Saturday afternoon we left home with a bakkie full of kids and food to spend two nights at Steven’s Trails camp. Our first family break away since we moved to Malelane Gate three months ago.
Steven’s camp is situated in the middle of a beautiful wilderness area in the South-western corner of Kruger National Park. To get there you drive a no-entry road through the rocky hills and valleys that gave Berg en Dal Rest camp its name.
The Trails camp was built in 1978 and is named after Harry Wolhuter: one of Kruger’s first game wardens. There are 4 A-frame huts that sleep two people each. There are also two flush toilets, two showers, a kitchen and a lapa. The whole camp is surrounded by a little waist-high fence. But the best thing about this place: There is a waterhole right in front of the camp!
Upon arrival, we were greeted by a few daga-boys that were busy drinking. All I wanted to do was sit there by the fence and watch the animals. But first, I had to pay a visit to the ladies room.
When I opened the door to the toilet, I saw some movement inside. My heart almost jumped out of my chest! While my eyes were adjusting to the darkness inside, my brain was working overtime trying to figure out what it was that I saw: a snake? A rat?
Closer inspection revealed nothing scary. The contrary in fact! Inside were two baby dwarf mongooses! They were staring at me, blinking in the bright sunlight coming through the open door. Shame, I probably gave them a huge fright too!
In cases like this, the call of the photographer in me is stronger than the call of nature;-) I just hád to get a few pictures of these cuties!
When I later joined Steven and the kids by the fence at the waterhole, I huge bull elephant had just arrived. Steven had switched on the Lister engine to pump some water for us and the overflow from the tank feeds the waterhole.
Steven reckons the elephants come from far and wide when they hear that engine run. Fresh water is always better than muddy slush! And even though the pump is a few hundred meters from the trails camp, the elephants have figured out that the sound of the engine means fresh water at the camp’s waterhole! Isn’t that amazing? If that does not prove how intelligent elephants are, I don’t know what does!
The rest of the afternoon there was a constant stream of animals coming and going, enjoying the water. Buffalo, Impala (with babies yay!), families of warthog, big breeding herds of elephants… It was amazing to watch.
Water obviously is a precious commodity in the bush. And the fresh water brought on a few scuffles between the different species at the waterhole. One family of warthogs was chasing another family away from the good stuff. A buffalo chased the warthogs. Then a big bull elephant wanted the whole waterhole to himself and was chasing everybody! All this under the loud protest (or encouragement? from a pair of Egyptian geese.) Extremely entertaining for us, watching all these waterhole politics and shenanigans!
The waist-high fence I mentioned earlier has been tried and tested by elephants in the past. And I have to say it is looking particularly flimsy. Normally, we would not dare walk up to animals at a waterhole like that. But the fence kind of gives you a sense of security… Even though they were acutely aware of our presence, it felt like the animals had that same sense of security; the knowledge that we would not come any closer.
In theory, the elephants and buffalo could chase us away in a split second. Yet, they allowed us to quietly sit there and admire them. Almost as if the fence was a border; Impenetrable by them and us. An invisible line in respecting each other’s space.
Later that night, with all four kids tucked safely into their beds in the huts, Steven and I returned to the fence with a spotlight. In the bright beam of the light, I picked up more than half a dozen pairs of greens eyes…: hyenas! I am really not a scaredy cat in the bush anymore, but the darkness and the approaching “floating eyes” gave me a bit of an eerie feeling: the hyenas were circling!
The eerie feeling was quickly pushed aside when a huge breeding herd of elephants arrived. Steven switched off the spotlight. We sat there in the dark and listened to the sounds the elephants made. It is fantastic how your senses adapt when you can no longer rely on your sight.
We listened to them drink, spay water over their backs, scratch an itch with a trunk or a foot. We could smell their fresh dung and a strong musky smell in combination with some tummy rumbling signalled the upcoming arrival of a bull in musth.
Every now and then Steven would briefly switch on the spotlight and the number of elephants that were gathering there and their proximity to us were mind-blowing. It is no doubt one of my most special experiences in Kruger and one I will treasure in a special little place in my heart!
Part 2 of our weekend at the Trails camp to follow soon, so please stay tuned!
PS. Even though my blog is still quite young, I decided to enter the SA Blog Awards. Just to see how far I get. I would love your vote! You can vote by clicking on the SA Blog Awards icon on my website! Thank you!