Author: Peter Thomas

Ubumanzi Game Trails – South Africa

Ubumanzi Game Trails

Ubumamzi = “Lots of Water”

Getting up at 4.30am on a May morning (May is quite a bit into winter in South Africa) would not be funny for most people, but if your destination is the Ubumanzi Game Lodge, about 280 kilometers north of Johannesburg, and you were about to hike one of the trails on the Game farm, then you are willing to suffer some discomfort.

Like I said, there was a chill in the air as we hit the N1 freeway heading north from Johannesburg to a small town called Naboomspruit where we made a left turn and headed west into the bushveld. By this time the sun was up and we were breathing in crisp country air.

The tar road became a good gravel road after about 25kms and we reached the Ubumanzi turnoff another 6kms further on.

Part of our group had travelled through the previous afternoon and we were welcomed with hot coffee on our arrival.


The hike is labeled as a Guided Game Trail and the Palala Nature

Conservancy, which consists of three farms, attracts a lot of attention from animal and bird lovers, and for good reason too. There is an abundance of wildlife to be seen as well as magnificent

scenery to attract wildlife photographers. Sightings of the extremely rare Eugene Marais cycads, which only occur in the conservancy provide a special treat for nature lovers.

Among the species roaming the three farms which make up the conservancy are elephant, white rhino, giraffe, brown hyena, aardwolf, waterbuck, red hartebeest, kudu, blouwildebeest, zebra, warthog, and cats such as leopard, caracal civet, genet and small spotted cat.

There are two trails, one of 15 kms and one of 9kms and the route layout is in a figure 8 format, following a 4X4 track route as well as game paths.

Upon arrival at the Game Lodge you are taken to the base camp by 4X4 vehicle as roads inside the reserve are not suitable for normal vehicles. As we were following a circular route, all we had to carry with us was water and snacks to munch on along the way. As we were all a bunch of penpushers and not particularly fit, we decided to take Powerade and Energade which are energy boosting drinks, instead of mere water as we were convinced that we would need every bit of assistance we could get!

The base camp is situated in a valley with cliffs on the one side and a range of hills on the other side and we all hoped that the route followed the road towards the hills rather than to the cliffs.

Long Drop Toilet

The camp consists of a hut (a converted cattle dip) that can accommodate 8 people, with a unique shower! A tree house accommodates another six people. Well, it’s not a tree house as I know it but close enough. It is situated under a giant wild fig tree and even Tarzan would have been proud of it! There was also a bush shower for which we had to heat water in a donkey and something that was unique for some of the city slickers, a long drop toilet.

Jan and Jack

But now more about the actual hike. Our two guides, Jan and Jack, urged us to stay close together which was actually good news in disguise as we could then only go as fast as the slowest person and no-one wanted to admit to being unfit!

We started off at a leasurely pace and we all had a good laugh when the first person asked to rest after only about 350 meters. Out came the Energade and in no time we were ready to go again. The climb to the top was very gradual and about two hours later we were on the ridge of the hills overlooking the valley below. This time we had a good rest and made a big dent in our Energade supply and also munched on chocolate bars to supplement energy levels. I could get very used to a diet like this!

What we found very interesting was the variety of animal tracks to be seen and the guides were kept busy explaining to us which tracks belonged to which animals. As they say, what goes up must come down and we were soon encountering more downhills than uphills as we slowly descended down into the valley again.

We arrived back at base camp at about 2pm and relaxed and chatted as we eagerly awaited the game drive which was due to commence at 5pm. We were warned that it was going to be cold on the open truck and warmly wrapped we set off, hoping to spot as much game as possible.

Jan did the driving and as it was getting dark by now, Jack got out the spotlight and soon we saw the first glint of eyes in the sharp beam, a herd of Impala as Jack explained. We saw a variety of game and soon got used to identifying the type of animal from the glint of their eyes in the spotlight beam.

Fire Under The Donkey

Well, two hours later we were back at camp and starving. In no time we had the barbeque fire as well as the fire under the donkey for hot water for the shower going. This is where us city slickers come into our own as we certainly have superior organising skills. The men made sure that there was sufficient wood and coals for the barbeque while the ladies got the sidedishes and salads ready.

In no time flat we were all sitting comfortably around the fire munching away and discussing the day’s experiences. This is usually the most enjoyable part of any hiking experience, the companionship round a campfire, in the open under the stars. An experience

not to be missed!

It was close to midnight when we finally hit the sack, or in this case, the sleeping bags. Then we still lay awake for a long time listening to the night sounds, trying to identify the different animals making the sounds. The next day was my birthday and it was quite a treat waking up in the bush for a change. A birthday I will remember for some time to come….

Next morning early we got the fire going again and the coffee water was boiling in a few minutes. The smell of fresh coffee was enough to get even the lazy among us out of their sleeping bags and soon we each had a warm mug of coffee to warm us up. Although there was a bite in the early morning air, it started to warm up as the sun peeped over the cliffs and we soon had breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon ready. Some brave souls decided to tackle the alternative hiking trail of 9 kms while the rest of us didn’t want to tempt fate and rather headed for home.

We are already planning our next hike, so watch this space for details…..