The presence of “big game” is the ingredient that makes wilderness walking in Africa so special. And the chance to hike and camp out with the sounds of browsing elephants and roaring lions coming from the darkness adds an even more memorable dimension. There’s really only one destination that offers that – South Africa.
We’ve covered some of the Zululand options on these pages, including Hluhluwe-iMfolozi and other KZN reserves, but the real epicentre of backpacking trails is the Lowveld. Here, alongside the highly recommended SANParks Kruger Backpacking Trails, a number of private companies run such trails: Lowveld Trails Company, Spirited Adventures, and Manukuza are some of the specialists.
Since late 2022 there’s a new name – Wildside Trails. It might be a new venture, but the principals behind it are anything but inexperienced. In fact Mark Montgomery is probably one of the best known names in wilderness guiding, even before his well-publicised run in with a crocodile during a trail in Kruger this year. He tells the tale on the Wildside Youtube channel, and it’s well worth a watch if only to remind us to stay mindful of the risks in these areas. It’s why we take guide briefings seriously.
Mark has joined up with his friend Andrew Booth to form Wildside Trails. They are now winding down the 2023 season, which included trails in Makalali, close to their home base in Hoedspruit, and Pafuri, that “park within a park” that it is our favourite walking venue in South Africa.
In Makalali, they use Michael Job’s Siyafunda camp as a base, with the option to head out into the reserve to camp in tents, or just stay at camp and do day walks if preferred. In Pafuri, the backpacking experience can be book-ended by a lodge stay, such as at the Outpost, where Wildside can negotiate special rates. Primitive trails – sleep-outs – are also an option. It’s nice to ditch the tent but bear in mind that the guests will be the ones sitting up to keep watch, not the guides.
Participants should bring their own kit and camp food, and Wildside provide guidance on what to wear and to pack. The maximum group size is the usual eight, and pricing varies depending on the group size. These are people who are driven by love for wilderness and this pure style of experiencing it – and definitely not for the money, as the costs of joining these trails are modest.
For 2024 season bookings, contact Mark and Andrew via www.wildsidetrails.com.