I have been in Mpumalanga for a month now, and to my surprise it was the gentle trickle of the Mac Mac River that accompanied my first organic experience of what I consider the ‘real’ South Africa. I have previously taken two tours of Kruger park, but being ferried around in a landrover of behemoth proportions felt somewhat disingenuous, I think the sheer fact that you couldn’t hear the animals standing fifteen feet away over the roar of the engine made the whole thing seem contrived, as stunning as it was to see the wildlife, I didn’t feel as in touch with the country as I had hoped.
Even crossing well maintained bridge that signals the start of the Matumi trail, I felt as if I was entering into something real. I’m well aware that the trail I walked was hardly the heart of darkness, it was well signposted, frequently walked and began a stone’s throw from a busy road, but despite all of this, I had the impression I was discovering something new.
I set off from Hazyview on the morning of the local government elections and consequently, as a public holiday, I anticipated the trail to be fairly busy, but to my surprise, I didn’t see another soul for the entirety of the walk, the only confirmation of other human presence that I had was the wild yells of some crazy Californians who were zipping along a parallel track on quad bikes.
Despite the season, the sun beamed down relentlessly and managed an impressive twenty seven degrees, for this reason I was very happy that so much of the trail is sheltered by trees so no more than a dappling of sunlight fell on my ill suited English skin. Despite frequent climbs and descents, the path follows the edge of the river very closely, which not only provides magnificent views, but also creates the perfect platform for birding and I was overjoyed to get to see the indigenous wagtail.
Wildlife seems to be rife around the trail, as conveniently placed markers informed me of the different species and subspecies that could be spotted. Unfortunately, I saw very little, apart from the retreating form of a large snake no more than two feet away, which I was later unsettlingly informed was more than likely a black mamba.
I cooled myself in the river by the conveniently placed picnic spot, which had been relieved of all its wooden bench tops in a display of distinctly South African ingenuity. The return leg of the trail followed the opposite side of the river, providing a spectacular view of the section that I had just walked.
I was taken slightly unawares by the sharp and severe incline that made me question whether perhaps the trail didn’t take you on a detour by way of Mafadi, but once conquered the rest of the trail was either sloping or flat and provided a pleasant winding down of the hike. The last surprise was perhaps the final pedestrian bridge that made me feel somewhat like Indiana Jones sans the hat.
The Matumi trail has been one of the things I have done that has made me feel most in touch with the country since I have been here and it is well worth doing even if only to see the proud variety of scenery that makes this part of the world so beautiful.