As exhilarating as skinny dipping, that’s how Thomas Meisinger describes hiking in Kruger on the Olifants Wilderness Trail. He explains what makes this such a special experience and why you’ll want to book your next trip even before leaving the park.

When an adventure seeker from Durbanville in Cape Town, Thomas Meisinger, his wife and a few friends packed their bags for the guided Olifants Wilderness Trail in the Kruger National Park, they had no idea that this three-night trail would be such an unforgettable experience.

Thomas writes:

We recently spent two weeks in Kruger and decided to break away from the usual camp stays and do something different. Kruger has seven wilderness trails, each offering something unique. We opted for the Olifants Wilderness Trail, which explores the beautiful bush along the Olifants River.

We stayed in a rustic base camp, far away from the bustle of Letaba. Our days started early, with coffee and rusks before sunrise. This was followed by a short drive in an open game-viewing vehicle to the starting point of that day’s hike.

On wilderness trails two (armed) guides lead the way. It’s really their knowledge and skill of interpreting the bush that makes these wilderness trails an exceptional experience. Our guides read the ground like newspapers, pointing out the subtle differences of tracks and other remnants left behind by the rich variety of wildlife.

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Ingi keeping a watchful eye on the four lions. Pictures by Thomas Meisinger

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Sundowners on the banks of the Olifants River.

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Gazing into the sunset.

You’re not guaranteed any sightings on a wilderness trail, but we were lucky and encountered many animals, including some intimidating elephants and a dead hippo. About 20 jackals were in attendance at the carcass and vultures were starting to settle in. When we were 40 metres out, downwind, our presence was noticed and everybody temporarily abandoned the scene for us to take a closer look.

As we approached, four male lions rose from behind the carcass. A brief stare-down ensued, but the lions soon beat a retreat. Experiences like that will have you booking your next trail before you even leave the Kruger!

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A male lion staring at me.

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View from a rocky outcrop down to the Olifants River. These are some of the remaining big trees after the major 2012 floods.

Each morning we’d cover about 8 to 10 kilometres – this would take between four and six hours, depending on what we encountered along the way. Back at camp a wholesome lunch awaited and then we’d unwind for a few hours. In the afternoon we could choose between another hike or sundowners at some idyllic private spot. Easy decision… Sitting on the banks of the serene Olifants River, sipping a chilled Chenin whilst being entertained by frolicking hippos is probably as good as it gets.

Experiencing the bush on foot was completely different from driving around in the comfort of an SUV. It’s a bit like skinny dipping – free and exhilarating!

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Carryn with Excellent, our knowledgeable guide.

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The group: From left is Guenter Haiden (Austria), Thane and Carryn Munting, Thomas and Ingi Meisinger, and Melissa and Carl Rautenbach (all from Cape Town).

About the hike

  • The trail departs from Letaba Rest Camp and starts either on a Wednesday afternoon to a Saturday morning, or a Sunday afternoon to a Wednesday morning.
  • Simple but wholesome meals prepared either on an open fire or gas stove will be provided. Trailists are responsible for any liquid refreshments.
  • No cell phones, radios, tape/cd/mp3 players, private vehicles and generators are allowed.
  • Malaria prophylactics are essential.
  • Approximate distance: 42km
  • Make sure to pack ideal clothing and footwear.