It was pitch dark in the dense trees surrounding our campsite. The fire was tingeing the umbrella of Jackalberry tree branches above our heads with licks of red, orange and yellow. Our first night’s camp was on the banks of the Letaba River, and I guess we were still in ‘city’ mode, because Tshepo Mathebula, our Kruger National Park guide, said,“Hey guys, keep quiet − don’t make a sound.” He quietly added, “Listen… Can you hear that that low cough?”
Except for the crackle of the fire, a deadly silence surrounded the laager of vehicles with the tents pitched protectively inside the circle. Tshepo added, “It’s a leopard. He is quite close.”
Now he had our full attention. Eyes wide, we five umlungus listened to the muted, guttural rasping sound of the spotted cat prowling somewhere out there in the darkness. It was a mystery to me how those guides had heard the sound over our excited chatter.
Time and again over the next four days, Tshepo and our second guide, Van Rooi Moreku, shared their knowledge and the skills they’d gained during a lifetime in the bush. For us, this was a life-changing experience, whether we were learning new things about elephant, buffalo, hippo, or likkewaan (iguana); or the complex life cycle of a termite mound; or the fascinating details
of how a Fever Tree survives.
Every stop was a lesson as we meandered northwards over little-known (and often unmarked) bushveld tracks from Phalaborwa to Punda Maria.
Wilderness on wheels
The five ‘guests’ were Mic Van Zyl, head honcho of Ironman South Africa, his professional-photographer mate Michael Irschick, in Mic’s Toyota FJ Cruiser; Quinton Ebersohn, also from Ironman in a Ford Ranger; and Anton Willemse and I from SA4x4, in Anton’s bright red Toyota Legend 45 double cab.
We were to be the first group to experience the yet-to-be-opened Mafunyane 4x4 Eco Trail in the Kruger Park.
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