The Olifants River Back Pack Trail Part 1

When a holiday has a gestation period of 11 months you kind of hope and pray it will be worth it… That’s how long in advance you need to book for the Olifants River Back Pack Trail and believe me taking the time to do so is very worth it!

We chose to hike at the end of August as that would be about the hottest weather we could handle. Dealing with a 48 degree day was just not part of the plan. Cooling down in the Olifants River was. Together they made for an unforgettable trip and a memory to last a life time. Let’s not jump the gun (we could leave that to the guides) and rather start at the beginning.

The sanparks website gives a very comprehensive list ( found here: of what to pack and it is definitely worth looking at but in addition here are few musts!

What to pack:

First and foremost A SENSE OF HUMOUR!

It will be an unforgettable experience if you have the right attitude and friends. Yes there are going to be times when you will be uncomfortable, bruised and most assuredly BLISTERED! So my number one item is LOADS of plasters and sunblock. They will be your best friend. Plasters for the feet and sunblock for the face. A hat is a must too.

Water purification tablets will ensure that you only need to carry about 1 litre of water at a time. Believe me you don’t want to be carrying any more than you need too! Plenty of water is available, but you need to be able to purify.

Lightweight clothing. One set on, one in the bag. Unlike I did, NO BRIGHT colours. ( Apparently it makes you a target, unless of course that is your thing.)

We found that Trail Shoes were fine (boots can be pretty hot!) but you definitely need hiking gaiters to prevent grass seeds from embedding in your socks. (Short gaiters are perfect).

Duct tape. Quite frankly I don’t know how MacGyver didn’t use duct tape in every episode. It is pure magic to fix any problem.

The medical kit and Ogre ( your specially designed toilet maker ) is provided by the guides. Each person gets a turn to carry these items. How you divide the “carry time” is up to the group. (Bringing an awesome husband,who could take my carry time was a wise move)

So another thing to add to the list. One Willing and Able husband 🙂

For some of us a small Hip flask, with great single malt, was deemed as a vital part of our limited luggage space! (for me it was Amarula!) Either way it was worth it when the fire was going at night before bed. A little something to warm the heart.

When it comes to food, the lighter the better. Try get creative, it makes meal time part of the adventure. We took steak for the first night and it really made an excellent first meal. Eggs packed in a secure holder are the prefect source of protein. Boil them when you are ready for an energy boost.

Now that we got the boring stuff out the way lets get into the actual hike. I can tell you what our experiences were, but as you can imagine every hike is different and that is why most hikers will do the same hike again because just like driving in the Park you can take the same route and have a variety of results.

I would recommend overnighting at Olifants camp as the trail departs from here in the morning and you don’t want to rush around, you want to enjoy the excitement of what is coming.

Day 1

Meet and greet at Olifants reception area. We were pretty fortunate, in that the entire group was made up of our friends so the only introductions were between our group and our two guides. Piet (lead) and Andre (second rifle ) immediately set about making sure we were relaxed and ready to go. A few North vs South (Bulls vs Stormers) jibes along way made the drive from Olifants camp to Phalaborwa gate bare-able. The legs are ready to go but you need to endure the 3 hour drive before you hit the hiking trail. Instructions are given: the most important being that no matter what…. unless told to, you NEVER run. You walk in single file behind the guides and talking is kept to a minimum. Guides depend on their hearing above all else to keep you safe.

Our group of 8 (minus the photographer)ready to go.

The Hikers
On the first day our walk was a mere 7 km but it had my chest burning. Altitude is quite an adjustment for us Capetonians and the heat was right up there. But the excitement of our hike beginning kept us all smiling. Our first river crossing was very exciting. Shoes off. And stepping only where you are told. The threat of hippos is the primary one. The guides are VERY cautious and strict about staying together in single file. As we reach the opposite bank we stop to dry off and watch as a herd of elephant come down to drink. It is beautiful but I was glad to have the river between us and the herd! We keep dead still and enjoy moms and babies cooling down until the matriarch catches our sent. One sharp trumpet and the entire herd race away. Just proving that when faced with “flight or fight” animals usually flee.

Piet suggests we push on to a favourite spot of his. Because of the warm weather we want to cover a bit more on day one than leave the bulk of the walking for the next day. Still charged up we all agree. We arrive at the spot which is like a scene from paradise. Each couple finding a spot close to a guy carrying a Rifle! Guides must feel a special kind of love.

Then it is time to collect wood and start a small fire. Not to much wood as everything must look the way you find it when you leave the next morning.

Bathing is quite the experience although pretty cold, it is very refreshing. You are never allowed in water deeper than knee high and it must be flowing. The guides watch over you, rifle in hand. Don’t worry ladies you can keep your kit on. Kind of washing yourself and your clothes at the same time. (Biodegradable soap of course!)
Then when you get out you can change into dry clothes and hang your wet ones out. If it is not dry by morning I found hooking it on to the backpack ensures it is dry in a matter of minutes once you hit the trail.

That night we cooked our steak and marvelled at where we were and how privileged we felt to be here. Then as if just for us, fireflies appeared over the water giving us a show and a memory to cherish forever. This is the real Kruger.

Initially getting into a two-man tent is very awkward. My kingsized bed seemed a century away and I wondered if I would ever fall asleep squashed up with hubby. Then we hear a lion roaring in the distance and I am pretty grateful that he is in this small space with me! I remember thinking this is so impossibly uncomfortable I will never fall asleep and the next minute the guide is waking us up for our morning departure. (Couldn’t have been that uncomfortable after all!)

Join me next month as our adventure continues on The Olifants Backpack Trail Day 2 -Day 4

This is the Real Kruger


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One Comment

  1. Constanza Krige
    Posted 05/02/2015 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Very brave to walk in the wild bush, but it must have been a fantastic, unforgettable experience .

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