Only two hours Inland from Durban and the Indian Ocean, across The Valley of a Thousand Hills, and into the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands lays a piece of Africa seemingly kept secret to all but a few.
Surrounded by distant mountains, blue hills and rolling valleys you will find Weenen Game Reserve. Over five thousand hectares of pristine bush, and home to over thirty five species of mammal, and two hundred and seventy species of bird.
This is not only a place of peaceful solitude and beauty but a wonderful example of conservation at work.
KZN Wildlife has spent three decades re-establishing the natural bush after early settlers overgrazed the land leading to soil erosion problems. Re-establishment of the bush has meant the re-introduction of White and Black Rhino. The later is listed as critically endangered and Weenen Reserve is playing a part in its survival. Another lesser known animal on the endangered list is the Oribi. A small deer like animal which live in the South of the Reserve.
I accompanied John Llewellyn, Officer in Charge, his wife Natalie and game guards Zwane and Mbuyazi on a walk through the reserve to see if we could find one of the parks newest arrivals, a month old Black Rhino calf.
John has a particular passion for Rhino and is proud of the breeding achievements within the reserve. “Good stocks of White Rhino have meant that during the winter we will have the capture team in to relocate five animals that have been sold through the KZN Wildlife auction”. John explained. “There are always mixed emotions when any animal leaves the Reserve”, he added.
As we walked John pointed out the differences in vegetation from valley thornveld to mixed thornveld. We observed many species of tree all the time looking for any signs of the elusive Black Rhino. Now we were definitely in the right area. “Black Rhino dung” John said. From the dung you can easily tell if it is from a White or Black Rhino. White are grazers and Black are browsers. Every tiny stick in this pile is also cut to exactly forty five degrees by the Black Rhinos chewing motion.
As the hot sun rose over our heads the chances of seeing the new born were becoming increasingly unlikely as her and her mother would be resting in a shady thicket.
Any thoughts of disappointment in such a place are soon dispelled as there is a host of other wildlife to be observed. Eland, the largest of all antelopes, lay under the shade of acacia trees and warthogs ran from there mud holes as we approached.
Reedbuck and Red Hartebeest observed us from a safe distance and some of the largest, darkest Giraffe I have seen in South Africa browse the tallest of thorn trees.
On this occasion I may not have tracked down the Black Rhino but I know there will be more opportunities in this magnificent place.
So the secret is out about Weenen and KZN Wildlife I now have plans afoot to increase accommodation once the word spreads. But if you want to feel alone in Africa make your way into the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.