If you’re looking for a technical challenge, you probably won’t want to drive the Mananga 4×4 trail near Satara in the Kruger National Park. But if you want a piece of conservation paradise almost exclusively to yourself and the animals, then this is the trail for you. By Roxanne Reid and picture by Joel Roerig

The Mananga trail starts and finishes just north of the Big-Five kingdom of Satara in the central section of the park, exploring the wilderness between the tarred H1-4 and the Gudzani Road (S-41), taking in a section of the game-rich Nwanetsi River road (S-100), as well as the scenic Gudzani Dam.

Don’t think of it as a game-viewing drive in the bush, but as an opportunity to get away from the formal tourist roads and the crowds (a maximum of six vehicles are allowed on the trail at any given time), and to enjoy the wilderness. Viewed in that light, it’s a fabulous chance to do something different in Kruger.

I’m not saying game viewing opportunities don’t exist; far from it. We took a leisurely five hours, stopping to look at birds, watch wildebeest and zebra at a waterhole, more than 40 hippo and a pair of fish eagles at Gudzani Dam. We stopped here for coffee and koeksusters, there for a snack of rolls with meat leftover from the previous night’s braai.

You could do the 48km trail in much less time than we did and at no stage would your 4×4 driving ability be seriously challenged. But what would be the point? Our leisurely pace allowed us to take our eyes from the road and appreciate the stunted knobthorn savanna or Lebombo Mountain bushveld we were passing through.

We enjoyed a richness of impala, steenbok, kudu, waterbuck and giraffe, even an elephant reaching up high in a fever tree for a tasty morsel. In all, we counted 13 mammal species. We’re keen birders too so it was a treat to find kori bustards, the endangered saddle-bill stork, three vulture species, brown-headed kingfisher and at least a dozen more.

Spotted hyena-Kruger-Paolo Giovanni Cortelazzo

Spotted hyena by Paolo Giovanni Cortelazzo

At the waterhole we had a spotted hyena to ourselves, surrounded by a lappet-faced vulture with a don’t-mess-with-me beak and a flurry of white-backed vultures. A lone jackal strutted confidently by for a drink after the hyena moved on, and a family of warthogs approached with tails held high and manes on alert. We later heard from Satara’s hospitality manager JV Nkosi that a leopard with two cubs had recently been seen around the waterhole; although they didn’t reveal themselves to us, we went back to camp more than satisfied with our experience.

Don’t go there expecting a challenging drive; that’s not what the Mananga trail is about. But if you really love the bush, if seeing animals and birds undisturbed in their natural environment is your idea of bliss, I can highly recommend it.

Fast facts

  • Book at Satara reception. This is largely to make sure you report back to reception; if you don’t, they know you’ve broken down somewhere and will send a vehicle out to find you.
  • If it has been raining you won’t be allowed on the trail.
  • You can stay out the whole day if you like, as long as you’re back at Satara before gate-closing time.
  • You may get out of your vehicle in open areas but only after making sure no animals are nearby; always stay within 5 to 7m of your vehicle and keep a lookout.