Walking safaris, or wilderness trails, were pioneered in Southern Africa in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s by some extraordinary men, all of them legendary conservationists and far-sighted visionaries.

South Africa

The first wilderness trails as we know them today were pioneered in 1957 by a young Natal Parks Board game ranger named Ian Player and his friend and mentor, a Zulu game guard by the name of Magqubu Ntombela. Along with the likes of Sir David Attenborough, Dr Ian Player is today one of the world’s living legends of wildlife conservation. He is the elder brother of Gary Player, the famous golfer, himself an ardent supporter of conservation. A truly gifted pair of siblings if ever there were!

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Above: Magqubu Ntombela & Ian Player (1980’s)    Above: Legendary brothers Gary & Ian Player

The first wilderness trail took place in 1957 in the Lake St. Lucia Game Reserve in Natal, made up of a group of schoolboys from St John’s College in Johannesburg, Ian Player’s alma mater. It was here that Ian had conceived the idea of the Wilderness Leadership School and the beginning of something very special in the annals of wilderness adventure. South Africa was then in the vice-like grip of Apartheid and Ian’s idea was to bring people of all colours and creeds together in the wilderness, where they could see one another as people and together appreciate the sacred nature of wilderness areas.

There was no money or equipment available for the project, but then Ian’s brother Gary won the Transvaal Open golf championship and donated his winnings to the fledgeling Wilderness Leadership School. It had started. There was no staff, so the rangers volunteered their services for no pay, simply took off their Natal Parks Board epaulettes, called themselves Wilderness Leadership School field officers, and started taking people on trails into the wilderness in their spare time.

By 1958 half of the Imfolozi Game Reserve (now the Imfolozi-Hluhluwe Game Reserve) and a part of the nearby Lake St Lucia Game Reserve had officially been proclaimed as ‘designated wilderness areas’ (the first in Africa), where there were no roads and people could enter only on foot, horseback or canoe.

Early in 1959 a story appeared in the Sunday Times, called “Adventure at a Pound a Day”. the following Monday the switchboard at Natal Parks Board Headquarters was jammed with calls from people trying to book trails. Wilderness trails had arrived for good and the Parks Board took notice! For the first time in the history of modern Africa, people were able to leave their cars to walk inside a game reserve among the wild animals and sleep out in the veld!

On the 19th March 1959 Ian Player and Magqubu Ntombela led the first official Natal Parks Board trail into the Imfolozi wilderness area. Soon, regular trails of people were being taken on foot into these wilderness areas by game rangers in the Natal reserves. It was the culmination of many years of hard work and the start of a new dimension in wildlife conservation and tourism.

To learn more about these early days, see Ian Player’s book about Magqubu Ntombela and the birth of wilderness trails. Should you want to purchase a copy signed by Dr. Player: Contact Us


The significance of Imfolozi wilderness area was enhanced even further as one of the greatest scenes of global conservation history when a collection of select game rangers, led by Ian Player, saved the White Rhino from extinction. It was right here that white rhino numbers had plummeted to such a degree (some 400 animals) that unless they were captured and relocated it was conceivable that they would have been wiped out. This small number of white rhino have today grown into a gene pool of some 18,000 animals!

Hundreds of people and many local and international bodies have since been involved in the growth of the school. But it was the friendship of these two men, Dr. Ian Player and Magqubu Ntombela and all that they stood for that infused the school with its significance and helped unfold the enduring lessons that the wilderness and walking safaris has on people.

A keen paddler in his youth, Dr. Player founded the famous Dusi Canoe Marathon in 1951 (he won the first few races). He was also the founder of the World Wilderness Congress (WWC) in 1977, which is the longest running public environmental forum in the world, having convened on nine occasions in over 30 years to debate environmental issues, review progress and celebrate the importance and vitality of wild nature.

For more on Dr Ian Player, Magqubu Ntombela and their extraordinary work, see:

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Above: Magqubu Ntombela (1980’s)             Above: Ian Player and game guard (1960’s)

Below: Andrew Paterson of Africa Walking Safaris with Anne and Dr. Ian Player in May 2010. As the saying goes: “behind every great man is a truly great (and selfless) woman”.

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Northern Rhodesia (Zambia)

In 1961, in the then Northern Rhodesia, just a few years after Ian Player’s pioneering work with wilderness trails in South Africa, a recently retired game warden by the name of Norman Carr started a private safari operation in the North Luangwa National Park, which included guided walking safaris. These were the first conducted game viewing trails in Northern Rhodesia.

Earlier, in 1950, as one of the first a game ranger in The Luangwa Valley, Norman had initiated a far-reaching, even visionary concept by involving the local people in wildlife conservation, and by their benefiting financially therefrom, before retiring as Chief Ranger in 1956 due to a spinal injury after an incident with a buffalo. The following year he was called out of retirement to develop the Kafue National Park as Warden. In 1958 Norman acquired two orphaned lion cubs, the raising of which resulted in the book and subsequent film “Return to the Wild”.

Norman Carr died on the 1st April 1997, aged 84. Today, his legacy of walking safaris lives on in Zambia, as one of the numerous legendary wilderness trails offered by AFRICA WALKING SAFARIS.

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A Norman Carr safari crossing the Luangwa River, Northern Rhodesia in the 1960’s

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