Sunday, 19 August 2012

The Sweni Trail, Kruger National Park. Our Journey through Limpopo Province, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe June 2012.

June 20th -24th 2012.
Today we had a short drive from Eiland Spa to The Kruger National Park entering at Phalborwa Gate. Driving through the park we made our way down to Satara Camp planning to arrive at 15.00. This was because I had booked us onto one of the Wilderness Walking Trails that are run by the South African Parks Board. This would be the second time I have participated in one of the trails, in 2005 I did the Metsi-Metsi Trail and had such a wonderful time I was really looking forward to the most popular walking trail in the park, The Sweni Trail. Driving through the park, the first thing I notice was the scarcity of game. We hardly saw a thing, not even Impala, but I was not worried about the lack of Game as we had days yet?

The Gate into The Kruger National Park.
The Wilderness Trails.
There are currently 7 wilderness trails in the Kruger National Park. The first trail was Wolhuter, this was established in July 1978 in the south western part of the KNP. The trails were so popular that almost immediately two others were opened namely the Olifants, and the Nyalaland. Bushmans started in 1983 this is situated in the south western corner of the KNP and neighbours Wolhuter trail. Metsi Metsi was built north of Orpen dam on the eastern side of the well-known Tshokwane picnic site. The Sweni Trail was started in 1990, it is situated near Nwanetsi and it is one of the most popular of the trails.
Booking the Trail.
Booking your chosen trail is easy, if you know what to do! On the South African Parks web page, find the Kruger Park, follow this link
You can book on line or by telephone. The trails can be booked 11 months in advance and that was what I had done. There is always competition for the popular trails are they are very good value for money. Be careful when searching on Google etc as many South African Tour companies who sell the trails come up on the search and this works out a lot more expensive than booking direct with ‘SAN Parks’.

The Wilderness trails start on either a Wednesday afternoon to a Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon to a Wednesday morning. Ours was starting on the Wednesday. The Trails are three-nights, with the two days in between spent walking. When you get your booking confirmation you are advised the starting point for the trail, it will be at one of the rest camps. It is at the designated rest camp that you book into the reception where the trail departs. So we had booked into Satara Camp Reception, then went to find our trail ranger and the rest of our group. The booking in at Satara was quite unpleasant with the reception staff rather surly and not welcoming, just demanding a massive sum of money from me! ( I was not expecting it), It turned out to be park entry fees and a ‘Wildcard’ fee, all in all it came to over £200.00. No money left for the curio shop when we had finished the trail then!

Our Rangers were called Tambourine and Job, they were waiting for us in Satara Camp Car Park. The trails have a maximum of 8 walkers and I think the minimum age is 12 years old. You need to take all your drink (alcohol & soft drinks) with you and any other food that you specifically like, for example if you want a particular breakfast cereal then it is best to take it with you. This is because the food that is provided at the camp is simple and wholesome. The meals are prepared by a cook in the camp on either an open fire or a gas stove. As the camps do not have electricity.
The Huts on The Sweni Trail. Kruger Park.

Once the 8 of us had assembled we set of in the KNP open safari vehicle to the camp. Located, as are all of the wilderness camps, within a wilderness trail area and far away from normal tourist activities. It was late afternoon when we arrive and met the Camp Manger/ Cook and Bottle washer, Jack.
The trail camps are rustic and spartan. There are four huts at Sweni. As expected our huts were basic A-frame thatched buildings, with a single bed on each side, linen and towels are provided. With net and wooden shutters, each hut had a small veranda. There are no electricity or power generators. The ablution facilities are communal. The good thing is that the bathrooms consist of flush toilets and gas geyser showers, (the old Rhodesian style wood burners have been replaced). The camp is lit at night by the paraffin lamps are there is not electricity or generators. The best bit about Sweni camp is that it is located in a beautiful position, with the communal social area (lapa) with its thatched roof and open campfire area overlooking a watering hole, today the watering hole was taken up by a very noisy Hippo. This area made for great game viewing during our three day stay. When we arrived at the camp we were given time to unpack and settle in then our trail leader, Tamborine gave us our full briefing on the camp rules, general routine for the next couple of days, what to expect, safety aspects and answered questions from our small group. It was then nice to tuck into our first meal prepared by Jack, have a few beers and sit round the camp fire and chat. When it was time to go to the huts, I had forgotten about the lack of electricity and took ages digging around in my case for stuff, reminding myself to be more organised in the morning!

