Discover The Kruger National Park’s secret 4×4 Eco Trails

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If driving past restricted roads triggers an uncontrollable urge to see what jaw-dropping wildlife encounters lay hidden beyond the no-entry sign, then Kruger Park’s 4×4 eco trails should be on your bucket list.

Travel is still mostly limited to within our own borders and the 2021 dry season is just getting started. Now is the time to give in to your wanderlust. Make your African adventure dream come true on home soil. An authentic off-grid wilderness experience awaits.

You might have visited this world-class big five game reserve before. However, you might have never seen it from this angle.

Tucked away in the Kruger National Park wilderness lay two magnificent guided self-drive 4×4 eco trails. Both were designed with the more adventurous tourist in mind.

The Lebombo and Mafunyane 4×4 eco trails were not created to challenge your vehicle or chase big five sightings. However, they give tourists a true wilderness experience. Thanks to them, rarely seen remote areas can be accessed.

Both eco trails are self-catering and isolated. This means that there are no facilities. You have got to be self-reliant in this undisturbed paradise. You’ll need to supply your own camping gear, food, water and firewood.

Continue reading for expert packing tips and a list of what to bring.

Limited to a maximum of five vehicles, Kruger Park’s 4×4 eco trails are ideal for small groups of adventurous tourists. However, keep an eye on the weather as roads may suddenly be closed after heavy rains. Accordingly, these 4×4 experiences are seasonal. They are only operated in the dry season from 1 March to 30 November.

Lebombo 4×4 Eco Trail (5 days, 4 nights)

the Lebombo 4×4 Eco Trail weaves in and out of more than 30 different habitats along the length of the park. Boasting a large diversity of fauna and flora, it’s considered to be one of South Africa’s top 4×4 eco trails.

Two elephants fighting in the Kruger Park wilderness.
Two elephants fighting in the Kruger Park wilderness.

This sundry 4×4 covers 525 km along the Lebombo mountain range. From Crocodile Bridge, its lush and green. It then extends to the more arid Pafuri. The picturesque Crocodile and Komati rivers – rich in wildlife – are prominent features of the Lebombo 4×4 Eco Trail. Road conditions vary from good to rough with mud. A couple of steep inclines that require 4×4 to navigate.

The first night is spent east of Lower Sabie in an unfenced camp with two eco-friendly toilets. The second overnight spot is at Pumbe – hidden somewhere between Olifants and Satara rest camps. The third stop is north-east of Mopani rest camp at Shilewa and the fourth at Ndzepfuri.

Re-fueling stops are made at Lower Sabie, Olifants and Shingwedzi rest camps. There, guests also have an opportunity to top up on supplies and have a rejuvenating, hot shower.

Mafunyani 4×4 Eco Trail (4 days, 3 nights)

The Mafunyani 4×4 Eco Trail departs from Phalaborwa Gate and ending at Punda Maria rest camp in the far north. From there, it covers the north-western section of the Kruger Park between the Olifants and Levuvhu Rivers.

Road conditions are relatively good. However, they are characterised by steep inclines, river crossings and mud during and after rain. Only 4×4 vehicles with proper 4×4 trailers and caravans are permitted on the trail.

An extremely rare sighting of a black rhino with calf.
An extremely rare sighting of a black rhino with calf.

The 270 km route is completed in four easy-to-manage stages. Day one stretches over 42 km from Phalaborwa Gate to Malopeni overnight site. Day two is the longest and covers 123 km from Malopeni to Mafunyani overnight site. The third day takes drivers along a 90 km route from Mafunyane to Shidzivane overnight site. On day four, the route will finish the final 15 km to Punda Maria.

Overnight sites on this trail are all equipped with fireplaces. There are also eco-friendly toilets and primitive showers that require guests to heat their own water over a fire. There are no refuelling stops between overnight sites. You’ll have to carry enough provisions for four days and three nights. This will include water, food and firewood. Planning and organisation skills are essential.

Get organised: pro packing tips

The key is to pack what you will need to take out first, last. The first order of business when arriving at an overnight spot is to set up camp. You will need to take out tents groundsheets, camping beds and sleeping bags first. Make sure these are the last to be packed.

Next, you would need to unpack the essentials. These can include the gas cooker, camping fridge, canteen, and washstand. There’s also the lamps and torches, cutlery and crockery. You may also want to bring tables and chairs, and fire extinguishers.

Packed at the back, food and drink supplies are taken out last. Note that there are two types of food and drink. These should be kept in different places. Supplies for the overnight site are kept at the back. Meanwhile, food and drinks consumed during the day stay with you in the cabin. These should be stored in a separate cooler box or camping fridge.

Ideally, you’d want to plan and pack each night’s meal separately. Only unpack what you are going to eat and have nothing left to pack away.

Since there is no power at the 4×4 trail camps, you might want to get a portable solar panel kit. One with a 12 Volt battery pack can be charged while driving. This will be great in keeping the camping fridge running overnight without depleting the car battery.

What to bring along with you

Creature Comforts:

Equipment:

  • A well-equipped tool box
  • Good condition spare tyre
  • Basic first aid kit
  • Camera and binoculars
  • Chargers for camera and cell-phone
  • Gas cooker and cooking equipment
  • Enough firewood for cooking
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Garbage bags (to be disposed of at one of the main rest camps)

Personal Items:

  • Insect repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • hat
  • towels
  • Bio-degradable soap
  • Any personal medication
  • Toilet paper
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