• Richard Brown

Call of the Klaserie

Updated: Aug 19

For a world-class experience in the wilds of the Klaserie, and to view the big five from the vantage of both a game viewer and on foot, head to Sun Destinations’ delightful and aptly named camp, Africa on Foot

The Klaserie Private Nature Reserve forms part of the Greater Kruger and shares open borders with the Kruger National Park. At the heart of the reserve lies Africa on Foot, an immaculate camp with earthy architecture that blends seamlessly into its lowveld surroundings. Well appointed, with all the amenities one might need without being outlandishly lavish, my chalet is just the right level of luxurious.


I have just enough time to drop my bags before we head off on an afternoon drive, with charming and enthusiastic guide JC behind the wheel. ‘So, is there anything particular that you guys would like us to try and find today?’ he inquires in an American accent. The game viewer seats a worldly assemblage: two Londoners, two Kiwis, two Australians, and me. ‘Leopard!’ sounds the chorus in various accents.


‘Well, hopefully we get eyes on our resident leopardess Nyeleti, whom we spotted just yesterday,’ JC says. ‘Hopefully she’s still around. We’ll keep an eye out for tracks.’


As we set off into the mopane-dominated landscape, I sit nearest JC and ask how an American came to be a guide in the South African bush. ‘I worked in finance in Chicago for 17 years, when one day I decided to make a drastic life change,’ he says. ‘I had never set foot in Africa, but I had always been an outdoorsman in the States, and so the decision was made to come to the other side of the world and do a course in guiding. And after two years, here I am,’ he says with the satisfied grin of a man who clearly loves his job.


Suddenly, the radio crackles into life and one of the rangers from a neighbouring lodge divulges that they had sighted two indlovu at Jason’s Dam, if we were interested. JC confirms, and proceeds to drive a bit faster, presumably in the direction of Jason’s Dam. Of course, none of the foreigners on the game viewer know what the Zulu message meant (I believe the guides deliberately radio in ‘code’ to keep potential sightings a surprise for unsuspecting tourists), but having understood the Zulu word, I secretly get excited at the prospect of seeing elephant.


As we round a thick cluster of mopane, the dam slowly heaves into view, but I don’t see any elephant. Eagle-eyed JC points to the left: ‘It seems we have a couple of snorkellers,’ he says. I squint, and true enough, just visible above the surface are the tips of two elephant trunks, sticking out of the water like a pair of wrinkled periscopes. Seconds later, one young bull’s head emerges, and then the other. In a playful mood, the first bull stands up out of the water and then falls over with a thunderous splash, while the second bull slaps the surface with his trunk, clearly enjoying himself. We watch the frolicsome spectacle, hardly believing our good fortune. To ice this particular cake, the sun starts sinking behind the bushveld horizon in a dramatic show of pinks, providing us with a truly breathtaking backdrop to the playful scene. What a wild welcome to the Klaserie…


With bath time over, and dusk descending rapidly, we continue on our way and JC switches on his spotlight. Another crackled message over the radio. ‘Ngala’ is the only word I catch this time, but JC seems to have caught the gist of the location, proceeds to make a U-turn and, once again, accelerates ever so slightly. Again, the foreigners are none the wiser, but I understood just enough to know that we might see some lions – ngala being the Shangaan word for the biggest of the African cats.


Minutes later, JC shuts off the engine and we roll to a silent stop. He motions to keep quiet, and points off to the right. Someone in the back of the vehicle gasps. Slowly, a tawny figure materialises from the long grass, and then another, not 10 metres from our viewer. Two adolescent brothers are stalking through the yellow Lowveld grass, covering ground rather quickly, likely on their way to a hunt. Lions move at a remarkable pace and can cover massive distances in a night. We follow the two cats for a short while, until we lose them in the dark.


On the way back to camp, we see two rhino bulls quietly grazing, a massive Verreaux’s eagle-owl, a black-backed jackal and several hyena. ‘Are game drives always this fruitful around here?’ I ask JC, still astonished at what the bush had served up in a matter of two hours. ‘Not always. We got pretty lucky tonight,’ he grins.


Later, back at camp, we sit down to a delicious dinner expertly prepared by the Africa on Foot cooks, before swapping a few stories around a roaring fire in the boma after dinner. I retire early, and drift off listening to the last sputterings of the fire and faint roars of lion – likely the very brothers we’d seen earlier.


The next morning at dawn, a few of us set off into the bush on a walking safari led by JC, who is armed with a high-calibre rifle and a surprising wealth of veld knowledge. Informative and entertaining, he schools our small walking group on various game spoors, trees, birds and more. We don’t see any big game, but just to be on foot in big five territory is exhilarating.


The rest of my time at Africa on Foot was spent much the same way: Eating like a king, swimming and lounging around the brand-new pool and deck (to which elephants frequently come for a drink, I’m informed), being whisked on game drives and breathing in some fresh, gamey air on bushwalks every morning.


I never did get to see Nyeleti, the young leopardess, but that’s all the more reason to return to the Klaserie before long.



KNOW THIS


• Klaserie Private Nature Reserve is a big-five reserve that shares open borders with the Kruger National Park and a number of other smaller reserves to form what is known as the Greater Kruger, which spans a massive 2 million hectares – a tract of land larger than Wales.


• Africa on Foot has five chalets and a treehouse – which is an adventurous option for guests who want to spend a night in the wilderness. Two of the chalets are family units with two adjoining rooms, sleeping four in total. All chalets are en suite and come with mosquito nets and all the amenities one might need in the bush.


• Guests can opt for either a game drive or an informative and exhilarating on-foot safari in the morning, and then enjoy a sunset game drive complete with sundowners in the evening.


• Make your reservation at reservations@sundestinations.co.za, or on 021 712 5284 or visit africaonfoot.com.


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Foreshore, Cape Town

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