The Olifants River Hiking Trail was officially opened by Dr Bandile Mkhize on 26 March 2006. The official ribbon cutting ceremony was preceded by a traditional Kruger National Park (KNP) welcome the previous day when Ben van Eeden welcomed the group of about 30 people at Olifants camp. The group of people consisted of media, persons involved in the development and assessment of the trail, sponsors and KNP officials.
They were treated on an astronomy tour and dinner before Andrew Desmet, activities manager of KNP and also the trails guide for the trip, gave an overview of what could be expected. The trail, which is approximately 42 km long, consists of a four-day, three-night trip starting close to where the Olifants river enters the western boundary of the Park and ends close to Olifants camp. The trail is not on a fixed route and campsites also differ from trail to trail. Guides follow their own route and when the river is not as high as it is currently they may cross it at will and travel on both shores.
The trail is not an easy one and guests must supply and carry their own equipment consisting of a tent, sleeping bag, food, water, clothes, medical kit, stove etc. "What you carry in must be carried out and nothing but your footprints may be left behind," said Andrew. Peter Scott, a former area ranger in KNP, who did the Environmental Impact Assesment (EIA) on the trail addressed the group and explained that the process to make this trail possible started as long ago as 1997.
A lot of hard work and effort from a dedicated group of believers has made the trail possible. In the past this area was only accessible to rangers doing their work. One of the major obstacles was to find a way to communicate with park officials in an emergency situation. This was made possible by Dr Simon King of the Wilderness Emergency Programme when he donated two satellite phones to overcome this problem.
Dr King also supplied the first aid equipment for the trail. Various other sponsors also contributed equipment such as two global positioning systems (GPS) by the Honorary Rangers' Counter Poaching Unit and a trailer from Jurgens CI. During breakfast prior to the departure the group was addressed by Dr Bandile Mkhize who congratulated all his staff and other people that made this exiting new product possible.
Thereafter it was time for an equipment check and ribbon cutting ceremony before the small group of seven left on this exiting trip. Kruger Park Times reporter Janke Strauss will be part of the group and will give us a first hand report of her experience.