I am a sucker for a bush walk. So when our Kruger guides asked if we would prefer to do a game drive or a bush walk for our afternoon safari activity, my hand was firmly raised in favour of a walk on the wild side. Little did I know just how exciting that activity would turn out to be.
I was lucky in the fact that I had been invited by Rhino Tears wine and the SANParks Honorary Rangers to experience some of the behind-the-scenes work the guys on the ground in Kruger are doing. Part and parcel of the trip was that we were allowed special entry into some parts of the park that are not normally accessible to the public. And with guides Jaco Buys, who has just been voted Safari Guide of the Year, and Jannie Jurgens, who has possibly led more backpacker trails through Kruger than anyone else, I had never felt safer.
And so we began our bumble through the brambles. In single file we marched along, careful to keep our even spacing and steady pace as our trusty guides pointed out tracks in the sand, scent markings and the smaller flora and fauna of the bush that one misses when out on a game drive.
We meandered down a dry riverbed, the footprints of the people in front the only evidence of humans in these unchartered parts. And we were just coming up the other side of the bank when there was a trumpeting and kicking up of dust below us, revealing a female ellie headed our way.
And while the very detailed safety briefing our guides gave before the start of our walk initially seemed a bit verbose, everything they told us bush babies in those giddy, pre-walk moments sprung straight to mind when faced with a few tonnes of grey beast trumpeting in our faces.
We interpreted the guides’ silent hand signals and immediately formed a small huddle between our two men in charge. Silently we stood on our river bank, looking down at the angry elephant. We stopped, she stopped, and mere moments seemed to stretch into hours as we engaged in a staring competition. Then with a few tentative steps she backed off… or so it seemed.
With a swing of the head, the upset female was once again charging towards us like a woman scorned. Some firm Afrikaans words from Jaco and she paused. We eagerly followed a calm Jannie to where he was pointing out a clearing behind a nearby tree, all the while being careful not to look at the seat of the pants of the friend in front us in our single file line.
From there we tried not to cry, run or scream as we watched the drama play out in front of us. Jannie to the left, Jaco to the right, and a few hundred metres away, now visible from where we stood behind our beloved tree, a whole herd of elephants silently moving in the opposite direction.
The next few moments passed by as if someone had accidentally hit the fast forward button. The elephant was trumpeting and coming at us in waves, my heart was pumping, Jaco was thundering a rich variety of Afrikaans and then when the elephant refused to give up, a gun was cocked. And with the chink of metal, the elephant scared, and thankfully… turned tail and ran.
I picked up my heart from where it had fallen out of my chest, and after confirming no one had peed, pooped, or simply passed right out, we continued our walk. Not metres later we heard a lion roar, somewhere close, and a few steps later an elephant bull in musth was spotted in the thicker growth. The source of the commotion had become clear, and obviously we had just been the last straw in this poor elephant’s bad day.
We veered off course, away from the drama, and arrived at a magical spot overlooking the Crocodile River where some peaceful elephants happily went about their day. While we overlooked a spot that one could only possibly reach on foot, we came down from our heart-attack inducing adrenaline rush.
We analysed the experience, and our guides explained that we had the unique opportunity of stumbling upon an intense drama where a range of hormones and emotions had already been flaring. We had come close, but this was what a bush walk was all about. This was not us observing wildlife from the comfort of our safari vehicle bubble, this was a no-holds-barred wildlife experience and a chance to become one with nature. And with those award-winning guides at our side, we had not once felt unsafe.
Asked the next day who would like to go on a bush walk, my hand went up as quickly as could be…
To see more stories from my behind-the-scenes trip to Kruger, read: Who’s Protecting our Rhino?