Lebombo Overland Eco Trail: Diary of a participant
The Lebombo Eco Trail is an experience dreamt of by nature lovers everywhere. Following a route along Kruger's eastern border, this off-road trail takes you into pristine bush.
For five days participants meander through the Lebombo mountains and a whole variety of other ecological zones, and overnight under the stars in the bush far away from the confines of the conventional camp environment. The Eco Trail starts at Crocodile Bridge in the south and makes its way to Crook's Corner in the far northeastern corner of Pafuri.
The trail is not about spectacular game viewing or birding, but rather the joy of moving through an ever-changing environment, with Lebombo bushveld giving way to knobthorn marula savannah, followed by thornveld, mopani shrubveld, sandveld and too many other names to mention. All of this happens on roads inaccessible to the normal tourist with some challenging off-road sections thrown in just for fun.
Our convoy of six vehicles was lead by legendary Honorary Ranger Piet van der Merwe (“Boss”), accompanied by friends Fanie and Ina Vermaak. The tour party included Jurie Erwee, CEO of Alexander Forbes Risk & Insurance Services, with wife Henriette and kids; his colleague Peter Cook and wife Carol; Pretoria advocate Hennie Goosen SC and wife Carina; Golden Lions rugby union deputy president Altmann Allers with Karien Pauw; and myself and my wife Elise.
Day 1 – Crocodile Bridge to Mlondozi
Our party met at 9 am on the first day, just inside the gate at Crocodile Bridge camp, shivering in anticipation despite the Lowveld sunshine. After the Boss recited his do’s and don’ts briefing, we got into our eclectic variety of off-road vehicles and left camp. No more than 100 metres was spent on the tarred surface of the Lower Sabie tourist road before we hit the dirt and the adventure was underway!
The first stage was easy dirt-road driving with very little dust due to recent rains. Our route roughly traced the Crocodile River at a distance until the first climb into the Lebombo mountains (which in other parts of the country would probably be called hills!). Our first stop and leg stretch was at an elevated lookout point with views of Ressano Garcia town, the Crocodile River and the border post. From here, the route followed the Mozambique boundary fence for quite a distance, a sight that would become familiar over the next few days.
The road, constructed by the South African Army in a previous era to patrol the international border, was deserted other than for our expedition. A characteristic of the Lebombo bushveld we were travelling through is the Lebombo candelabra tree, a relative of the “Naboom” (euphorbia), which is such a familiar sight throughout the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces. The route contains a section necessitating low-range gear engagement, which caused some fun and games, particularly for members with trailers (of which only the off-road variety is allowed en route).
Our approach to the Sabie River was prompted by magnificent views of the Curumani Dam on the Mozambican side of the border. Shortly after, we stopped on the southern side of the gorge carrying the river through the hills into Mozambique, a truly magnificent sight from our elevated vantage point. Then the mountains were left behind as we followed the Sabie River west to Lower Sabie rest camp for fuel, water, supplies and a shower. Refreshed, the river crossing was quite conventional at the familiar Sabie low water bridge, but we immediately left the tourist roads, heading east again towards the Lebombos.
The overnight stop at Mlondozi was reached at about 5 pm, followed by a mad rush to unpack and construct our shelters for the night ahead of the rapidly fading daylight. The Boss, who some suspect invented the term “travelling light”, had a fire burning in no time and we settled in for a typical evening in the bush, with a “potjie” providing dinner and an interesting array of beverages doing the rest. Heaven!
Keep an eye open for the following days' adventures.
Read about Day 2.
Posted on: September 24, 2009, 8:06 PM