Global Walk: Trekking the Transvaal
Why did those hippos sound so smug? Could it be that they’d known about the rainy season all along, whereas I’d just found out the wet way? Not that all this water was necessarily a bad thing. Waterfalls were full to bursting and the greenery abundant, with brightly coloured bougainvillea and jacaranda trees loving every minute of the soggy and misty weather. My journey so far had taken in a three-day stop in the tiny Kingdom of Swaziland, Africa’s only absolute monarchy and a fascinating country to explore. After a few challenging hikes and a good dose of culture at the Swazi Cultural Village at Mantenga and the Swazi National Museum in the capital, Mbabane, the time had come to head north into South Africa for some safari-camp living at Kruger National Park.
The scrub and savannah of Kruger came as a bit of a shock after the sheer lushness of Swaziland’s hills and valleys. This is nature as ruled by the animals and there’s nothing preened or pampered about it, giving the park a somewhat dishevelled look. Looks, however, can be deceiving: Kruger is the undisputed jewel in the crown of South Africa’s national parks, with excellent game viewing. In 2008 it celebrated 110 years as a game reserve, making it one of the oldest on the continent. ‘The entire park has 4,500 beds and 2,500 staff, ’ William Mabasa, a spokesperson for Kruger, tells me. ‘We have a lot of visitors from all walks of life and the real challenge is to cater to all their different needs. We also keep poaching under control and enforce the compulsory park speed limit of 50km per hour. ’ He remains positive about the future popularity of the park. With the recent removal of the border fences between neighbouring Zimbabwe and Mozambique, the animals are free to roam the national parks of all three countries. And roam they do. Driving into the park, we spotted elephant, lion, buffalo, giraffe and crocodile – all within a few minutes of each other. Kruger covers some two million hectares, but walking within its borders is restricted to designated trails with a qualified guide, so we had a chance to rest our legs after the 13km and 8km (8- and 5-mile) hikes in Swaziland on a couple of game drives. As we set out from Skukuza camp in the southern part of the park, expectations were high after the splendid displays we’d been greeted by on arrival. And despite a somewhat slow start, we were not disappointed. Soon the calls of ‘Hippo on the right! ’ and ‘Rhino on the left! ’ were ringing out and our wonderful driver, Elmon, seemed to have a knack for finding the best places for wildlife spotting. He was to have his patience sorely tested over the next few days with our constant calls for him to ‘stop and go back a bit’, but he remained cheerful and helpful throughout, even doing his best to teach me some handy Zulu, too.
No rambler can sit still on a bus for too long without wanting to don their boots and take to the hills. So from Kruger we headed for Hippo Hollow, a country estate near the town of Hazyview, just outside the park. Unfortunately, the town lives up to the name and the area is often covered in thick cloud and mist. But the frisky and frolicking hippos more than make up for any problems with the weather – you can view them from the estate’s restaurant in the mornings and evenings, adding a certain something to breakfasts and dinners. Anna Maria Espsäter encounters big game, enchanting waterfalls and wide-open spaces in South Africa’s northernmost territory Hazyview is in the province of Mpumalanga, where we were spending a week. It’s a lush fruitgrowing area with plenty of wonderful hiking opportunities, such as the 14km/9-mile Loerie Trail. Starting steeply, the trail runs through native forest, with creepers and lianas adding a jungle feel to the upward climb to Bridal Veil waterfalls. Continuing up and up, far above the tree line, the path passes several waterfalls, all gushing over the cliff face. I counted four in all and concluded that either there were four brides, or the first one got hitched on multiple occasions. We picnicked with gorgeous views over the valley, and the rain held off until we were safely back at Hippo Hollow – then it really tipped down, encouraging a chorus from the aforementioned smug hippos wallowing in the Sabie River right on our doorsteps. In the end I had to smile: who could blame them for revelling in this beautiful place, whatever the weather? Walk the world and help the work of the Ramblers, too. Ramblers Worldwide Holidays’ charitable trust is a major contributor to the Ramblers.
The 17-day Trails of the Old Transvaal tour with Ramblers Worldwide Holidays starts from £1,966 per person, including flights, half-board accommodation, local transport and guides. Call ✆ 01707 331133 or visit www.ramblersholidays.co.uk to book now.