REST CAMP TRAIL IN KAROO NATIONAL PARK

I find it strange that so few sites extolling the virtues of staying in the Karoo National Park mention the 1.15km Rest Camp Trail.

Granted, this isn’t very long and is in essence a shortcut through the veld from the camping area towards the bird hide, chalets and the restaurant. Much more is made of the nearby 400m long Fossil Trail which depicts the geology and palaeontology of the Great Karoo. As short as that is, it is both fascinating and well worth spending some time on.  Back to the Rest Camp Trail though: like most things, you will get from it what you put into it. Treat it as a shortcut instead of walking along the road and you will see very little; walk along the sandy – and at times rather stony – path slowly and you might be taken aback by what you see. Very close to the camping area is a clearly demarcated graveyard.

Apparently Pokkie Benadè was a tracker who worked for the South African National Parks. I imagine Stolzhoek Farm is one of several farms that make up the land now encompassed by the Karoo National Park. It is worth stopping every now and then to enjoy the view and to have a close look at the immediate environment. It was during one such stop that we saw this kudu looking at us warily from where she had been browsing on some low bushes not all that far from the path.

There is a magical element about sharing the outdoors with such a regal animal. Then there is the delight of coming across a fresh spoor on the path.

Several plants are clearly identified along the path – a useful way of developing an understanding of what we can see while travelling through the rest of the park. This Asparagus capensis (wild asparagus), for example, is common all over the park.

Easily accessible from either this trail, or from the road, is an example of a long disused Hyena trap – a remnant from early stock farmers, who used these primitive stone structures to lure and kill what they considered to be ‘problem animals’ in order to protect their flocks.

Looking up, I saw this pair of South African Shelducks flying past – possibly on their way to the small dam at the bird hide.

Paying closer attention to the rocks we were walking over, I found this fine example of weathering.

This trail would offer a variety of things to see depending on what time of the day you walk along it.

TRAILS IN THE VELD

People tend to follow footpaths across an open space: someone must have started walking along that route; others followed … until the path became clear even with tall grass on either side.

Footpath near our home.

Most roads probably began in much the same way. Now we have tarred roads and highways connecting towns and cities. In the country – and particularly in most of our National Parks – we still get dirt roads winding through the veld.

Mountain Zebra National Park.

Animals too follow paths that have been forged by others through the veld on the way to waterholes or sheltered spots, or even from one good grazing ground to another.

Narrow animal trail visible on the stony ground.

Not all trails are on flat ground nor do they all wind up or down a hill.

Animal trails following the contours of a steep hillside in the Mountain Zebra National Park.

Larger animals create much broader trails through the veld.

Broad rhino trail as seen in the Kruger National Park.

THE RHINO TRAIL

One does not need a cicerone to enjoy the Rhino Trail that circumnavigates the Berg-en-Dal rest camp in the Kruger National Park, for one can join it from anywhere within the camp. We opted to start off at the reception area and to walk along it in an anti-clockwise direction. The path basically follows the perimeter fence which, for the most part, is defined by the Matjulu River. Although written signs point to the trail, one periodically comes across large cement markers sporting a rhino footprint.

Rhino Trail marker

At first the trail was broad and well-defined with several benches conveniently placed so that visitors can enjoy viewing the river in comfort or simply rest in the shade of the riverine trees. Even though the river is bone dry in this current drought, we saw impala, a reedbuck, bushbuck, two buffalo and even some elephants in the riverbed.

impala

buffalo

bushbuck

The trail narrows as one approaches the camping area so that it is best to walk single-file and to watch one’s footing over the rough ground. Unfortunately at this point some campers had appropriated the loose garden benches for their own use and had set up camp right next to the fence. This meant having to walk around the tents and caravans. Do watch out for the signs near the entrance gate – we missed them – for the continuation of the trail, leading to the bricked path towards the reception area.

A walk along the Rhino Trail is easy and worthwhile for it is mostly treed. Among the more interesting trees are the Apple-leaf, Huilboerboon, and the Kigelia africana. The latter is in bloom and its deep red flowers attract several birds.

vine

Flowers of Kigelia africana

Flowers of Kigelia africana

There are a variety of birds too, from the African Fish Eagle calling from the opposite bank of the river and the Yellow-billed Kite swooping overhead, to a Brownhooded Kingfisher, Red-billed Hornbills, Blue Waxbills, Speckled Mousebirds, Black-eyed Bulbuls, and Red-winged Starlings close to the fence.

Blue waxbill

Blue waxbill

Signs along the perimeter fence warn visitors not to feed wild animals. While these are mostly aimed at hyenas, vervet monkeys and chacma baboons, we were astounded to see a young foreign tourist try to feed grass to a bull elephant feeding on shrubs on the outside of the fence late one afternoon. I think the presence of the fence had lulled him into a false sense of security, as if he were watching elephants in a zoo.

warning sign

I can imagine that the Rhino Trail would yield many treasured sightings of animals, birds, insects and interesting plants when the river is flowing. Even in the drought it provides an opportunity for exercise and contemplation.