A year ago a chance meeting with Gavin, from Zululand Adventures, in Hluhluwe Game Reserve lead to a search for a lioness sitting in a tree. Two hours later, where the lioness should have been I encountered a large bull elephant heavily in musth. Looking down a sharp incline in the road from over 50 metres away I knew he was not happy. I now found out that an elephant could cover 50 plus metres quicker than I could reverse uphill. Within seconds he was so close to the car that I could not see his head. Looking in my rear view mirror I could again see Gavin, standing in his game-viewing vehicle clapping his hands and shouting. In front I could now see the elephants head, lowered, with his tusks just inches from my bonnet. All I could hear was my heartbeat, but the bull was now distracted and in one motion threw his head back and charged at Gavin. Within seconds both had disappeared in a cloud of dust.
After an anxious wait and what seemed like hours later I met Gavin heading towards the parks exit gate. He, and his guests, had escaped the elephant, much to my relief. I exchanged contact details with ‘the man who saved my life’ and vowed to visit him on my next trip.
So here I was again in Zululand viewing elephants, from a safe distance, on my way to meet Gavin. As I sat there watching a bull taking a mud bath I received a text: “What time are you arriving at Wendys? I’ve just caught a barracuda for supper.” Not only do Gavin and his wife Jenny run tours to all parts of Northern Kwa Zulu Natal, his parents own a guest house only twenty minutes from Hluhluwe/Imfolozi Game Reserve.
I have always stayed in accommodation within reserves when on trips around the province. So Wendy’s was going to be a new experience for me.
On arrival the short walk from the car park is through a stunning mature tropical garden, ideal for both guests and the areas prolific bird life. The first impression inside was colonial however my bedroom was spacious and modern with en suite bathroom. The air conditioning was a luxury with the outside temperature in the mid 40’s. I even had my own patio overlooking the swimming pool.
The lodge has a private bar where I was warmly welcomed by proprietors Wendy and Tony and caught up with Gavin and Jenny. I also met and chatted with other guests from South Africa, England, Sweden and Denmark.
Dinner, served in a separate dining room with a warm African atmosphere, was a real highlight. Gavins freshly caught barracuda, simply grilled by the resident chef, was perfect on a balmy Zululand summer evening.
With an extremely comfortable bed and the air conditioning set to cool sleeping was easy. And with the alarm set for 4am it needed to be.
By 4:40am Gavin had ten guests in his game-viewing vehicle and by 5am we were in Hluhluwe. The drive in was through mist and darkness but was timed to perfection to arrive at first light.
Within ten minutes Gavin had tracked down a lion kill. Three hyenas were scavenging the remains of a wildebeest. We sat and listened to the noise of jaws crushing bones and watched as one of the hyenas made off with the head of the victim. The lions though had left the scene.
Our second kill of the morning was soon to follow and a park ranger pointed out to us where he had just watched lions moving from open grassland towards thick bush. We were now on a lion hunt. We headed for higher ground and below us watched a herd of buffalo numbering close to one hundred making its way to the river.
On a vantage point Gavin pulled over and whilst the guests scanned the valley below he served tea, coffee and rusks. Vultures, white back and lappet faced, picked up the first thermals of the day and flew up and over us circling high above the reserve.
On a sand road we picked up the spoor of at least one lioness with two cubs which we tracked for the best part of an hour. In the search for lions we had seen elephant, rhino and many plains game but the lions were to prove elusive.
Brunch was also included and prepared, cooked on a scottle braai, and served in the ‘bush’. It was only 11am but we had been in the reserve for 6 hours.
We took a slow drive towards the park gates stopping to view whatever the passengers wanted to photograph. Our host, as he had all day, continued to answer questions on the reserves bird, animal and plant life as requested right up to our exit at 1pm.
I would not recommend needing to have someone intervene when confronted by a large bull elephant. It is unlikely to be Gavin and even more unlikely that your rescuer can offer the luxury of Wendys and the hospitality of Zululand Adventures.