While planing my recent trip, I asked several questions through social media looking for accommodation that was outside of Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park but within easy reach. At the same time I was also searching through the accommodation section of SafariKZN. When I narrowed my search there I came across Hluhluwe Backpackers. I read through all the details and was surprised to see just how close the backpackers was to the parks northern Memorial Gate. After double checking the location to ensure it was correct I booked myself in.
It had been over twenty years since I had stayed at a backpackers and had mixed memories of my time spent in them. The first thing that came to mind was ‘Rapture of the Deep’ in Cairns, Australia, where I shared a room with a Japanese student. He cried at night because he hated his temporary job of picking bananas and the black stains they left on his clothes. The sound of his tears were only drowned out by the noise of monsoon rain falling on the tin roof for nearly a week.
Planning in advance I decided to make the most of my time and aimed to get to the Nyalazi Gate, in the Southern iMfolozi section, as early as possible. All went to plan other than the weather. The heat was intense and temperatures were soon over 40 degrees Celsius. The province of KwaZulu Natal was in the midst of one of the worst droughts in history and it was showing no signs of abating. I am very familiar with the whole park and was heading on a route taking in all my favourite spots. A Wildlife ACT bakkie (pick up truck) was parked up on the side of a dirt road so I pulled over and introduced myself. I asked the driver how the wild dogs were doing and if there had been any sightings that day. She filled me on the dogs progress and told me she was on her way to check out two young cheetah cubs that appeared to be in distress and it was feared their mother had ‘died’. Driving to the scene two cars coming in the opposite direction flagged me down and told me they had seen the two cheetah cubs. Seeing a car parked up I pulled over and spoke to the couple inside. They pointed out where the two cubs were. I could hear their high pitched cries but it took me five minutes to visually pick them out in the bush. They were back to back like two silvery, grey, flecked with white and black balls of wool. At this time I do not have any news on the cubs or their mother.
Sightings were sparse in the relentless heat. All the game encountered, from elephant to impala, were taking shade. Every tree providing shade seemed to have animals underneath its canopy. I decided it was best to head up through the reserve and use the northern gate to exit.
Hluhluwe Backpackers, as stated is only five minutes from Memorial gate. It is also only twenty minutes from the town of Hluhluwe where fuel and groceries are available. Before checking in I was shown around the property. It reminded of how things used to be. You were always shown your room and the facilities on arrival everywhere before being asked to check in and pay. My room was comfortable with a large double bed and a couple of side tables. With the ceiling fan on it was also cool and offered welcome relief from the heat. The shared ablutions and showers were very clean and tidy as was the kitchen which also contained all essentials for self catering. There is also a bar area with TV and an adjoining games room.
Outside there are couple of areas for “braais” or barbecues. Next to these is a shaded seating area. An overhanging tree was alive with weavers nest building. The males skilfully weave their basket like nests and the pressure is on them. If their female partner is not happy with their work, she simply knocks the nest from the tree.
There was a family staying who had also been exploring the park. One of the boys, I am guessing to be around thirteen, came and introduced himself with hand shake. He told me he had been in the park for twelve hours but had not seen any cats. “I am fed up with all the buffalo and no cats” he told me. This made me smile and I told him to get to the park the next day at daybreak.
Taking full advantage of the backpackers location and following my own advice I was up before sunrise. I was the second car at Memorial Gate and waited for the padlocks to be undone at 5am. I was then lucky enough to be the first car through the check point and into the park. I headed in on the tar road and decided to check out the flat open grassland before taking detours on the dirt roads.
Game viewing is all about luck and being in the right place at the right time. Luck was with me that morning. There on my right and within one hundred meters of me were five lions. A big male with a magnificent mane, a lioness and three adolescent males. I really hoped that the family from the backpackers were not far behind me.