She walked out of camp, past the firebreak where the big, fallen over Apple Leaf tree lay slowly decaying in the harsh African sunlight. There was a gentle breeze blowing short, sharp gusts of hot air that seemed to caress her body as she followed a well-used game trail that disappeared into the wilderness in front of her. Her blonde hair hung loosely over her shoulders swaying back and forth with the rhythmic movement of her footsteps, she breathed deeply, filling her lungs with fresh, clear air.

She moved forward with purpose and confidence, her piercing blue eyes slowly scanning the dense bushveld ahead of her. Moving quickly passed the tip of the rugged basalt ridge that broke up the flat, Mopani laden landscape, she glanced up at an ancient Baobab that stood in a commanding position on top of a slight rise, the ancient tree gazing out over the dry and dusty Limpopo flood plain, its huge trunk rising up toward the bright blue sky.

The soft, powder-like soil that covered the top layer of the game path she was on held crystal clear tracks, revealing some of the secrets of the night before. She noticed the spoor of a lone Black-Backed Jackal that had moved quickly down the game path heading toward a nearby water hole to quench its thirst with the cool, life-giving water that slowly trickled up from the very heart of the Earth, forming a natural spring.

She did not have a destination in mind, but that was fine…she was not following her mind now, she was following her heart. She took in the chorus of the bushveld, her senses so naturally in tune with her surroundings. There was an intricate balance of tranquil calmness and harsh exposure in the air. She smiled to herself. She knew she was at home, she felt completely alive.

To experience that is one of the rarest gifts. To be so fully immersed in the unbridled value of authentic wilderness connectivity in every sense. There is a place, so bountiful in nature’s secrets that it feels like the very soul of wilderness reverberates through it. A place that captures your imagination, opens your eyes and encourages you to let your spirit fly.

Tucked away in the far north of Kruger National Park, hugged by two rivers and littered with baobabs and palm trees, lies a truly remarkable piece of land. 26000ha of pristine wilderness, as rich in ecological biodiversity as it is is in cultural history. If magic does exist, it undoubtedly lives in the surreal Fever Tree Forest found along the length of the ancient “great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River”. (Rudyard Kipling: The Elephant’s Child: Just so stories: 1902).

Unfenced and untamed, Makuleke borders on both Mozambique and Zimbabwe. A historical home to a cast of adventurous souls and a portal back to a raw and beautiful “Old Africa”. Ancient elephant pathways, cushioned with the dung from generations of elephants, guide you through the landscape, connecting seasonal pans with resident hippo, natural springs rising up through the delicately coloured sandstone and the many pockets of lush, green vegetation, so diverse that they are a botanists dream.

Huge herds of grunting African buffalo move through the tall grass like a slowly flowing black wave, a symphony of bird song floats through the air and the solemn, ominous call of the spotted hyena owns the night. There are a few other wild places like Makuleke scattered around our planet, some larger and some smaller, but the one undeniable trait that these bastions of wilderness share is their ability to embrace their visitors. To show them the true value of wilderness. For that, we owe them not only our gratitude but also our protection.

She found her spot and sat down, resting her head gently against the trunk of a Sycamore fig that grew at the base of a small seasonal pan, at the edge of the forest. She let her body relax and her mind wander. In the coolness of the shade, she felt revitalised, connected and content. “If only everyone could feel what she felt now”, she thought, “then everyone would understand the need to protect these wild spaces.”.

How can we expected people to protect wilderness areas if they do not love them? And how can someone love something that they do not understand? Places like Makuleke play a crucial role in exposing people to the importance of nature and our connection to it. No, Makuleke is not just another piece of land. It is an expertly woven tapestry with a beauty and complexity very rarely seen. It is a small piece of wild heaven.

  • Vaughn Du Plooy
  • : Vaughn is a nature, trails and wilderness guide from South Africa. He is the co-owner and private guide at Dusty Footprints GmbH, leading their wilderness and safari experiences. Based in Bern, Switzerland, Vaughn is striving to spread the message of the value of wilderness connectivity and the need to conserve the Earth's remaining wilderness areas through education and personal nature experiences.
  • :
  • :
  • :
  • : To truly experience the value of an authentic wilderness experience is to experience a profound and perfectly personal sense of belonging and connectivity. To travel to, to see, touch, small, taste and to hear nature in all of its glory. To share the secrets of wilderness through either meaningful footsteps or meaningful words.
  • : adult_(19_and_over_as_of_31st_december_2019)
  • : This is the first time this story has been published.