December is a time of change here in Pafuri, as the seasonal fly camp is returned to nature.
The Hutwini trails camp is our forward base for walkers throughout the dry months. But nature likes to remind us that the place is not really ours, just a space we share for a time. Nyala are permanent residents, browsing the understorey all day. Elephants love the fruit pods from the ana tree branches that arc over the tents. Even leopards like to assert their natural right of way from time to time, by day and night.
For me, there are a few ingredients to make a perfect fly camp. The first is location, and Hutwini’s is good: secluded, shaded by Natal mahogany, and just a few steps on a sandy track to the riverbank, where the Luvuvhu attracts animals from dawn to dusk. The second is creature comforts – but in moderation. I’m happy to have a comfy place to recline between walks, with the drinks cooler close by. But it’s important to have the feeling that our footprint is transient, and that the camp furniture is not permanent
These two go a long way to creating a good ambience. But the third ingredient, the one that really makes the mood, is the camp staff. Coming back to the trails camp, the cook Mosana and her assistant Gladys always give trailists a traditional Makuleke ululation welcome, and it’s impossible not to laugh with them. The scented and chilled towels they bring are refreshing after a walk or drive. As twilight creeps into the valley, the handyman lights the tilly lamps, stopping for a chat as he places them. A little later, Mosana delivers the invitation to dine, reciting the menu with pride. Dinner itself is taken with the guides, who despite their youth seem to have a bottomless well of experiences to share.
The fly camp is thereby not just a place to rest and feed between activities: it is a destination in itself, a place where we feel the strong pull of the natural world, from where we came before the inventions of modernity.
Now, it’s the time of year to give the camp back to nature. It only takes a couple of days to remove all human traces.
Trail guides retreat to their quarters at the lodge and continue to lead walks throughout the summer. Head guide, Calvin de la Rey says. “When we get some rain, it’s amazing how quickly the vegetation takes over again. It’s hard to recognise there was a camp there”. In the summer, walks continue, and he becomes very selective. “We avoid the thicker bushveld. It’s too easy for a surprise close encounter with an elephant or buffalo.”
There are still plenty of good places to walk. Under the canopy of the fever tree forest, vegetation is low, and visibility good. He and the other guides also bring guests to the pans which are riot of birdlife in the wet months, and to the rocky ridges above the Lanner gorge.
For the camp staff, it’s time for a break with family. By Christmas they will be back to work at the lodge, in time for the busiest period of the year.
Meanwhile, with each fall of rain, the camp location will turn a richer shade of green. The ground, no longer raked, becomes a carpet of fallen leaves, seed pods and animal droppings, like any other part of the bushveld. Where the bucket shower enclosures stood, a tangle of creepers take hold, a safe hide for a calving nyala. Guinea fowl scratch the sandy soil in the place people slept. For the next five months, Hutwini belongs to them.
Author: Hlengiwe Magagula
Images Feature; 1; 3; 4 & 5 Morgan Trimble
Image 2 Hlengiwe Magagula