On the spur of a moment I booked a two week adventure to volunteer in the African bush. This meant I could realise my lifelong dream of working on a game reserve. These are a few of my thoughts and highlights from the diary I kept during my first week spent at Lapolosa Wilderness.
I hope they took on board my comments about dietary requirements – ‘all I expect is the opportunity to have a few cold beers after a long hot day in the field and I’m not particularly fussed by beans’.
I’m looking forward to getting my hands dirty – building bomas, pulling up old wire and my favourite, walking the fence line. However, I’m most excited by the fact that they tell you to bring a sheath knife. My Leatherman feels a tad inadequate. Not quite Croc’ Dundee standards.
Arriving at Lapolosa I was blown away by the scale. The fact that the camp’s 17km from the main gate shows how immense the place is at 20,000 hectares. At one point when we crossed the brow of a hill all we could see around us was the reserve – pretty impressive as it includes a mountain range.
My chalet makes the most of the view, whether you’re in bed, on the toilet or taking an outdoor shower.
I joined others at the volunteer house where our guide gave us a good overview of what to expect from our stay. Embarrassingly it took me ten minutes to find my way home. Stumbling about the bush in the dark I must have looked like a complete idiot to the local fauna. Luckily Lapolosa is not a ‘Big Five’ reserve…
A day of hard graft spent taking down rusty barbed wire fences left over from the cattle ranch days. The job was tough: lots of cuts and blisters along with ripped gloves and clothing, but worthwhile. It’s a tangible and satisfying thing to clean up the reserve.
Today we got to break all the rules; we got to set things on fire! As part of the reserve’s fire management plan we had to burn off two blocks which totalled about six square kilometres. Quite surreal; if you weren’t lighting it, you were putting it out. I must have lit about 1.5km of linear bush. Whilst that was fun it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as beating out the flames that were coming back towards the fire break.
We were up at 03.40 for our three-day trip to Kruger. The weather was terrible but it didn’t stop us spotting a good haul of game on our two drives – buffalo, white rhino, steenbok, klipsringer, African hoopoe, pied kingfisher, giraffe, leopard tortoise and elephants.
The elephants came to our lunch stop after pitching our tents. There’s a whole commercial area of curio shops and restaurants overlooking the river where a herd of 14 elephants were feeding. Walt Disney himself couldn’t have done a better job.
Just as it turned 04.45 my alarm went off and like clockwork it started to rain again. The drive made up for the early awakening, highlights were leopard, hippo, spoonbill, cheetah, banded mongoose, sable, spotted hyena, lots of elephants, hamerkop, side striped jackal and a bedraggled honey badger. This cost me a bottle of brandy for the guide as that was my number one wish – well, after wild dogs but that wasn’t going to happen…
The tracking of animals in Kruger has met with the information age with BBM, Facebook and Twitter all being used to report sightings. However, to get the best sightings you still have to do a shed load of driving, be in the right place at the right time and know animal behaviour. Our guides did not let us down.
Pretty shattered after the Kruger trip – seeing the ‘Big Five’ is exhausting work – a lioness was spotted on our final drive. Spending time on Lapolosa and at Kruger has reinforced my desire for an outdoor life away from the hustle and bustle of city life – another dream…
Sunday 11th November
Late up this morning as it was our day off, it wasn’t a lazy day though! We went on a long hike in the blazing sun across the property for a cooling swim at Enkosini Falls. A great way to finish my time in the Mpumalanga Province. Tomorrow I head off to Siyafunda Conservation Initiative on the Makalali Game Reserve.