Taking on the wilderness – a personal account

Hippos take to the water at Tewate Bay, home of over 70 hippos

WHEN given the opportunity to experience the wilderness on the Eastern Shores section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (iWP), I immediately packed my bags to join iWP CEO Andrew Zaloumis and six other guests on a two-night trail.

As we were led into the wilderness by guides from the Wilderness Leadership School, I realised that I was in for a unique experience.

As a forester, who used to frequent the area before during the plantation era, I am continuously amazed at the miracle which is iSimangaliso.

A fire rages on the Eastern Shores section of the iSimangaliso Wetlend Park. These fires are an imprtant veld management tool
PHOTOS: Larry Bentley

The recovery of the environment since the plantations have been removed is unbelievable and although the full diversity of plant life may not yet have established itself, it is as pristine as can be expected

The wilderness area was not planted by the then Department of Forestry and is still pristine.

It is South Africa’s oldest recognised wilderness area along with the iMfolozi Wilderness Area, both declared in 1957.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park CEO Andrew Zaloumus and Wilderness Leadership School guide Mandla Buthelezi in discussion on the edge of a pan along the trail

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Hitting the hippo tracks

We arrived at our drop-off point watching a block burn in the area into which we were to hike.

Hoping it would miss our sleeping place under an Umdoni tree, we had supper.

We were preparing to crawl into our sleeping bags, when a recce returned with the news that the fire was heading our way.

It was around 7pm and the sun had already set, but without much option, we packed our bags.

Walking in the dark and in close single file, we found an alternative camp site about 2km away.

After encountering a hippo during the night watch, we packed our gear and started our day hike.

We passed our first camp site, which was burnt out and proceeded to Tewate Bay.

Trailists put on their boots after crossing a stream

The 8km walk was a comfortable stroll with our guides informing us of various interesting facts along the way as they kept their eyes peeled for any dangers.

On our arrival at Tewate Bay, an estimated 70-plus hippos stormed into the water, before turning around and threatening to challenge our intrusion on their turf.

Not wanting a confrontation, we moved away from the lake and settled down for a snack on the banks of the Bay.

We then walked back to our second night’s camp site, near an Umdoni tree.

The veld had not been burnt and, after supper, we settled in for a second night under the stars.

The camp site was visited by six curious hyenas who kept their distance and moved on.

All too soon, Saturday morning broke and it was time to return to civilisation.

The setting sun brings a new dimension to the hike as the night animals become vocal


Wilderness Leadership School

The Wilderness Leadership School, established by Ian Player and Magqubu Ntombela, offers tailor-made trails for small groups in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

As I was told on a previous wilderness trail, if you want to see game, travel by vehicle in a game reserve.

Wilderness trails are all about enjoying the slow pace of being in a place of solitude.

Trails are limited to eight participants who are led by two experienced guides.

Trailists must be over 15 years of age, healthy and able to carry a backpack.

They are also required to sleep on the ground and under the stars.

The first camp site evacuated due to a fire the previous night


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Larry Bentley
Journalist / Editor: Agri Eco

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