About three weeks ago there were fewer guests in camp than usual. There were therefore a handful of guides who were not taking game drives that day.

Six of us took advantage of this free-time and headed out into the bush for a walk, covering a distance of thirty kilometres and lasting ten hours.

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The team walking on the bank of a dry river bed alongside giant riverine trees.

We had a number of reasons for staying out for most of the day:

The first: Pure Enjoyment. We all wanted to explore areas of the Londolozi bushveld that we had not yet had a chance to fully appreciate on foot; areas we could not get a vehicle to; areas where many animals but only a handful of people had ever been.
We were all excited about the idea of spending this amount of time on foot. Who knew what animals we would see, what interesting tracks and signs we would come across, or even what route we would end up taking? What happened would ultimately be up to the bush and the moment.

The second reason was to gain more experience and knowledge. As many of the people reading this blog will agree with, the best way to learn about the bush and especially about animal behaviour is to spend as many hours as possible in the field, observing the wildlife.

Maintaining one’s curiosity is the surest way to stay fresh in any field.

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Scanning the riverbed we saw two buffalo bulls lying in the sand.

In an area that is home to many potentially dangerous animals, we encountered a number of these on our journey.
When walking in the bush one becomes part of the greater ecosystem and hence is more vulnerable. One’s senses need to be on alert the whole time to the many sounds and signals the bush provides, in order to minimize the chances of a dangerous encounter with one of these large animals.
Over the course of ten hours we observed elephants on ten separate occasions, two buffalo bulls on another, six lionesses and a male lion on a kill (which warranted an aggressive response) and a male leopard strolling away from us, looking back for only a second at the seven men watching him in the distance.

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The slender and compact track of a leopard.

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Guide Jon Mahoud feels the smooth texture of a rhino rubbing post as he walks past.

The most significant element of the experience for me was the fact that I was walking on natural paths created by the animals themselves over the months and years, and are used, each day by countless inhabitants of this place, from bushbuck, nyala, kudu and wildebeest to lions, leopards, buffalo, rhino and elephant. It is a powerful feeling to place the soles of your walking shoes where iconic African animals have walked so many times before you.

The photographs in this post were all taken with an iPhone as a DSLR camera would have been too cumbersome an object to carry for so long; the pictures serve to show you all the many diverse landscapes we walked through as well as some of the tracks and signs we found.

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Walking on a game trail through an open clearing.

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The dried mud from under a zebra’s hoof called the ‘frog’. Zebras will often dislodge the ‘frog’ by kicking or scraping a rock or stump.

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Walking through the thick vegetation that runs along the river system. In these areas one has to be particularly vigilant as visibility is limited.

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An interesting community of fungal structures growing out of elephant dung.

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The great Mahogany tree where we stopped for breakfast.

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Alex Jordan, Jon Mahoud, Paul Danckwerts and Don Heyneke settling down under the Mahogany for a much needed breakfast.

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Paul Danckwerts and me five hours into the journey!

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Alex Jordan sits with his eyes fixated on a breeding herd of elephants on the opposite bank of the Sand River.

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Walking along the banks of the Sand River.

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Shortly before returning to camp we took a moment to gather our thoughts! Here Mrisho Lugenge sits with a happy grin, looking back on an epic day… and happy that his legs were getting a rest!

The walk was a humbling experience and we all exchanged similar sentiments back at camp. Having spent many hours in the bush, us guides know how beneficial silence can be for the psyche; it allows one the space to appreciate the bush and feel gratitude. We were reminded over and over again through those hours of walking in silence, with only the natural sounds to listen to, of the privilege we are afforded in living and working out here. Being able to be in an untouched, healthy natural system each day has a palpable healing effect on the mind and body!

About the Author

Bruce Arnott

Field Guide

Bruce grew up on a plot of farmland in the midlands of KwaZulu-Natal. He always had a passion for the bush and the outdoors, having been camping and fishing since he was a young boy. He attended school in the Natal midlands after ...

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20 Comments

on What Do Six Rangers Do On Their Day Off?

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Marinda Drake

A wonderful experience in nature. It is so special to walk in the tracks that an animal made. Nature truly heals and is so good for the soul.

