Our experience at Jock Lodge in the Kruger Park seems to be all about dogs. Jock was the legendary companion and hunting dog of the young Percy (later Sir) Fitzpatrick during his years as a wagon driver.
It was the 1880s and the Transvaal Republic was all hopping with new gold finds. At the time the Lydenburg and Pilgrim’s Rest diggings were the most lucrative in the world, the Rand deposits still a future reality. The diggers threw up small, primitive towns but the money flowed like a flood. They needed food, clothing, materials for housing, mining equipment, dynamite, liquor and lots of it, among their many needs.
It all had to come up from Delagoa Bay in Portuguese East Africa, today’s Maputo in Mozambique, in ox wagons. The wagons had to cross the tropical coastal plain awash with swamps and malaria, then through the Lowveld (today’s Kruger Park) with its many wild beasts, then up the precipitous Drakensberg Escarpment, before reaching the gold diggings on the crumbled Highveld.
Having fled a junior banking job in the Cape to seek adventure and his fortune, Fitzpatrick spent a few seasons as a young and green wagoner on the Voortrekker Trail. First he saved Jock, the runt of a litter born very close to where Jock Lodge now stands on a bank of the Biyamiti River, and many times Jock returned the favour.
On our first evening game drive we spent more than half an hour with a small pack of six adult wild dogs, as they roused from their afternoon snooze and then set off on an evening hunt. Left behind were three pups safe in a rocky hideout on one of the many granite koppies that dot the southern park. This morning, with a biting snow-on-the-berg wind, wrapped up in every warm thing we could find, we set off an hour before sunrise to be at the den before the dogs moved off for the day’s first hunt.
It was dark when they ran off into the purple veld, but we spent the next hour photographing the magnificent surrounding Lowveld in the growing light. I’m sure one of those images – or a stitch of several of them – will be one of the double-page spreads in our book. It might include some wild dogs in silhouette.