inside the hut


The next day it was an early wakeup call from Jack at the crack of dawn with hot water put into the bowl outside your hut. There was also a cup of tea and a rusk on the Lapa if you wanted. Then it was into the vehicle for a drive out to where our walk would commence. We walked at quite a good pace across the flat savannah, only stopping for the simple breakfast that was in our backpacks. We did not see any animals, not during the drive or on the walk. Also the guides did not talk to us, or rather only spoke to us in a condescending abrupt manner, trying to make fools of us by pointing out how little we knew about the Bush and animals! It was as if we were out for a humiliating Army style march through the bush. It was not what I was expecting, or what I had experienced before when I did the Metsi-Metsi Trail. At late morning we returned to the camp for our Brunch and a rest. Enjoying seeing the animals come down to the waterhole to drink, this time seem to pass very quickly and soon it was time to get back into the vehicle and drive out to a spot for a sundowners. Then on the way back to the camp, we had an odd experience. Out guides said we had a puncture, they said we had to rush back to the camp to repair the tyre. There was a lot of stopping and kicking the left wheel. Back in camp, it was dark by then, we offered to help mend the puncture....but there was no need as the tyre was not punctured! It was all very odd.  
Walking in The Bush

Our snack from the day packs

Sundowners on the second night

Sweni Camp

Sweni Camp

Sweni Camp

Sweni Camp
Sundowners the first night

ready for tea

the bathroom at Sweni Camp

Once again, Jack had cooked a meal for us and we sat down to enjoy his cooking. But Job and Tambourine helped themselves to so much food that there was very little left for the guests. Then to top that Tambourine started to shout, and I mean SHOUT at me to pass him the ‘Greek Salad Dressing’. Remember it was dark the only light coming from the paraffin lamps. I passed one of the many salad dressings to him, unfortunately it seemed that it was the wrong one. Once again he shouted at me to pass the correct one. How I managed to pass him the salad dressing and not through it all over him I don’t know! But I told him very firmly not to talk to me in that manner, he seemed a little taken back, he needed to be....his tip had been getting smaller all day, now it disappeared!
The second day was basically a repeat of the first day’s activities. Again we drove out to a spot from which we walked. The guides seemed a little more pleasant today, actually asking us what we were interested in and answering questions in a positive manner. Chatting to the family of four who were with us on the trail it appeared that prior to us leaving camp that morning, they had had a word with Tambourine about his attitude.
We enjoyed another afternoon of game spotting from the camp before driving out to a dam for our sundowners. Here a loan Hippo did his best to frighten us away opening his mouth as wide as he could, slapping the water and grunting at us. Just as the sun set a Rhino and her calf came down to drink, at that moment we could see Hippo, Rhino and Elephant, but it was to dark to get a good photo, so such magical occasions have to be committed to memory.
We enjoyed our last night in camp knowing we could have a lie-in in the morning, well until 0700, as on the last day you do not walk but prepare to be taken back to your pick up point. On the drive back to Satara we saw Hyena, with pups and a Lioness.

Reflecting on Sweni Trail. The main thing about the Kruger Park Walking trails is the solitude and opportunity to experience the Bush, I am sure all the trails in the KNP fulfill this requirement. We saw very little game whilst driving through the Park, and whilst out on the walking trail, I found this concerning. It may have been bad luck, after all the animals are wild. However I do have concerns about the numbers of animals in the Park, as I do feel that they had visibly reduced since 2005. The park is under threat, Human population growth, Poaching, the controversial removal of the fence between RSA and Mozambique all playing a part. I do have to say that I was very disappointed in my experience this time, it seemed to have lost something. Our guides were not the best Job was pleasant enough but Tamborine cannot be recommended, he was a very unpleasant individual. I think it was his attitude that has coloured my experience of this trail and I would recommend the trails to anyone who enjoys nature and the outdoors, I just hope that you get a good guide as they really do make or break your experience.

For us, that was it, holiday over! So now it was a mad dash drive from Satara in the KNP to Johannesburg airport to get the flight home. (we did it in 4 hours). Bushlore must have been tracking us all the way as their rep was at the airport to meet us and take the car from us! Well done Bushlore! So Africa, till we meet again.....good bye and THANKS!