Before cars and fences, Kruger and the surrounding Lowveld were very different. Two new books take a trip back in time to these landscapes. One to explore how SA’s flagship game reserve came into being; the other to investigate the routes that led through the area. By Magriet Kruger

Fair Game

The Kruger National Park of today is deservedly considered one of the greatest game reserves in the world. The size of a small country (Wales), Kruger draws more than 1.5 million visitors a year. The park is home to over 600 bird and mammal species and through ongoing research makes an invaluable contribution to the protection of Africa’s biodiversity.

So it’s hard to imagine a time before Kruger became the park that we know today. A time when there were no roads or fences, no camps or field guides. When no visitors were allowed. When it took four days to find signs of game – and the wildlife so joyously spotted was a group of impala.

It turns out that for the first three decades of the park’s existence, the idea of a game sanctuary didn’t grab the public imagination. The first warden had to battle against people who wanted to come and hunt in the reserve, companies that wanted to exploit the area and a dearth of funds.

In Fair Game, David Fleminger reveals the twists and turns on the road to the park’s establishment. The book’s subtitle, A Hidden History of the Kruger National Park, is apt, because Fleminger uncovers the full story behind the bare facts commonly known. Such as why it took three years for the game reserve to be proclaimed in the first place and how sheep came to graze around Pretoriuskop in 1912.

But don’t go thinking that this is a musty history book. Fleminger has a conversational style and reading Fair Game is more like enjoying a lively tale around the campfire.

While the first part of the book deals with the park’s history, the second part acts as a travel guide giving tourists information on camps, guided activities and more. This combination makes Fair Game a useful companion, especially for first-time visitors. Kruger aficionados may find the second half treats ground that is well covered, but the park’s ‘biography’ in part one should prove a refreshing read for all but the most expert history buffs.

In the course of his research, the author dug up fascinating titbits about the park and conservation in general. Bet you’ll never guess the first animal recorded as being protected by mandate in South Africa. To discover why that honour fell to the African penguin, you’ll have to read the book.

Fair Game. David Fleminger. Dog Dog Publishing. 2018. R250.

Available at select Exclusive Books and the Parks Shop inside Kruger, or buy from the author.

Win a copy

Wild is giving away two signed copies of Fair Game. To stand a chance to win, send the answer to the below question along with your name and postal address to [email protected] (subject line: Fair Game) before 31 August 2018. Winners will be randomly selected and announced on the website.

Question: Which national park is the subject of Fair Game?

Winners: Michelle Berry, Pat Viljoen

Forgotten Tracks and Trails

The roads to reach Kruger are surely some of the most beautiful in the world. The sight of all those chiselled cliffs, verdant valleys, impressive peaks and burbling waters make the drive pass so much more quickly. But have you wondered what it must have been like to cross this area before roads were established?

Gerrit Haarhoff answers the question in Forgotten Tracks and Trails of the Escarpment and the Lowveld. He explores the development of routes between the interior and the coast, from the early days of game tracks and footpaths through to wagon trails and transport routes. Visitors to Kruger will recognise towns and landmarks found on the way to the park such as Lydenburg, Pilgrim’s Rest and Macmac Falls. The book uses satellite photographs, archival images, travellers’ reports and historic documentation to recreate the forgotten paths of the past. All told, readers will find 60 maps and 700 photographs.

In documenting the origins and development of towns and their roads in the 19th century, Haarhoff shares fascinating stories about travel in the old days: how to put together a suitable team of oxen, the devastation of insect-borne diseases such as malaria, sleeping sickness and nagana, and the ‘pleasures’ of travelling by stagecoach. He even debunks a few myths in the process.

Anyone with an interest in the history of Kruger’s surrounds will find Forgotten Tracks and Trails a rewarding read. I was sucked in by the descriptions of the ox wagons as well as the stories of such characters as João Albasini and Major Walter McDonald. The author’s passion for Mpumalanga radiates from every page of this coffee table book.

Forgotten Tracks and Trails. Gerrit Haarhoff. 2018. R450.

Available at Protea Bookshops, Exclusive Books Nelspruit or directly from the author – buy online.

Win the book

Wild is giving away a copy of Forgotten Tracks and Trails. To stand a chance to win, send the answer to the below question along with your name and postal address to [email protected] (subject line: Tracks). Competition closes 31 August 2018. The winner will be randomly selected and announced on the website.

Question: How many maps feature in Forgotten Tracks and Trails?

Winner: Antoinette Boerman