Johna Turner, the Pel’s man, is a veteran specialist guide and has an immense knowledge of the Makuleke region, its wildlife, birdlife, ecology and history. Walking with Johna in Pafuri is a truly phenomenal experience as can be read from Hennie & Ruda’s article.
We again had the privilege of doing a trail with Johna in the Makuleke Contract Park in Northern KNP during June 2016. Like we said last year, this is arguably one of the most exquisite parts of Kruger with abundant birdlife, spectacularly beautiful trees, magnificent scenery and most importantly: few tourists and no safari vehicles. It is located between the Limpopo and Luvuvhu rivers. The area has a few private lodges, the Eco training facility and RETURNAfrica that runs the Pafuri camp, Baobab Hill house, Pafuri Trails camp and Hutwini camp.
Eight of us started our trip with the first night staying at Baobab Hill house (picture below). After watching the sun set from the kopje in front of the house, we were treated to a scrumptious chicken braai. This was followed by Johna and Sarah (employed by RETURNAfrica) explaining the planned route, safety rules and general guidelines about standing watch, etc. We were off to bed for an early start the following morning.
We were driven by vehicle to our starting point on the western boundary of the park, near the Pafuri Gate. The next three days we were on our own and our heavy backpacks being dropped off close to where Johna and Sarah decided to put up camp for the night. The first night we put up camp near Palm Springs. A beautiful area with Elephant, Rhino (yes…rhino), Impala, Nyala, Hyena, Leopard making good use of the spring.
The group of eight along with Johna and Sarah before starting the trail:
Our camp for the night and Hennie catching 40-winks before standing watch later, below:
The first night we had visits from three Hyena but other than that, no serious incidents to report. The following morning, we were up early to walk to the top of Lanner Gorge. We went via Palm Springs again and had an encounter with an elephant bull which we saw the evening before. We watched him for a while and decided to leave him in peace after he showed some impatience with our presence:
The second night we put up camp at the top of Lanner Gorge. Whilst busy setting up camp and merrily chatting away (read: making a raucous), Sarah called for quiet and alerted us to the fact that a Leopard was calling close to the camp. We heard its sawing grunt very clearly and it sounded almost too close for comfort. We were all convinced that we would get a visit during the night but the leopard instead decided to take a walk past our camp and down into the gorge below. We saw its footprints about 80m from our camp the following morning.
Watching the sun set and rise from the top of Lanner Gorge was spectacular:
The third day we put up camp at the bottom of Lanner gorge next to the Luvuvhu River. This meant going down at snail’s pace along one of the many elephant paths to the bottom of the gorge. How these huge animals manage to find their way and follow paths for hundreds of years is quite incredible. We spent the day walking along the Luvuvhu river enjoying the views, walking, swimming, washing in the crocodile invested waters, lazing around and watching birds.
One of the many highlights of this day in particular but the trail in general was the many raptors we saw. We saw Tawny, African Hawk Eagles, Black Eagles, Bateleur, African Harrier Hawk. The biggest highlight though was seeing not one, but two Pels’ Fishing owls. This was our third trail with Johna and each time we saw the Pel’s. We’ve decided to call Johna the Pel’s man. If you want be guaranteed of seeing the Pel’s – join Johna on this trail!
Day four was hiking to the Hutwini camp where hot showers, soft and comfortable beds, delicious food and ice-cold beers were waiting for us. We discussed the notion that one can come by with very little food/luxuries and that it is not necessary to carry heavy packs on this trail. However, it was unanimously decided that one item that is absolutely essential is Kalamata olive tapenade and biscuits enjoyed on the banks of the Luvuvhu:
Day five to seven were spent exploring various parts of the area from various pans, fever tree forests to Crooks corner from Hutwini camp as the base. We saw many birds (including a lifer for us: Mosque Swallow), game, trees and learnt a lot from Johna’s vast knowledge and experience of the bush and the area which he shares abundantly.
We had a wonderful time and made many new friends. One of the people on this trail was Dr Michelle Henley from Elephants Alive a NGO with the mission to ensure the survival of elephants and their habitats and to promote harmonious co-existence between man and elephants. They conduct research, commenced in 2003, which contributes towards the long-term survival of the African elephant. Perhaps we could get her to do a talk at the club? Donations to her NGO will also be welcomed. If you want to experience nature in its purest form, this trip with Johna is highly recommended. RETURNAfrica manages all the Pafuri camps and lodges. Through Johna’s association with RETURNAfrica, he’s able to take his own guests to any of the Pafuri camps and lodges, where he offers walking trails in pristine wilderness areas. Contact Johna at www.accipitertours.co.za or contact RETURNAfrica at email@example.com or 011 646 1391.
Hennie & Ruda Gous
Dates for 2017’s slackpacking trail are:16 – 22 April (depart 23 April) – Dark Side of the Moon 23 – 29 April (depart 30 April) – Dark Side of the Moon 7 – 13 May. (depart 14 May) – Full Moon Trail4 – 10 June. (depart 11 June) – Full Moon Trail: SOLD OUT2 – 8 July (depart 9 July) – Walking towards the Full Moon6 – 12 August (depart 13 August) – Walking towards the Full Moon3 – 9 September (depart 10 Sept) – Full Moon Trail