Mafunyane 4x4 Adventure
Words and pics Magriet Kruger
The mopane woodlands between Phalaborwa and Punda Maria deliver good elephant sightings. Ellies favour the fresh green mopane leaves, which are rich in protein. The tree is remarkably resilient and will sprout new leaves on broken branches.
When I pulled up to the clearing in the late afternoon, the last of the sunlight filtering through the branches of a tall apple-leaf, my heart sang. The spot had all the elements of a perfect campsite: flat and shaded, on a slight rise above a waterhole. What it didn’t have was equally important: no electricity, no crowds and no fence.
The recently introduced Mafunyane 4x4 Eco-Trail is one of the few opportunities to camp wild in Kruger National Park. The trail runs between the Olifants and Luvuvhu rivers, and camp is pitched in a different spot every night. The only signs that you are staying in a designated campsite are the firepit and enviro-toilets, tucked out of sight along with two shower stalls. Participants have to be completely self-sufficient, supplying their own food, water and firewood.
Mafunyane is labelled an eco-trail because the emphasis is on appreciating the surroundings, rather than technical driving. That said, the trail included some steep inclines, river crossings and rugged terrain that made me decidedly grateful for the Isuzu KB 300’s 4x4 capabilities.
Sitting around the fire that night, I heard the cough of a lion in the distance and, much closer, the whoop of a hyena. A white-faced scops owl gave its bubbling hoot in the tree above me. I couldn’t wait for day two.
The convoy lines up after crossing the Letaba River. Since the trail meanders across riverbeds and low water crossings, it runs only during the dry season.
One of the highlights of the eco-trail is the chance to experience wilderness camping. When you’re sitting around a blazing fire, with the knowledge that there isn't a fence between you and the bush, you’ll find all your senses heightened.
Plotting the next day’s route to Mafunyane unfenced campsite.
Relaxing under a tamboti tree at Mafunyane campsite. The site and trail are named after the most famous of Kruger’s original great tuskers. When the elephant bull Mafunyane died in 1983, his tusks were 2,5m long and weighed 55kg each.
An off-road caravan is an oasis of luxury. The Jurgens Safari Xplorer has a gas stove, hot-water shower and comfy beds.
Mud adds another dimension to 4x4 driving. When a vehicle slides as it tries to make its way up a muddy slope, the guides are ready with a plan.
Driving in convoy does not mean driving non-stop. The vehicles are connected by two-way radio and if you see something of interest, you can pull up for a closer look.
The Mafunyane 4x4 Eco Trail is a four-day adventure in the north-western section of Kruger National Park led by an experienced guide. The 270km trail departs from Phalaborwa Gate every Thursday at 12:00 during the dry season (1 March to 30 November), finishing at Punda Maria on Sunday morning. Only five vehicles are allowed on the trail, plus the guide vehicle. For more information, email [email protected]
Cost: R6,000 a vehicle, maximum four people. No children under 12 unless arranged in advance.
Bookings: Contact SANParks Central Reservations 012-428-9111 [email protected]
Source: Wild Magazine