all the things that you miss when you driving around in an air-conned vehicle. What you will experience is the silence of the Bush, the intense smell of dung, the wonder of discovering that there are at least six types of grass. Any animals that you spot are an added bonus. And they were so right! The hidden part of Bush life is so magical!
Day 2: Exploring the bush
After a rather early start – 4am, the rangers rounded us all up and drove us out to begin the trail. As the sun came up we were out in the middle of the Bush surrounded by absolutely nothing but nature. And it hit me……this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a true blessing! It’s an escape into the wild and a following of your heart (or rather, that of the rangers), rather than any designated paths. I can’t remember when last I felt so alive.
The morning walk is typically 5 hours long, with a few water breaks and a breakfast stop along the way. Breakfast is a picnic consisting of cheese and biscuits, sausage and a few other snacks to keep you going. The rangers find a shady spot to sit down and eat for about half an hour.
On our first walk they showed us plenty of spoor, told us many interesting things about animal dung – such as, it’s one of the ways that they communicate with each other, and we learnt a lot about plant life. We also saw elephant, jackal, impala, giraffe, kudu, baboon, warthog and a few other animals. Spotting elephant was the most terrifying. While they are beautiful creatures, they could take us all out in a matter of seconds if they wanted to. But the rangers are very experienced and know exactly what to look for in the animals behaviour. In fact, we got as close to about 50 meters from elephant.
It gets incredibly hot in the Kruger Park so the morning walk usually ends at about 10:30. As the heat started to set in we found a shady area to catch our breath and spend some quiet time. The rangers took us to a shady spot right at a waterhole and it was one of the most incredible experiences. We all sat in silence, scattered across trees, branches and open area as we watched kudu, warthog and impala come to drink while baboon roamed the surrounding area.
Once we made it back to the camp it was time to shower, have brunch that had been prepared for us and then a siesta – which we all opted for. Unfortunately the tents get extremely hot during the day but sleep was much needed so we managed to get a couple of hours in.
At about 4pm it was time to head out again. The rangers said we could choose whether we wanted to walk again or go on a sunset drive. Feeling rather lazy – we all opted for the drive. While we weren’t lucky enough to see any cats, we did enjoy sundowners at one of the big watering holes while we watched herds of elephant and buffalo come to drink. There must have been at least 200 buffalo and 100 elephant! We sat there for almost an hour watching the Bush come to life. As the sun started to go down we saw two jackal appear from the horizon.
We drove for a while when it was dark but didn’t see too much more. But as we made our way back to the camp, not too far from the gate, we came across at least 6 hyena making there way up the road. It was a very successful day of wildlife sightings. Later that evening, we had dinner – a delicious stew, chatted around the campfire while listening to the sounds of the bush and had another early night to prepare for the day ahead.
Day 3: We got very lucky
The third day was pretty much the same in terms of itinerary – but we walked a different route and got very very lucky on Day 3. The moment we got out of the vehicle to begin our trail, there were about five elephant in close proximity and the rangers spotted the spoor of a lioness and cub which they suspected had walked that path earlier on that morning. Without any hesitation they took us down the path tracking the spoor. Eventually we made our way down into a dry riverbed. We must have only been walking about 20 minutes when the excitement got to a whole new level – we spotted a leopard. Unfortunately leopard are incredibly shy and skittish so we only caught a glimpse of him jumping out of a tree and sprinting far into the distance.
This was a very rare sighting – not one that occurs often since leopard are so shy. Truth be told, we would have been satisfied if that’s all we had seen that day. But about 15 minutes later, luck struck again when we came across a pride of at least 20 lion. Right there in the riverbed. We were actually extremely close…..about 20 meters away. But as soon as the ranger realised, he signalled for us to all walk back and up the bank, out of the riverbed to view them from above. This is after all the Kruger Park and not a zoo! You can’t get up close and personal with the animals. Once we reached the top of the riverbank, the pride had started to make there way out in the opposite direction – since we had disturbed them.
We all watched in awe as we took in our surroundings and came to appreciate what we were seeing! A huge pride of lionesses and cubs in the wild….and we were on foot! Not much could have topped our experience after that. But we did come across some fresh Rhino dung – meaning there was one nearby. We also once again saw elephant, kudu, impala, warthog, and baboon. We spent the rest of the morning walk taking in the scent, sound and feeling of the bush.
The rest of the day went much like the previous day. We enjoyed brunch and a siesta when we got back to the camp. Then since it was our last night, we decided not to be so lazy and to go on a late afternoon walk rather than a drive. So we packed a few snacks and drinks and made our way back to the same place we had seen the leopard and lion earlier on that morning. But we didn’t come across anymore cats. What we did experience though was surreal. The rangers found a spot in the riverbed for us to enjoy a few sun downers! And we were accompanied by an elephant. Yes – if we had a souvenir for this trip it would be an elephant because we saw so many! But it’s truly special seeing one so close up in the wild.
It was the perfect way to end our Kruger Park walking trails experience. Sipping on sun downers, watching the wildlife pass by, while the sun set on the horizon. In that moment, time could have stood still. It was already dark by the time we got back to camp and we didn’t have to wait long for dinner. We were served a delicious barbecue as our final meal and it was perfect! That night we sat around the campfire listening to the sounds of the Bush and reminiscing about our time on the Mathikithi trail.
The next morning we got a quick breakfast and were then taken back to Satara camp. It was all over but what an amazing experience it was. Nothing can make you feel your mortality more keenly than knowing that there is a lion nearby. And you are on foot! Once you have done one of the Kruger Park walking trails, there is only one way to be in the Bush, and that is to walk it.