People and nature in the Makuleke Concession

Posted on August 03, 2020 | by Active Africa

Active Africa’s Laura Christie takes us through a day in the life of a trails guide and the positive benefits of spending time in the bush.

While it is an indulgent luxury in the everyday world, the afternoon nap is a part of the daily routine on trail. Here, the weather dictates the schedule and we follow Nature’s lead. When the heat of the day settles in, we seek shade and rest.

Camp life

In camp, my shady spot is under an enormous Natal Mahogany tree, safely tucked away in a canvas tent, on a comfortable bed. In an attempt to stick with the theme of our surroundings and appear smarter than I am, I’m reading Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. My third try at chapter one, but I remain hopeful this time. Five sentences in and sleep overwhelms me, the deep and peaceful kind that only comes from being in a place like this. And then, loud offensive snoring wakes me up. At first, I curse the guest in the tent next to mine, how dare he?! But then I see said guest sitting peacefully on the outdoor couch, very much awake.

Curiously, I exit my tent to investigate and find an enormous bull elephant lying fast asleep emitting the objectionable sounds.  I retreat to the outdoor lounge area, and for the next hour we watch him wake up and slowly start feeding around us. Completely undeterred by our presence, he eventually wanders off and we get ready to head out on our afternoon nature walk. Of course this does not happen every day. But located on the banks of the Luvuvhu river, our camp is open to the wilderness and therefore prone to interesting animal guests. Added to that, this is the quintessential birder’s paradise with over 400 species found in the area.



This is a peaceful place, set under enormous trees, some of them centuries old. There is no electricity or running water in camp; we have to bring everything in to limit the impact we have on the area. After the morning activity, or before dinner, guides heat water on the fire and fill the bucket showers. These simple actions enhance our comfort, yet remind us that we actually need so little to really enjoy our surroundings.


Walking in wilderness

And before we can relax too much, we’re off on a walk to see what nature has in store. Exploring on foot is the best way to find smaller creatures and appreciate the systems that nature has in place. My favourite areas to walk are those that are inaccessible to vehicles, because this is where the magic happens. This manifests in many forms. Imagine following an ancient elephant path through a gorge, into a basalt rocky area. Suddenly you discover a fresh water spring, a lifeline in the dry season where surface water is hard to find. If you sit quietly and patiently downwind, you may be rewarded with some surprising animal sightings.

Once, after we had been sitting in silence for about 10 minutes, an elephant bull ambled down from the ridge. He walked right past us on our safe rock perch and suddenly rushed into the pool to quench his thirst. Moments like these, when you can observe nature undisturbed, are by far the most rewarding.



The Makuleke people

However, this land is about more than just the animals. People inhabited this area of the Kruger for thousands of years, the evidence of which is found across the concession. As we stumble upon an old habitation site, we imagine we’re archaeologists digging into the past. It is not uncommon to find grain grinders, old clay water pots, or the occasional spear head or arrow. These were pastoralists who raised small herds of cattle or goats amongst the wild animals. Using carefully honed skills, elders taught generations how to live off the land without destroying it.

As histories go, this area has an epic story to tell. Some of the documented accounts make for interesting reading. They speak of traders from ancient China, tribal settlements and wars where kingdoms rose and fell. They lament the arrival of Europeans and ivory hunters, vagabonds and crooks. In more recent times, it includes the removal of the Makuleke tribe by the Apartheid government, occupation of police and military and the inclusion of the land into the Greater Kruger National Park. After a tumultuous period, the Makuleke people once again, rightfully own the land. They maintain it as a conservation area, preserving their historical home and providing jobs and opportunities for future generations.

In 2007, another positive historical event occurred. The concession’s wetlands, which comprise over 30 scattered pans and other sensitive water areas, were awarded Ramsar status as wetlands of International Importance. Significantly, this is the first Ramsar site that is owned and co-managed by a local community. The accolade ensures the longevity of this haven of diversity.

A place of comfort

The evening ritual is to find a place to watch the sunset, with the cooler close by. A sundowner drink has become synonymous with ending a day in the African bush. With the gradual change of light to a soft golden hue, a peaceful calm descends before the night creatures awaken. It’s usually hunger that drives us back to camp. A warm fire and delicious aromas from the camp kitchen welcome us back. This is an easy routine to adopt. And it’s one that I return to time and again to get my fix and settle my soul.


Sundowners in the heart of nature




Writing and her grandmother's poetry helped Laura cope with the effects of lockdownLaura and Sarah guide wilderness walking safaris deep in the Kruger National Park and are Active Africa’s northern centre. Read more about them here

To experience this for yourself, chat to us about joining Laura or Sarah on a Kruger Walking Safari or Wilderness Walking in Kruger trip.




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