Hlengiwe was invited to write on any topic for the ‘Upfront’ slot in the November 2020 issue of Getaway magazine. The result is an interesting reflection on confronting our fears in big game areas.FEAR-Getaway-Nov-2020
We’re happy to say that Walking Safaris of South Africa will open with a foreword contributed by Todani Moyo, chairman of Wilderness Foundation Global. It’s a beautiful read which echoes a central theme of the book – that getting more people to go out on foot in the African wilderness is important to engender deeper appreciation and protection of these areas.
What makes it more special is that Todani was a personal friend of the late Dr Ian Player, the great conservationist who can be credited with founding wilderness trails in South Africa in the 1950s. Over sixty years later, the “primitive style” trails he started are still operated by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the Wilderness Leadership School in exactly the same authentic format: leave-no-trace backpacking, sleeping under the stars, taking turns for the night watch.
As well as founding the Wilderness Leadership School, Dr Player created Wilderness Foundation Africa which led to a network of like-minded organizations that comprises Wilderness Foundation Africa, Wilderness Foundation UK, and the WILD Foundation (USA), with the Wilderness Leadership School (South Africa) as a patron partner. The alliance takes the position that wilderness areas have local meaning and global significance with a direct importance to human health, well-being and inspiration. We agree, and hope that Walking Safaris of South Africa will encourage more people to enjoy a wild walking experience.
As Player said about the many people he guided in the reserves of Zululand, “I wanted them to feel the soul of Africa through the soles of their feet”.
In the Western Cape, Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is the latest post-lockdown reopening for big game walking tourism. Since October 1st, the reserve, which is a 3-4 hour drive from Cape Town, has been welcoming guests again. Unlike in the lowveld, where walking is mainly a winter activity, Sanbona’s peak walk season is the summer and that’s when it operates its Explorer Camp every weekend.
In the Eastern Cape, two of the six lodges in Shamwari Private Game Reserve reopened on September 16th, so walks are back on the menu. Their walks-focused Explorer Camp will reopen in early 2021.
Meanwhile in Kruger’s far north, RETURNAfrica reopened on 1st September, with all options bookable – Pafuri Luxury Tented Camp, Baobab Hill Bush House and Pafuri Walking Safaris. Reports are that bookings are strong from domestic visitors, with everything full over the Heritage Day long weekend.
There are good deals to be had as operators encourage local guests to return. In Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, Isibindi Africa have an offer of 40% off at Rhino Ridge until the end of June 2021, excluding the Christmas/New Year and Easter peaks.
Across the border in Botswana, Mashatu is due to reopen on November 1st 2020. But it’s hotting up there now, so multi-day walks with WalkMashatu won’t restart until March 2021.
Backpacking operators, without the cost of lodges or fixed camps, were well placed to ride out the lockdown, and are now back in the veld. Spirited Adventures guests are having fun, judging by their Instagram feed.
2020 is an annus horribilis for the travel industry worldwide, and especially damaging for African wildlife tourism. For reserves and parks, the disappearance of visitor income is not just a disaster for businesses and employees, but an existential treat to wildlife and habitats.
In South Africa, the mid-August lifting of inter-provincial travel restrictions has resulted in a surge of pent-up interest in getting back to national parks. Social distancing restriction rules mean the accommodation cannot yet be fully utilised, so “Level 1” can’t come soon enough.
It will be fascinating to see how peoples’ travel behavior changes in the coming time, and how the industry adapts. No doubt plane travel will be shunned in favour of road trips. Will South Africans who normally holiday overseas spend their money at home instead? Will that be enough to replace lost income from inbound international tourists?
One trend already evident is increased interest in walks and hikes. After all, what could be healthier than being out on a trail in a fresh breeze? From the Cape to the Kruger, There’s no shortage of splendid opportunities to stretch the legs. And a major asset for South Africa is its unequaled selection of walks with big game in national parks and game reserves. In contrast to self-guided walks, these are more akin to outdoor nature appreciation sessions, as they are always led by knowledgeable guides.
In February 2021, for the first time, park visitors will have some help in finding these walks, with the publication of Walking Safaris of South Africa. It will make planning walking trips a lot easier, spelling out what’s available in all of the parks that offer such walks, plus a few in eSwatini and Botswana.
As well as a practical guide to planning and booking a walking break, the book includes lyrical narratives by Hlengiwe Magagula, whose writing will be familiar to Wild Card magazine readers.
Like nature itself, the travel industry must adapt to new realities – or become extinct. In 2021, busy resorts, sardine-tin planes and buffet meals will be out. Small groups of family or friends, out in the wilds at cosy camps and lodges will be in. The publication of Walking Safaris of South Africa could not come at a better time.