Project Visit South Africa: EcoQuest Course
Natucate on Tour: In spring 2020, Natucate team member Ann-Kathrin visited EcoTraining's EcoQuest course. Read more about her impressions of the seven-day bush adventure.
An introductory guide course in the South African wilderness combining wildlife observation and acquiring theoretical basics – this is what EcoTraining's 1- to 2-week EcoQuest course stands for. In spring 2020, Natucate team member Ann-Kathrin travelled to South Africa to take part in the course herself.
As with (almost) all EcoTraining courses, Ann-Kathrin arrived at Johannesburg Airport one day before the official start of the course. After checking in, picking up the bags and some waiting time at the airport's "bus terminal", Ann-Kathrin was picked up by the shuttle of the Emerald Guesthouse, her accommodation for the upcoming night and the common meeting point for all course participants, and driven to the accommodation.
After spending one night in the guesthouse, Ann-Kathrin bumped into four other EcoQuest participants the next morning, all gathered in the accommodation's flowery green courtyard to take EcoTraining's "Bush Bus" to the north of Kruger National Park. The comfortable Bush Bus arrived a little late – traffic jam in the greater Johannesburg area – and took the expectant travellers on a journey of about seven hours to the Pafuri Gate of the national park.
Shortly afterwards, a large off-road vehicle arrived at the gate as well, coming from the depths of the national park: driven by Norman, their guide for the next seven days. After the luggage had been transferred and everyone had taken a seat, the drive to Camp Makuleke finally began.
Camp Makuleke is nestled in the picturesque wilderness of the Pafuri region. Course participants are not accommodated in tents here, but in simple wooden houses including their own bathroom. There is also an open communal house for classes and daily meals, a kitchen, an office and an open-air fireplace. Each of the houses was built on stilts - a circumstance that serves to leave no traces behind in case the camp would be completely taken down.
"A wonderful camp team, rustic-simple accommodation with everything you need and the incredible proximity to nature. In the simplicity of Camp Makuleke lies its beauty, as you are in the middle of Kruger National Park’s wilderness. I was thrilled with Makuleke from the very beginning!"
After arriving at Camp Makuleke, Ann-Kathrin and the other course participants – five more had arrived in the meantime – were first briefed by head instructor Sean on the exact course schedule and familiarized with important safety instructions and behavioural rules for living and moving around in the wilderness. Afterwards, the group agreed on the following activity pattern: a game walk in the morning and a drive in the afternoon.
These two daily activities were always framed by a short snack after getting up (at about 05:30/06:00 AM), a nutritious brunch after returning in the morning, a subsequent theory session of about 60 minutes in the common room, a siesta of about two hours and a joint dinner following the afternoon excursion.
Because the total number of participants was well over five, the group was split up – one part went into the bush with Sean in the morning, the others went with Norman. In the afternoon, the guides swapped.
"Both the excursions with Sean and Norman were fantastic. Both are excellent guides who impressed us deeply with their expert knowledge. On our first game walk, for example, Sean introduced us to the art of tracking: after first driving out into the wilderness for a while in the off-road vehicle, we stopped after a while and marched back towards camp on foot. The mission was to find the bull elephant we had spotted on the way there.
Sean led us skillfully through the uneven terrain, drawing our attention again and again to fresh tracks that might have come from the elephant we were looking for. We ventured deeper and deeper into the thicket. For a moment it seemed as if we had lost the scent, but then Sean discovered another clear clue and we resumed our pursuit. Sean seemed to know that we could not be far away, because he suddenly told us to be very quiet. Everyone's heart was now pounding. We silently crept through dense mopane vegetation, around one last tree – and there he was, our bull elephant, enjoying a little brunch. From a safe distance we watched him for a while, everyone filled with deep amazement. Meeting an elephant on foot ... an unforgettable experience!“
This mind-blowing experience was complemented by a series of other magical moments in the days that followed. Regular encounters with herds of elephants, sundowners in the sandy riverbed and a visit to the stunning Lanner Gorge at sunset. Besides elephants, daily companions included impala and other antelope, warthogs, zebra, baboons, vervet monkeys, hippos, crocodiles, buffalo and countless birds.
"The last day was another real highlight for us, as we were incredibly lucky to encounter four of the Big Five: herds of elephant and buffalo in the morning, two rhinos at sunset and, last but not least, a leopard on its nightly foray. As if that wasn't enough, during our afternoon excursion the camp team had moved the large dining table from the communal house to the campfire site, where a candlelight dinner under Africa's starry sky awaited us. When we returned to camp after dark, a lantern-sprinkled path led us to the dining spot under the twinkling Milky Way. It was the perfect ending.“
The next morning we had breakfast together for the last time before we loaded our luggage onto the 4x4 vehicle and were driven back to Pafuri Gate by Norman and Sean. After a fond farewell, we transferred to the Bush Bus which took us back to the Emerald Guesthouse. After a last overnight stay in Johannesburg, we finally had to fly back to Germany the next day.
"The EcoQuest course is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a real African safari within a short time and at the same time gain background knowledge about the local flora and fauna. The theoretical part is much shorter than the practical part - a fact that, however, already indicates whether the thirst for knowledge is so great that joining an EcoTraining field guide course might also be a possibility.
In any case, participants visiting the course can look forward to picturesque landscapes and fascinating wildlife. Not to forget the wonderful camp team including the great guides who do everything to make every guest's stay a successful one."