Forget the 4X4 – Try a Walking Safari in the Kruger Park
The once popular image of intrepid hunters on foot, slashing their way through dense vegetation and plagued by all manner of crawling flying and, in most cases, also biting insects while engaged in the search for wild animals to shoot has long been confined to old movies. Today, the shooting is achieved with the aid of optical or digital cameras and, rather than all that business of blazing a trail through the bush, pedestrian explorations have been largely replaced by supervised safaris conducted from the comfort of an off-road recreational vehicle. In the Kruger Park and a growing number of other game reserves in South Africa, however, walking in the hunt for a wildlife encounter still remains an option, although the permitted weapons of choice are still a Cannon or Nikon SLR, or even an Apple iPhone.
Perhaps, the greatest attraction of exploring the bushveld on foot is the relative silence. No longer drowned out by the pulsing of a six-cylinder diesel engine, each sound, from the rustling of vegetation to the chirping of insects and the cries of nearby animals, adds a new dimension to the experience, further enhancing the stunning visual impact of the scenic surroundings.
Travelling in silence also offers another big advantage. The improved stealth makes it a lot simpler to get up close and personal with the very creatures that you are hoping to meet. An experienced guide or park ranger will know the favourite haunts of each of the Big Five and from which direction to approach in order to provide the best view without disturbing their activities.
To ensure the best possible experience, a walking safari in the Kruger Park should be conducted over at least three or four days. Generally, though, the precise duration of a trip can normally be arranged to meet one’s personal preferences. Apart from ensuring the maximum opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of the bushveld and to experience its wildlife, an extended tour offers another enjoyable experience. These extended tours include the chance to enjoy a couple of overnight stays at some of the numerous small camps that are scattered throughout the reserve. These memorable nights offer the chance to relax, to enjoy an al fresco meal, for a spot of camaraderie, and to share the magic of it all under the canopy of a starlit African sky.
In order to cover the large distances involved, parts of the journey are normally conducted in specially adapted open vehicles. This allows those on walking safaris to get closer to the best game viewing sites before continuing to track their quarry on foot and, in turn, to record these awesome Kruger Park encounters either digitally or on celluloid.
While catching sight of the Big 5 will generally tend to feature pretty high among the ambitions of the average visitor to this iconic national park, it is also home to more than 400 species of birds of prey, many of which are rare and endangered. Given the ease with which birds are disturbed and likely to fly away, birding is an activity that is best conducted on foot.
Throughout this massive reserve, which is spread between the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga in South Africa’s north-eastern corner, the months of February, March and April are widely regarded as offering the best opportunity for birders to pursue their hobby. For this purpose, the park features a number of strategically-positioned and well-constructed hides. For anyone whose lifelong ambition may be to catch a glimpse of a lappet-faced vulture, a martial eagle or a yellow-billed oxpecker, joining one of the many walking safaris conducted by several lodges within the Kruger Park could prove to be the perfect means by which to finally turn such dreams into reality.
Whatever the primary objective of one’s visit may be, the unavoidable side-effect of time spent in the bush is to put the visitor in touch with his or her most primitive origins. It is in surroundings such as these that mankind first emerged, and in which its continuing struggles were eventually to see it spread to every corner of the earth. Most of that remarkable journey was conducted on foot at a time when the entire continent was one gigantic wildlife domain. Perhaps one of the best ways in which to gain some insight into that remarkable accomplishment could be to experience it on a more modest scale with a walking safari in the world-famous Kruger National Park.