It has almost become an annual pilgrimage for me. This safari though would be different. Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve yes. But on this trip there was my wife and my parents. I had travelled here with my wife before but it was to be my mum & dads first visit. I saw my role as the guide and like all guides I wanted my party to experience all that the park had to offer.
Rain makes game viewing difficult at times. And Zululand was having unusually high rainfall. With so much water in the park it means that animals can be spread far and wide. My parents also quickly picked up on the fact that unless ‘something’ is relatively on or close to the road you are unlikely to get a sighting.
There is a bonus though when sightings are tough to find. The bonus is that ‘everything’ becomes of interest. I believe that this should always be the case however most visitors really want to see the ‘Big 5’.
Black-bellied Korhaan, ImfoloziWe stopped at each herd of impala and zebra. Being early January almost every herd contained at least one young animal. Heavy rains create lush grass growth, perfect for raising the young.
I spotted a bird just off the road that was not familiar to me. Kori Bustard? Out comes the bird book. Black-bellied korhaan. We sat and watched as the bird lowered his head and called out with a pop. This call is likened to the opening of a bottle of champagne.
During our drives we stopped and spoke to other tourists and a common theme was starting to emerge. “Did you see the wild dogs back there on the road?” “We have just sat and watched a large pride of lions disappear into the bush back there”.
Then there is a moment, incident, that will remain in the memories of all for ever. As I followed a sharp bend in the road a huge bull elephant stood blocking my route. He was within ten meters of the car looking straight at us. In turn my three passengers shouted reverse! We had all wanted to see ‘something’ and now we were, everyone wanted to be somewhere else. He was a giant, towering over the car, and walking at a real pace towards us. I was happy to view him at a safe distance as he was calmly stopping to eat at every tree he passed. My passengers were not so calm. My wife’s hands were shaking and I thought I could hear my parent’s hearts beating. For me its moments like this that contribute greatly to a safari.
Big game is never far away and although we only encountered one more large bull elephant we passed many white rhino. Most were happily grazing close to the road others wallowing in muddy pools. Two did put on a display for us locking their horns and mock charging each other.
The new general interest in birds saw us stopping to view huge flocks of red billed quelia. We stopped under trees to get close up looks at lilac breasted rollers and white-fronted bee eaters. On an old kill we watched vultures, including a huge lappet-faced, taking their turn to land and feed. On dead trees after one heavy rain shower white-backed vultures, wings spread, perched drying out.
Warthogs, impala, zebra, vervet monkeys and hyena were all regular visitors in camp. This all added to my parent’s truly wild experience. We even heard the distinctive call of lion coming from the camps dark perimeter. In the evenings we cooked on an open fire and ate steak and borewors. We sat, talked, and looked up into a star filled sky reflecting on our first family safari. Returning from our adventure we reflected and realised just how much we had seen during our brief stay in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.