A Week in the Wilds of Splendid Selati

Late afternoon view from a Selati koppie

In a recent blog, we covered the availability of walking safaris in Makalali Game Reserve, but it’s not the only reserve in that area of the Lowveld welcoming walkers on guided trails. Selati Game Reserve is north of Makalali, accessed via the R526 south of Gravelotte. Traversed by the seasonal Great Selati River, it is 33,000ha of prime savanna habitat and hosts a range of conservation and scientific projects. Selati is known for its successful sable breeding programme, and for being the only site in the world to find the Lillie Cycad in its natural setting.

At its heart Selati has 700m granite hills, and combined with good tree cover and dense wildlife populations, it is excellent walking terrain. The reserve’s EcoTraining camp is one of the favourite venues for aspiring professional Trail Guides, but you don’t have to be in training to enjoy exploring the reserve on foot: in the winter months of 2021, iLala Safaris started running trails, with walkers based at a camp in the north-east of the reserve.

Typically, wilderness trails run for three nights, so iLala’s six night trails will appeal to those (like us) who really like to take it slow and get off-grid for as long as possible. The camp is a comfortable oasis between walks, with six large safari tents, each with its own outdoor bathroom. There’s a couple of splash pools for cooling off in the warmer months.

iLala is run by trails guides Sabrina Krattinger and Jan Hendrik Hanekom, who personally guide on all trails. As well as the usual guiding in English, they can also guide in German if that’s requested by a group; Germany supplies by far the largest numbers of overseas visitors to the Kruger area, so it makes sense to have this option.

What does a full week offer above the usual? It allows time to have a deep dive into nature, investigating aspects that can be overlooked on shorter Wilderness Trails. Most likely, guests will spot big game such as elephant, buffalo and (dehorned) rhino on the first day or two, and can then devote time to other fauna. Track big cats for a couple of hours. Learn how to distinguish eland and sable prints. Wait at a pool in the Selati river to see what turns up. Or sit at the reserve’s high point on La Bela France to spot Verreaux’s eagles.

There’s also the reserve’s plant life to study, and Jan Hendrik has a special interest in flora. He enjoys seeking out the cycads which are endemic to Selati. Alongside trail guiding, Sabrina is a yoga instructor and she runs 7-day Yoga Safari Retreats in a number of reserves.

In keeping with the Lowveld walking season, iLala has trail dates from April to October in 2022. The cost is R18000 for six nights, which includes all food.

Contact: ilalasafaris.com

Conservation Patrols in Makalali Game Reserve

Monitoring elephant on a patrol in Makalali Game Reserve

One overlooked aspect of walking safaris is their benefit in providing “eyes on the ground” in places inaccessible to vehicles. Trailists in wilderness areas can spot signs of poacher intrusion, find injured or snared animals, check fences and remove snares. In Greater Makalali Game Reserve, the “Threatened Wildlife Patrol” operated by Siyafunda Wildlife & Conservation does exactly that: participants spend three nights backpacking in the reserve’s remoter corners and camp out, either in their own tents or under the stars.

The patrol is a great opportunity to practise tracking skills, searching for elephant, rhino, buffalo and lion to check on their condition. There’s also a chance to learn how to use telemetry to locate some collared animals. With three days of supplies to carry, it’s a demanding style of trail, similar to the SANParks Backpacking Trails in Kruger National Park (See Chapter 5 of Walking Safaris of South Africa).

Siyafunda also offer easier camp-based trails, heading out for walks with just a day pack to carry water and snacks. They call this the “Slackpacking trail”, but it is not what would usually be understood by the term – there is no bush camping involved, and guests return to a comfortable bed each day at Job’s Halt lodge. Shaded by jackalberry trees next to the ephemeral Makhutswi river, the lodge is designed for self-catering, and has four en-suite twin rooms. a large shaded communal area and a boma with firewood provided.

Job’s Halt Lodge has a large airy communal area and plunge pool for cooling off

Makalali is in Limpopo’s lowveld less than an hour’s drive west of Hoedspruit. It’s a 25,000ha conservation area created by seven private landowners, and hosts a number of lodges and camps used for guide training and game viewing. When Siyafunda started operating trails in late 2020 it became another name on the growing list of reserves offering walks in an area already boasting Africa’s highest density of walking safaris.

Siyafunda is an initiative of a small group of enthusiastic professional guides. The name means “To Learn and To Teach” in Zulu, and this tells us about their main focus – the business is not so much about photographic safaris, but more geared to involving conservation-minded visitors in practical work as part of a stay. Siyafunda guests can volunteer to get hands on, helping to monitor wildlife via camera traps, and work on habitat rehabilitation such as erosion control, construction of rock gabions, brush-packing and re-seeding. The bush-volunteering aspect is not compulsory of course, and visitors can simply come to enjoy a few days of wilderness immersion on the trails.

Walk durations are tailored to the group wishes and conditions, and a vehicle is available to vary the start locations. The minimum group size is four, and maximum is eight.

Including the services of two professional guides, rates are R1350 for camp based walks and R1100 for backpacking (each per person, per night). It’s possible to mix and match – stay at the lodge, and head out into the bush for a night to camp or have a sleep-out (minimum age 14). There’s a special rate of R750 pppn to make use of the lodge before or after a trail.

Self-catering provisions can be stocked in Hoedspruit, or if coming from Gauteng, it’s easy to stop at Emalaleni before enjoying the scenic drive north on the R540 via Lydenburg. Watch out for potholes.

For more information and booking: siyafundaconservation.com / Michael Job +27 82 781 8394.