This adventure safari lets you go beyond the confines of the 4×4

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Guide Jonty Tatz drives a 4×4 while tracker Richard Sithole helps locate creatures in South Africa‘s Kruger National Park.

Tim Johnson

For a guy with an expert eye, tracking wildlife in the African bush doesn’t take long – especially when the animals don’t wander too far from riverb and dirt roads, supple surfaces where they make a clear and lasting impression.

But searching for tracks can quickly become more difficult once the beasts stray from the beaten path and wander deeper into the bush. Then the clue might be a single bent blade of grass, or perhaps a broken twig.

More often it’s just a feeling, a sort of stroke of intuition, that leads that tracker to some of the continent’s biggest cats and other members of the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, Cape buffalo).

On this afternoon, it takes a little more than 10 minutes for Richard Khoza, who has been working as a tracker for 36 years.

With guide Bernard Stiglingh at the wheel, we take the safari 4×4 vehicle for a scout, dropping Khoza, stoic and focused, near a set of fresh tracks along a dry riverbed. We leave him – eyes down, steps straight and methodical – to trace the tracks into the thick underbrush that lines each side.

Minutes later, the radio crackles to life – Khoza has spotted two juvenile leopards lazing up in a tree. We roll up to find him standing nonchalantly beside a small pond, inspecting a large feather, seemingly unworried about the dangerous animals nearby.

Later, I ask him what he fears after all these years in the wild. “Oh, nothing, now,” he says, thinking carefully.

He then quickly corrects himself. “Well, I fear God, but nothing else.

I’m in the Ngala Private Game Reserve, a private preserve that directly adjoins South Africa’s famed Kruger National Park, which sprawls across almost 20,000 square kilometres (an area roughly the size of Israel). While most such safaris require little more derring-do than simply riding around in a cushy vehicle under the sun, I’m here to do something unusual – that is, get out and walk.

A growing number of younger, more active travellers are looking to go beyond the confines of the 4×4 vehicle and to engage with the surrounding environment (and culture) on a deeper level. I will visit villages, get closer to nature, ride at night, and, perhaps most importantly, learn a few lessons about how to track animals myself.

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