Traveling out of the park was something I wasn't looking forward to. My experience inside was much more of an emotional trip then I had originally expected, although the place I was on route for would prove to be extremely educational and inspiring. So on the road I went, to experience the rest of South Africa.
Exiting the park I traveled south east to the Mkhuze Game Reserve where I would spend 3 nights in the open wilderness before continuing south east for St. Lucia to search for birds. Mkhuze proved to be a wonderful selection and great introduction to what it means to camp in the open African wilderness. With my experience in Kruger, I was used to sleeping in gated campsites knowing the possibility of outside animals getting in, besides the baboons, was very slim. Now waking up and having my morning coffee outside with no safety nets gave me a truer sense of respect for the powerful African environment. Throughout my stay in Mkhuze I had opportunity to speak with several rangers who were very informative on the fight against animal poaching and the measures they go to, every single day, to protect the animals inside the park limits. The large size of the park makes it impossible to stop the poaching crimes as many locals hunt on the far ends of the reserve where there are no roads inside the park to access the areas. Many snares are set up along the perimeter where people can easily climb over the property fences and access the wildlife inside the park. I was told by different rangers that they often find animals snared and left by poachers for days, but by the time they are able to get to these sites, the damage is done. Cheetahs have often been the target and would always be mentioned in the conservation conversation.
Time in Mkhuze was very informative, and many times since I've thought about the stories I heard from the folks fighting to protect Africa's wildlife welfare. Since my time in Africa the sport hunting community has attempted to own the title "conservation", but they have nothing on the hard working rangers who fight to protect animal life. The very simple fact is that humans now feel they need to control animal populations to keep the flow of diversity intact when the problem began with humans desecrating the entire animal kingdom by wiping out the food-chain from the top to the bottom. In the end it is just another example of the intense mistakes humanity has made and is now trying to fix; death with more death. This was my primary lesson learnt from Mhkuze.
I hired a local bird guide and wildlife educator named Themba for one day. After our first outing I thought it was best to keep him on for the rest of my stay. He was a wealth of information and has remained a contact of mine to this day. Themba took me through many spaces I would not have been able to find on my own and easily located many bird species. He took me through his home village 50 miles outside of St. Lucia and spent a full day walking through swamps and pristine African forests locating all forms of wildlife and shared his in-depth knowledge of the ecosystem along the way. Themba also shared his business pursuits and his desire to build a communication center focused on educating his local community on environmental conservation. After my return to Canada I would continue to work with Themba in providing a financial outlet to help build his center as well as providing photographs for his programs and seminars. You can find a link to Themba's outfit in the footer section on this website called Zulubirding and Ecotours.
Creighton and The Kingdom of Lesotho
The plan for the rest of the trip was to head west to Creighton and stay with a company called Button Birding (also found in the footer). This was a small family owned business that provided 2 guided birding tours a day and gave you access to their beautiful private property. A few days into the stay we would go to the Kingdom of Lesotho and experience the culture of a country dwelling inside a country. After the stay with Button Birding I would take a few days in Wakkerstrom, looking for more birds before heading back to Johannesburg to fly back home.
Traveling through the country, heading to Creighton, gave me opportunity to experience the rural town cultures as I would drive through many different townships and stay in local motels. Before this, my only pursuit was to find animals and photograph as many different species as possible. I took my time for the rest of the trip traveling in this way. From town to town, until I arrived at my selected locations.
Creighton was a place full of birds not yet recorded, driving from location to location with Malcolm (the owner) learning about the local wildlife and his views on his country. Malcolm would take me into the Kingdom of Lesotho for a day to photograph birds very secluded to that area.
Leaving Button Birding I would head to Wakkerstrom with high expectations. Wakkerstrom seemed to me the place to be for a wide variety of bird species. In all my research done before the trip, this was always a very highly recommended place to go. On my journey there I would once again spend my nights in local motels found along the way. At this point in my trip, I had already left a piece of myself in Africa and was mentally processing future plans to return.
Wakkerstrom was beautiful and met all the expectations. On my last day there and on a voyage looking for birds I found myself on the back roads, outside of town, in peak heat of the day. The roads were getting worse by the kilometer until I reached a point where hindsight says was impassable. By this time I felt I had reached the point of no return so I carefully planned how I could move forward. Before I knew it, my vehicle was bottomed out due to the massive ruts in the road. Exiting the vehicle I realized the foolish decision making involved but had to come up with a cure for the situation. After past hours of failed attempts the problem seemed helpless. As dinner time approached, to my amazement, a local from the nearest town was bicycling through and stopped to look at my dilemma. This man could not speak a word of English but graciously continued to struggle by my side to get the SUV back onto higher ground. An hour in, another man, originally from Swaziland, happened to pass by and join the cause. He spoke broken English and was able to communicate enough as a mediator that we were able to hoist the rig back onto the shoulder of the road. After changing tires and driving these great humans to their place of rest, I gave them each a full weeks pay and headed back to the Wakkerstrom local pub, where I would spend the duration of the evening. The next morning I would begin my trip back to Johannesburg for one more night before flying home to Canada.
This was the most inspiring trip that I have made to date. Africa is a place of pure beauty and power and will always have a place in the deepest part of me. Now with a wife, daughter and another on the way, Africa is most definitely in the family plans for the future. I can`t say that I would have done a single thing differently on my journey from east to west and would recommend these locations to anyone planning a trip to the country. South Africa has a wealth of any wildlife you are in search for and a population full of wonderful people. I hope you all enjoyed reading the recollection of my trip as much as I did recalling the journey.
All the best, Robbie
Robbie P. Gallant
As a naturalist, I spend a great amount of time in personal study. Discussion and research is key to exploring new and intelligent ideas and furthering our understanding of our natural surroundings.