A true bush trail is conducted on foot, where you smell the fragrances of the plants and/or dung, taste fruit, herbs or roots, cower from majestic elephant and rhino, observing social behaviour and locating nests or dens. However not everyone is able to take a walk on the wild side, for phobias, fitness levels (or lack thereof) and other physical or personal reasons.
There is no such thing as a bush trail on tarred road – read the words – BUSH (plant) TRAIL (track). The Beauty of taking a bush trail in a sedan lies in the absence of traffic, the raw grinding of your tyres on the gravel as you slowly drive, windows open, looking and listening to the sounds made by the creatures that inhabit that piece of earth that surrounds you. It is about being yourself; sitting the way you would like to; eating when you want to; watching a bird or tortoise for as long as you want to; without having to appease a game viewer full of other persons. A bush trail is using your senses, sometimes hearing the roar of a lion and feeling the vehicle vibrate is more powerful than seeing them – but seeing your front windscreen filled with the most amazing view of wilderness is better than hearing about it!
A bush trail is not simply off the beaten track, but rather a gravel or two-track road that leads you into an area protected or land conserved for its plants, animals, historical value, wilderness or all of these combined. There are many bush trails that are scenically beautiful, others are remote and others to suite individual preferences – all are accessible by most sedans. Just because you do not own a 4X4 does not mean you can’t take a safari – you need to approach it a little more carefully…
We have selected our five best bush trails to drive – not in a 4X4, but in a sedan not a low slung car:
1) The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape
2) Ndumo Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal
3) Nylsvley Nature Reserve, Limpopo
4) Cederberg Conservancy, Western Province
5) Weenen Game reserve, KwaZulu-Natal
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is all about wilderness, wildlife, birds and taking your time! It is not a reserve to visit over the weekend, it is a destination and 7 nights would be doing it justice for a first-time visit. Teaming with wildlife, there is no need to travel every corrugated road in search for a sighting, it would be more rewarding to drive short distances, stopping frequently that’s how our discovery began, watching the “vlei-rotte”, then watching the fat African wildcats stalk them, then watching jackal, vultures, sociable weavers, honey badgers, gemsbok, listening to lions roar…
Many of the gravel roads are corrugated, so unless you want your kidneys rattled, do not attempt to drive more than one road a day!
Ndumo is a birder’s paradise and does not need as much time to explore it and can be visited in 2 or 3 nights, depending on how much action you see or hear from the hides – we could not get enough from the sunset’s themselves so each to their own….
Nylsvley is a RAMSAR site – again more for those interested in birding but like Nduma there are other animals about and due to the limited roads, 1 night or a full day would be good enough for novices!
The Cederberg conservancy is very large and can be explored in bits and pieces or you could take you entire leave and envelop yourself in wilderness, rock art, waterfalls, flora and scenery for weeks, your eyes will not grow weary and there are more than enough bush trails to take your sedan along – although permits are required for the activities and to see attractions. Keep the time of year in mind as when the rivers are in flood you will have to take alternative routes and there is a section of road between Wupperthal and the Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve that is rocky and better for a bantam bakkie rather than a sedan, however, we have heard Golf Chico’s have great ground clearance!
Weenen game reserve is a place that needs a day, great for a weekend camping getaway or for those near enough, a day’s drive in the bush. It is a well kept reserve with interesting terrain, great birding and good game-viewing, the weather always tends to be perfect in autumn, winter or spring but becoming hot in summer, the aloes are exceptional in autumn and the scenery allows for great photography.
If a place says 4X4 trails only – don’t attempt it in a sedan – there is a reason for that sign, stick to the bush trail – it will be well worth it no matter how tempting it may be to test the limits! Having said that, learn a thing-or-two from the foreigners who rent cars and drive – anywhere with no regard for the time it takes to get to the destination they just have to experience it, or students who cant afford SUV’s so pile into a car to explore these places in freedom and more importantly take time to be quiet in this very busy life.