Wildlife | 25 January 2019
I’m often greeted with looks of confusion when I ask guests if they would like to do a walk during their stay. A lot of people are unaware that it is an option, and others want to know what it all entails, is it worth it, is it safe?
In my opinion it is most certainly all those things! It is more than being worth the effort, in fact you’re missing out if you don’t!
Going on game drive is what usually springs to mind when one thinks of being on safari, and rightly so, the game drive vehicle is a vital component of most safaris. They enable us to cover ground quickly in search of animals as well as allowing us to get up close to animals that have become accustomed to the presence of vehicles, providing fantastic photographic opportunities. We can take all manner of heavy camera equipment with us, cross rivers and streams with ease and without getting your feet wet. And we can do this all while seated on comfortable seats and with a cooler box in the back filled with ice and gin and tonics for sundowners!
And yet there is no better way to genuinely connect with nature than by getting out there on your own two feet. It is an entirely different experience and the scale and vastness of Africa becomes significantly more apparent when you’re out on foot.
We are able to get into areas that are completely inaccessible to vehicles, and there is no barrier to get in the way between us and the bush around us. Our senses come in to play a lot more, and it is no longer just a visual experience. Touch, smell, hearing and even taste can all combine to create a more complete experience.
So, what are the options, and what do they entail and when can you do it? Essentially, there are two different types of walks but combining aspects of each to meet specific interests is easy to do. By simply chatting to your guide will ensure that the focus is directed towards what you’re most interested in and at the best time.
Nature walks are aimed at discovering some of the smaller things on Kwandwe, things that we miss entirely while driving around in a vehicle, and it gives you the opportunity to take a deeper look into how it all fits together. The vegetation in the Great Fish River valley is extremely diverse, and it is obviously from this that stems the variety in animal and birdlife that occur here. Many of these plants have fascinating medicinal uses as well, and there is also something about standing under a 700-year-old Karoo Shepherds Tree that puts things in perspective.
There is a myriad of different insect species that can be spotted, the dung beetles and the termites are probably most well-known. Some insects have fascinating habits and abilities, but all with a vital role in the ecosystem.
Deciphering tracks is one of my personal favourite aspects, it feels a bit like being a CSI figuring out which creatures had passed through the area before us, what they were doing and even how long ago.
Birdlife is ever-present, and there are few better ways to enjoy their lovely calls than when wandering through their habitat and watching them go about their business.
Big Game walks incorporate many of the same elements, with the additional goal of viewing big game such as elephant, buffalo or even rhino. In our line of work, almost everything has a variable, however the only way to completely ensure observing an animal’s natural behaviour is to view it without it ever knowing that we are there. This is the goal on a big game walk. With this in mind, there is no guarantee of a successful sighting of the animal and its often not the best photographic opportunity. But it’s not about that, it’s about the experience.It is difficult to explain what it feels like to stand and view a rhino or an elephant on their terms, in their world and on your own two feet. They go about their normal business and we are no more than silent observers, watching without disturbing and leaving without them even being aware of our presence.
Keeping the wind in our favour, moving quietly through the bush and using cover when we approach, and view animals is vital to remain undetected.
Tracking is one of my favourite parts of this process and being part of a “track and find” is incredibly rewarding. It’s nothing short of phenomenal watching Kwandwe’s trackers unravel the clues animals have left behind to follow the trail. It’s not only actual footprints but also feeding signs, dung, broken branches, leaves that were brushed off a bush by the animals passing and even stones that have been kicked out of place are all signs that help us find our target.
A question that pops up regularly before a walk like this is how close do we get to the animal and how long does it take? Simply put, it depends. Each opportunity is unique, and we make the most of it to have the best experience possible.
There are a few different options, and all are worth discussing with your guide. Walking in the wild areas in Africa is something that shouldn’t be missed.
We will be growing our walking experiences and will have exciting news soon.