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.