The first afternoon of the three-night trail started with an afternoon walk and sundowner at Mangala along the Luvuvhu River, an excellent first walk through the floodplain and riverine forest fringing the river, with the Hutwini Mountain looming above us. Together with mammal species like nyala, bushbuck and impala, we had some great birds along the way – just to remind us where we were – in the form of white-crowned lapwing along the river’s edge, trumpeter hornbills and their plaintive cries as they flew through the riverine forest canopy and then a soaring Verreauxs’ eagle (one of a pair that nests on a ledge of Hutwini). En route back to camp, we bumped into first one elephant bull, and then further on another two. All three had made their way down from their daytime woodland feeding grounds in the mopane to the river.
The following morning, we were up early for coffee around the fire before heading into the legendary Hutwini Gorge to the north of camp. As we hiked up the furthest reaches of the gorge we had a close encounter with a lone buffalo bull. He thankfully ran the other way, but we were anyway safely ensconced on the edge of the rock face. Emerging out the top of the gorge and with our adrenalin levels now back to normal we enjoyed excellent sightings of no less than three vulture species soaring on the rising thermals: lappet-faced, white faced and hooded vultures. Having drunk in the spectacular views of the river and its floodplain from the top of Hutwini we made our way down a relatively steep slope and picked up the tracks of a buffalo herd. We managed to use the cover of the vegetation and natural contours of the land to stalk to within a reasonable distance of them and enjoy a view of the herd from across a seasonal pan. They didn’t realise we were there and we managed to walk away without them noticing us at all; always a great experience on a walking trail!
A restful siesta followed once we finished our brunch back in camp. Green-spotted doves called soporifically, with the occasional distant cry of an African fish-eagle pair on the nearby Luvuvhu River.
That afternoon we decided to walk away from the river on the far side of the floodplain in low acacia woodland scattered with numerous pans and mud wallows and an area with excellent grazing. It wasn’t long before we had a sighting of three buffalo bulls from 40 metres away, who snorted their displeasure and made off west. Later on near a large pan, we picked up the sound of a large herd of buffalo … soft belches and grunts, and oxpeckers calling, and we realised that we needed to alter our route slightly. Half an hour later and we had successfully looped around a 200-strong herd of buffalo without disturbing them, except for two outliers who noticed us, stared disrespectfully and then continued grazing. Zebra, impala and warthog were also seen before we got back to the vehicle and headed back to camp.
The following morning, we walked to Mashishiti Spring. An hour into the walk and we stopped in our tracks as we heard a leopard in the distance. It was immediately answered by another leopard calling not 50 metres from where we stood. Given the broken terrain along the edge of a rocky hill and ridge line we decided to investigate in the hope of spotting one of the animals from a distance but had to be content with the intimacy that comes from hearing a predator like leopard call nearby while on foot!
The Spring itself was as productive as usual with small herds of nyala and impala in particular being found in the general area. As a means of mixing it up a bit, we decided to take a drive that evening rather than walk again. We headed to the Big Baobab and aside from enjoying this magnificent specimen saw plenty of game en route including impala, kudu, zebra and wildebeest, as well as three different sightings of elephant, all bulls, and a single ostrich (a real rarity for the area).
Our last morning of the trail dawned far too soon and we headed to the ethereal fever tree forest for our final walk. In this spectacular setting we found an elephant bull that we observed from around 80 metres away before moving around him – and in our detour finding a buffalo bull. Returning a while later to the vehicle we found that the elephant bull had moved into the same area and as we had coffee we enjoyed a very peaceful sighting of him feeding in the riverine vegetation … a very fitting end to our four-day experience of the first Pafuri Walking Trail of 2014.