Nourish your spirit with this three night backpacking trail in remote wilderness adjacent to the Kruger National Park.
- Trip Outline
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Letaba Ranch Nature Reserve, in the upper reaches of the Letaba River system north of Phalaborwa, is a 42,000-hectare reserve that shares an unfenced boundary with the Kruger National Park. The reserve is transected by the Groot Letaba and Klein Letaba rivers. Most of the reserve is owned by the Limpopo Provincial Government, with some parts of it in community ownership. Travelling time from Johannesburg to the reserve is about six hours. With no public access gate to the Kruger Park for some 150 kilometres between Phalaborwa and Punda Maria gates, the area is quiet and feels off-grid.
The dominant vegetation south of the Groot Letaba River combines mixed mopane and combretum woodlands. Except for that river system, almost all of the other drainage lines are ephemeral. The grazer population includes healthy numbers of buffalo, zebra, wildebeest and hippo. There are a good number of browsers including giraffe, eland and kudu, while the mixed feeders include elephant and impala. The elusive Sharpe’s grysbok is sometimes seen during the winter months. Two packs of African wild dogs frequent the area, and the tracks of vehicle-shy big cats are often found on foot, while the birding along the river is very good.
Spirited Adventures is run by veteran trail guides and the company is committed to providing walking experiences that have zero ecological impact. As well as offering hikes in Letaba Ranch Nature Reserve, guides take trails into the Associated Private Nature Reserves to the south.
The company also offers customised trail experiences, from backpacking to slackpacking, with walkers spending three (or more) nights camping wild. Trails are offered year-round, including in the hot summer months. Unusually, Spirited Adventures runs women-only trails, and guiding in German is possible for all German-speaking groups.
For backpacking, hikers need to be totally self-sufficient and fit enough to carry 10–14kg packs in sometimes hot conditions. Water is sourced by digging in drainage lines, and purification drops should be used. Having the right kit – and not bringing too much – is key to enjoying backpacking. The company runs regular information meetings in Johannesburg to advise hikers on how to prepare, pack and dress for bushveld expeditions.
Typically, a Spirited Adventures backpack trail covers about 35 kilometres, exploring the river systems of the reserve. As it’s a long drive to Letaba Ranch for most guests, it’s possible to arrive the night before and camp wild with one of the guides, by arrangement.
After meeting at Mtomeni Camp on the first morning, the group transfers by game-viewing vehicle to the trail start. On the final day, everyone is back at base camp by 11:00. Depending on the group and the conditions, the camp either moves to a different site each night or may stay in a certain area, to enable some easier exploration unencumbered by full backpacks.
A good alternative to backpacking, especially in summer, is to take the easier option of a fixed wilderness trail. In this case walkers just need to carry a day pack, and sleep in roomy tents supplied by the company. There’s also a slackpacking option, where the camp is packed up each day for relocation by vehicle as walkers explore the terrain.
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