SANparks have a variety of 4×4 trails, with the jewel in the crown being the Lebombo Trail. Five vehicles are allowed on the trail led by a SANparks ranger. Although the convoy will visit certain camps along the five-day (four-night) trip, one is expected to be self-sufficient. Rest stops allow you to shower and purchase essentials.
Touted as a 4×4 route it is relatively easy yet does afford a few challenges which can catch the unwary driver. One of the larger vehicles on the trip which was towing an off-road caravan got stuck in some treacherous black turf-like mud at the same time cutting a tyre on buried shale. Fortunately, the vehicle in front was able to extricate the vehicle and caravan and we changed the damaged tyre. This to much laughter, as none of us wanted to touch the dirty pungent mud. All the overnight spots are rustic and treed with an eco-friendly toilet that operates using air extraction. The route starts in the south at Crocodile Bridge camp and ends up north at Pafuri, where you bid farewell to the ranger and exit the park.
The route is the ultimate eco wilderness experience and runs during the dry season as the summer rains render sections of the trail impassable. At the Pafuri stop, the Ranger takes you to the real “Crooks corner” (there is a more touristy version upstream at the rest camp). This is the border between Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa In the wilder earlier days of poachers, robbers and general miscreants, the border sign was often moved to allow people to escape capture by police.
It is at this point that you can see the extent of the floods of 2000. During February and March twenty years ago the area experienced extreme rain and the Limpopo River flooded, spanning kilometres at the river mouth. Damages and losses were extensive and people were forced out of their homes and had to climb trees to survive. One lady even gave birth in a tree and was rescued by one of the SAAF helicopters deployed to assist in the rescue operation. It is interesting to note that over three days Mozambique experienced seventy-five percent of its rainfall for that year.
At Pafuri, SANparks have a tall pump house where they have marked the extent of the floods over time. In the picture one can see the height the water reached during the flooding.
The other picture of the river was taken further east in the Mapungubwe National Park and shows how dry the river generally is.
The quote featured is by Rudyard Kipling who had a keen affinity for the river and the area.
So ends the trail part. It did, however, come with a few trials which taught a few lessons and allowed a for a few laughs as well. On the first night, I had thought that “old school” was seriously cool and as we set up camp for the night, I decided not to use electricity and opted for my Coleman Paraffin Lantern which I was sure would put the other lighting kits to shame. To our amazement the whole lamp caught fire due to a blocked regulator valve and provided a brief moment of light, then proceeded to singe my eyebrows, until I covered it in a space blanket to put the fire out and packed it away – sold it on my return. The rest of the evening was uneventful but the Coleman came up every night afterwards Notwithstanding this, my next moment was even better, as there were no showers at the next rest stop I decided to rig a portable gas shower (also untested) which was a simple affair. One simply dropped a pump into a 20 litre water container, plugged the pump into an aux socket, lit the burner and had a shower. Sounds simple? Well, the only problem was the fact that the water trickled out the nozzle in a desultory fashion making it difficult to shower. The solution was a simple one, which resulted in pandemonium. There we were in the buff and I cranked the nozzle open and was rewarded with more pressure, easy as that. Yet the burner kicked out a flame about one metre high – right over the top of the privacy shield that had everyone scrambling for fire extinguishers. The shower was packed away and we were fortunate to shower at rest camps for the remaining two days.
That night I decided to walk from the campsite to the loo by moonlight and slipped down a 4-metre embankment – much to the delight of the group. The next morning my glutes were so sore that the Doctor in the group had to give me a muscle relaxant before I drove the next stretch! He also took great delight in showing off the bruise on my rear end to the group, which was a variety of colours and the size of a small plate. The next day we filled the water containers at the camp and when I tried to fill the container on the trailer I was dismayed to find that someone (borrowed trailer from a manufacturer ) had put Diesel in it, so it was contaminated and useless for water. Another lesson learnt. All could not be doom and gloom – there were a few brighter moments. The trail was a delight, but the daily distances called for long spells behind the wheel with excellent sightings of game. The first dinner highlight came on the third night out when predictably the meat hit the braai grid and salads are being prepared. I took out a packet of mixed frozen veggies and quick-cooking rice and turned out a different style bush dish, adding in some spices, “ smoor sous” and grated cheese – much to the envy of the others who were getting slightly bored with the standard fare. There was enough for all though as we shared our food and beverages every night.
In the mornings we used to leave early after coffee and rusks, to make time and then stop later on for brunch. Some of the group were prone to faff and fiddle, simply wasting time so I changed the rules. In the one skottel we would fry tomatoes and onions, in the other diced bacon was first cooked and then scrambled egg added to the bacon. Breakfast became a production line. The skottels were easily cleaned (boy style) – first with some liquid soap and fine sand, then with warm water and a scourer. Everyone inherited a task, even the kids. As a result, we shaved about 45 minutes off our breakfast time, which meant that we had more time in the evening to set up camp. On this note I must reflect on the privilege afforded to us. Very few people get to camp outdoors with no barriers in the Kruger, as well as cooking in the bush without others being around. Our last little “whoopsie” came when we set up on the banks of the “Langtoon” dam to have sundowners and watch the sunset. One of the group, who I must admit was not very large, sat on an untried camp chair, a “fleamarket” bargain. Much to his chagrin it simply collapsed and folded into the ground. After much laugher, we were able to separate him from the chair and pack the pieces away. The nights around the campfire were memorable and the company was diverse yet exceptional. The trip was donated by SANparks, as we had a good working relationship with them based on training and vehicle supply. Some of us had never met before the trip, but within a few hours were friends, sharing a love for travel and the bush. Any lessons learned? Well, I am now a firm advocate of testing everything before departing on a trip. I have also become a firm favourite of task allocation and sharing anything and everything from foodstuff to books, magazine and even equipment. And yes, mistakes still happen, and we learn and laugh when they happen – which gets less frequent as we get older and “slightly” more organised. But no more flames and singed hair for me.