Thanks to WIld Ark and Eco Training for the privilege of being able to experience this magical place.
We arrived to Makuleke in the afternoon, were greeted by huge trees and birds singing, before being shown to our camp. Katherine, who was travelling with us, was in her final stages of training to be a guide, and we were excited to have her onboard to show us Makuleke. We were shown to our tents, Ty and I were pretty stoked with ours, all of them were similar, some facing more towards the bush, and others closer to the kitchen tents and main area.
Makuleke camp has no phone signal, and electricity is powered only by a generator which is switched on once daily, so that we can do a lecture, and cook. We were lucky enough to be working with Sea To Summit gear for this trip, who provided us with solar panels, so that we could charge our cameras, and laptop for each day, we ended up using the plug in for the generator for bigger gear, but the solar panels are such great little power sources, and the sun in Makuleke was seriously hot in the middle of the day.
We met our guides, Q and Yasper, two very experienced guides who knew the bush like the back of their hand, both of them had a lot of stories to tell, and plenty of knowledge between them.
Kirstin, Ty and I were grouped first with Q as our guide, and Katherine as backup, which was awesome. Everyday was a 5:30 am wakeup, and as phone's were not a thing, the guides would bang the drums at 5:30 every morning, that was our que to get up , get ready and go the camp kitchen, ready to set off for the day.
It was really a cleansing experience, not having phone reception, or a screen, or electricity. You fell asleep each night listening to all of the different noises made by wildlife, and waking up to drums and birds chirping is certainly nicer than the alarms that are on an IPhone6 which is what I have.
The morning were cold, really cold, we all wore a lot of layers that we took off as we walked, sunrise, was always the coldest, and then after that it started to really warm up. I wore shorts most days as by the end of our morning walk, it was usually close to 25 degrees.
We walked everyday, usually our walks were in the morning, we left from camp, to explore the surrounding bushlands, and the Fever Tree Forest, which was one of the most beautiful and tranquil places that I have ever been. Hugging a fever tree apparently gives you inner peace and goodluck, so we did that a lot. In the afternoons, generally everyone was pretty exhausted, and so we drove to a location in the safari truck, then walked a shorter distance from there.
On our first few walks it became obvious how small we were in this wilderness, coming across herds of buffalo, and breeding herds of elephants on foot, was something that is hard to put into words. You feel SO small. Buffalo do this thing where they line up as if they are going to charge, and then if you look away from them they come closer, and as soon as you turn around and look back at them, they run away again. Q used to say its as if they run and then they stop and think " hey, we are buffalo " and get all confident again. None the less, it was daunting. There were some rules for trekking on foot, never run, and dont talk were the two key ones. Running immediately makes you the prey, in any situation, standing your ground after a while the other animal realises you are not a threat and goes about their day.
This is the general rule, however the saying is " the Lion always backs down until one day he doesnt " , animals are unpredictable, and just like people, sometimes you just get the outliar that wants to charge at you, I was grateful to not have to experience this in my time in Makuleke, as from some of the guides story, it can mean life or death for you, or the animal.
On the 11th of July, it was my birthday, and I was really secretly hoping for an epic elephant encounter. In the morning on our drive to where we were going to walk, these two huge bulls were on the path, one of them shook their head as we approached and backed into the bushes, he then walked up to where our truck was stopped and he just stared at us. We were all dead silent, staying as still and quiet as possible, the stare off went for about 2 minutes, before he stepped back and started throwing some dust on himself. The funny thing was the Land Rover actually kept stalling, and wouldnt turn on while this was happening, we were lucky that the big elephant who was curious of us, was in a good mood this day, as he could of charged at us or flipped the truck with ease, and we would of had nowhere to go. I think the biggest thing I learned in Makuleke, was the sheer power of elephants, the way they walk through the African bush like bulldozers, breaking branches off trees, and doing their own kind of bush clearing is fascinating.
We had an amazing day this day, we visited a huge open wetland area vibrant with life, so many different bird species, elephants, hippos, and definitely some crocodiles hiding under the reeds. After lunch we headed out to a place we hadn't been before, where Zimbabwe met South Africa, the Limpopo River, where we could walk on it.
We had some drinks here and watched the sun go down, while we were watching the sun go down, we noticed a breeding herd or elephants right on the river bank, where our truck was parked. Yasper, our guide ensured us that we had to head home, and there was no doubt we would probably bump into these elephants.
I decided I would sit on the tracker seat on the way home, and sure enough as we turned the corner away from the Limpopo, I saw a big cow on the road. She walked right up to me, threw her trunk in the air and just stared at me. You are told many times by guides that if you are on the vehicle, then the animal sees you as a part of one big object, instead of a solo being, but at this point in time I felt solo, haha. I just kept quite, and dead still, and also slowed my breathing right now, I wanted her to know that I was not a threat, she had young with her, and the rest of the herd was only metres away in the bushes. She walked off after a few minutes, and shortly after another even bigger cow cam out of the bushes and came even closer, and stood there just staring at me. It was a really humbling experience, I adore elephants, and although I am now aware of how dangerous they can be, and not to underestimate them, these experiences were life changing, and in this day and age, coming across elephants so truly wild, was something I will never forget.
The buffalo and elephant encounters of this trip, were the highlight for me, along with learning how to track animals. We were shown by Q and Yasper, how to identify the difference in tracks between antelope, cats, dogs, and everything else.
There are so many animals in Makuleke, so it was awesome to learn by experience day by day as we found different tracks. The bird life in Makuleke is something else, its so diverse and vibrant, and the range of bird calls you hear, it would take you years to identify them all.
Makuleke was a dream come true for me, experiencing Africa as wild as it can be, and learning day by day about the animals, trees, and insects was such a valuable experience.
Sadly, Makuleke suffers the threats many places face in Africa, poaching and snares, it is incredibly easy for people of Zimbabwe to cross the Limpopo River, and come into Makuleke to lay out snares and also for poachers to come in. One of the places we visited is actually called "Crooks Corner " it is a place which connect Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Learning from locals about the poaching situation to me was heartbreaking, it is a war, and the animals are the victims. We found remains from a poached rhino on one of our treks, along with a few different cable snares, which are awful things that are laid out to target buffalo, and antelope, but as you can imagine, they always catch anything passing by. This leads to an experience we had in Makuleke which broke my heart, I always knew that coming to Africa, being as sensitive as I am towards animals, I would see something which would upset me. On the day after my birthday was a sad day, I will be writing about this in a blog post coming soon.
All in all, Makuleke was an eye opening, amazing, learning experience, which was made possible for Tyron and I , through Eco Training and Wild Ark, huge thankyou to Kirstin Scholz for being like a big sister to us through this time and coming along with us, Mark and Soph from Wild Ark, Q, Katherine and Yasper from Eco Training for being such amazing guides.
Stay tuned for more blogs coming soon.
Check out the Makuleke gallery below, all images taken by Tyron, myself and also Kirstin Scholz from Wild Ark