Bruce Arnott

I agree! Thank you Marinda!

Denise Vouri

Amazing experience and something I would love to do – hike into the bush , for the peace and the opportunity to view animals from a different perspective. Well written and photographically documented.

Bruce Arnott

Thanks very much Denise! I hope you get the chance to walk in the bush soon!

Darlene Knott

Very interest, Bruce! I wish we could have gone with you! How wonderful. We hike in the woods in Tennessee in the States and love to listen to the sound of the birds and the occasional movement of a deer. There is nothing like nature!

Bruce Arnott

Thanks for the comment Darlene! Wherever you are in nature, it lights up all of the senses!

Lucie Easley

In addition to the wonderful sounds and sights of nature, I imagine it was also a time to enjoy the company of the other guys. Each of you doing what you love and with others who have the knowledge and love to really appreciate the small, as well as the large, discoveries. Thanks for sharing.

Bruce Arnott

That is correct, it was a great opportunity to take time out of our lives to spend with other guides. We all came to work in the the bush for the same reason: to follow our passion!

William Julien

Bruce,
Thanks for sharing.
A “male lion on a kill” sounds scary if you are too close and on foot. I’ve seen our normally kind 65 lb springer spaniel, Lancelot, let out a menacing growl if approached after getting a bone. I suspect a lion is about 1000’s times worse. What “aggressive response” was used to keep you safe?

Bruce Arnott

Haha I’ve heard a springer spaniel makes a deeply scary growl! Yes, the growl of a lion sounds like an idling motorbike engine, but much louder. He charged us in an attempt to get us away from his kill and stopped about 15m from us. Once we backed away, the lions relaxed and we carried on with our walk! The aggressive response I was referring to was the male lion’s, not ours. The best way to deal with a charging lion is to hold your ground, making eye contact throughout. Afterwards, you should back away slowly!

Mary Beth Wheeler

An inspiring experience, well-told. But I would also like to know what you saw/felt when you came upon six lionesses and a male lion on a kill! What is that like? I can’t imagine!!

Bruce Arnott

Thank you Mary! The experience was nerve-wrecking, all of us stood there in awe of the scene in front of us! As I mentioned in my comment above, the sound of a growl is like an idling motorbike engine of the most powerful type! It was a good learning experience for us, as this type of thing may happen when we are with guests so we need to know how to safely handle the situation.

D. Phillips

What a wonderful presentation. This has got to be one of my favorite articles. You have brought me into your fold and taken me on a delightful trip into the bush. I may never get to Londolozi, but I thank you for including me on this day. Bless you all.

Bruce Arnott

That is great feedback thank you very much! I’m very glad that you could get a sense of what it was like to walk in the bush. I am happy that we had this positive impact on your day!

Callum Evans

Just incredible to read! I had the priviledge of being able to go into the iMfolozi Wilderness Area in 2015 for 5 nights. The only paths were the ones made by animals and our campsites were little more than rocky outcrops on the edge of the Black iMfolozi River. But to be able to walk through unchanged Africa surrounded by impala, giraffe, white rhino, hyenas, buffalos and lions is the most incredible experience I have ever had, and that anyone can have in my opinion!

Bruce Arnott

Callum, thanks! I’m glad you had that experience and I completely agree!

Callum Evans

Pleasure Bruce! I was beyond thrilled that I got to go on that trail (I’m also a huge fan of Ian Player and Magqubu Ntombela!)! It’s an experience that you have to have for yourselve to fully understand the sheer wonder and peace it brings.

Wendy Hawkins

Beautiful & so fortunate for you all to live in that paradise you can call home! Always good to be in companionable silence with friends of like mind! Thank you Bruce for this wonderful blog. Enjoy the rest of the week 🙂

Susan Strauss

Few things I love more than walking through the bush. I’ll be back at Londoz in a couple weeks – let’s do it!

Ilene Robinson

Bruce – how cool!! Thinking back to our on-foot walk through the bush and the giraffes we saw! Sounds like you guys had some pretty crazy sightings, and the aggressive lion would have had Jess and me crying!! (Probably Matt and Pete too!). Thanks for sharing!

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