As the Sun Dips Below the Horizon

In a move away from the classic safari lodges of today, Klaserie Sands Safari Trails breathes fresh air into the traditional private safari concept. Centred on an ethos of discovery, Klaserie Sands Safari Trails aims to reintroduce guests to what it means to be human – in touch with the land, able to read the signs and tap into the “information highway” (as Alan McSmith, our extremely experienced ranger calls it). In a world where people are chained to their electronics, we as humans have lost that primal relationship with the land. Sure, people go out running on a Saturday or for a nice bicycle ride but really, it’s just not the same thing. I’m talking about a true ability to read the land and her signals, from identifying the alarm call of a bird to interpreting the freshness of animal droppings. These are the skills that truly connect us with the bush and with nature at large. 

Billed as a true bush lovers’ retreat, the tented Klaserie Sands Safari Trails camp is located in the wildlife-rich Klaserie Private Nature Reserve, one of the largest private reserves that forms the Greater Kruger. As one of the least commercially developed private nature reserves, Klaserie offers guests a truly authentic walking safari experience. With no Wi-Fi or cellular reception, the camp aims to instil true reconnection in the guest experience – connection with people, nature and self. As is standard with safari camps, every staff member carries a radio in case of an emergency, but that’s all the technology you’ll encounter. Instead, what you will experience is the passion of Klaserie Sands River Camp owner-operators, husband-and-wife team Lee-Ann and Louis Rautenbach. Dedicated to the revival of authentic bush experiences, Klaserie Sands Safari Trails was a way for them to offer their guests something that they are incredibly passionate about – experiencing an untouched corner of the Kruger National Park on foot; authentically connecting with the terrain and its plant and animal inhabitants. 

Starting bright and early, guests are taken on foot through the wilderness on a journey of discovery. Tracking is a big part of any walking safari, and Klaserie Sands Safari Trails has an impressively knowledgeable team. In a camp populated by staff who all harbour a love and deep-rooted respect for nature, guests are bound to get bitten by the walking safari bug and will wake up every morning excited for the day of discovery ahead. 

Your days will begin at pre-dawn, with a homemade rusk and coffee before setting out with your expert field guides and trackers. As a group, you’ll explore the magnificent and diverse terrain over the course of three to four hours, tracking game, observing the abundant birdlife and learning about the area’s rich flora and fauna. A full bush breakfast awaits alongside a safari vehicle, which will be ready and waiting to return you to camp once you’re full. The heat of the afternoon can be spent in the shade of your private deck, in the freshness of the splash pool or engaging in a game of backgammon in the cool depths of the dry riverbed.

A light luncheon will be served after which the group will commence its second exploration on foot. As the sun begins to set, your walk will likely end at a viewpoint overlooking the immense wilderness, its inhabitants beginning to stir as the air cools. You’ll sense the camp before returning to it, inhaling the smoke from the open fire, hearing its crackle and feeling the warmth of its flame. Evenings are filled with delicious local wines, a traditional “braai” and the sound of laughter as you recount the day’s unforgettable anecdotes.

That being said, the idea of being out in the bush on foot does not appeal to everyone, and that’s okay too. In that case, Klaserie Sands River Camp is the place for you – and what a choice it is. Completely rebuilt after extensive flooding a few years ago, the camp is all quiet luxury and soft, cooling colour schemes. A rim-flow pool overlooking the waterhole is where you’ll find guests on a warm afternoon, or having a siesta after lunch before heading out on a game drive.

At Klaserie Sands, even the game drives are different. The rangers tailor every experience to the guest, and it’s refreshing to know that there is more than one way to have a safari experience. Have you ever done a game drive in silence? Ever focused on the noise of the birds instead of tires and radio calls in a race to track down the Big Five? At Klaserie Sands River Camp, you have all the options. The game rangers are accompanied by a skilled tracker, able to pick up an animal trail and follow it with astounding precision. 

My visit to Klaserie Sands had so many highlights that it’s hard to pick just a few to share with you. On our first game drive from Klaserie Sands River Camp, Elly, our awesome Australian ranger, managed to get us into a great position where we were able to witness what even she described as “a totally unique sighting”. The night before, three lions had taken down a young giraffe. Once the three had had their fill, they sauntered off into the bush to rest their tired eyes and protruding tummies. What happened next was pure carnage: over 40 vultures swooped in and a feeding frenzy began, only to be disrupted by the arrival of five hyenas, eager to get in on the action We silently watched as the hyenas and vultures went into battle, squabbling over what was left of the giraffe – an eerie but unforgettable sighting!

The second highlight was a sighting of those same lions that had made the giraffe kill, though this time we were lucky enough to watch all three of them come together in unison to contact call the rest of their pride. Hearing a lion in the distance is one thing, but being so close that you could feel the vibrations in your chest is quite another. Equally amazing and terrifying, these three lions gave us the most unique display of behaviour in our short time with them: mating, scent marking, contact calling and, as cats do, sleeping. 

The final sighting I’ll share with you was chronologically the first, but I thought I’d save the most unique for last: a giraffe in labour. The elegant female giraffe was clearly in some discomfort, but she maintained a very simple behavioural pattern – during a contraction, she’d spread her legs and bow her head. Then, after a few seconds, she would stand up straight and walk around before starting the process all over again. Giraffes, like people, can be in labour for anything from hours to days, so we watched with bated breath. As is standard in nature, when an animal does not want to be near humans, they simply walk away. It was with a heavy heart that we watched her leave, but knew that to follow her would be intrusive – and not part of the Klaserie Sands way. We left her in peace to birth her child and continued on our journey in the wild.

To visit Klaserie Sands is to understand what the respect for and love of nature is in the truest sense. The camp has a deep-rooted connection to the breath-taking environment in which both camps sit. Every employee has a passion for the land and the animals that call it home. And they can’t wait to welcome you into their world.

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Text: Charlotte Rogers
Photography © Klaserie Sands