There are many places in Kwa Zulu Natal that I return to time and time again. In short stays though you simply cannot get to them all so you have to make ‘tough decisions’. Mountains, beach or bush? Where in the mountains? What beach? What bush? So many choices! On my last trip one of those ‘tough choices’ was to take a three day trip to Imfolozi and Hluhluwe and stay in one of the newly refurbished rest huts at Mpila Camp, Imfolozi. It proved to be an excellent choice.
My father in law had booked the rest hut so en route I treated us to a fish lunch at the Quarter Deck Pub in the seaside town of St Lucia. While there we took a stroll on the beach and around the estuary. We watched a fish eagle swoop low over the water and listened as it called and flew out of site. Nile crocodiles lay basking on sand banks not far from the estuary shore. So this was not a good place for my father in law to drop his borrowed binoculars into the estuary, then dash in to collect them!
After we had decided that the binoculars might dry out in the boot of the car Jenny from Zululand Adventures called me. She had two places on her early morning game drive the following day if we wanted to join her. It was agreed we would meet her at the gates of the reserve at 5am. I really did not think the binoculars would be dry by then!
Jenny carries binoculars on her vehicle and hands them out to those guests who need them before she starts out into the reserve. My father in law took a pair as ‘his’ were still foggy. And it was not long before he needed them. A fellow guide had called Jenny to let her know of a sighting that we were now making our way towards.
It was the perfect view and one I had never seen before. I had been lucky enough on two previous visits into Imfolozi to see cheetahs but this was something special. The big cat sat on a mound looking across the river valley occasionally glancing in our direction. We watched for nearly half an hour until it made its way to a tree, sniffed, sprayed, and disappeared into the long grass. What a start to our day.
The sightings come thick and fast and Jenny shares her knowledge on all: From the dietary requirements of elephants, the giraffes technique of stripping leaves from thorny branches with its tongue, to the hind leg scent glands of impalas.
After we stopped for a full ‘English’ bush breakfast, cooked by a South African and enjoyed by German and Austrian guests, we have another memorable sighting. A rare black rhino browsing in relatively open bush.
By mid afternoon we had said goodbye to Jenny and her guests and were heading to our rest hut. Since my last visit there was a notable improvement in our accommodation. Cooking facilities had been built in along with an en-suite bathroom. No more shared kitchen and ablutions block.
Over the next two days we covered many of the reserves dirt roads. We stopped and watched elephants bath in both water and sand. We saw large herds of buffalo wallowing in mud. On one particular track we watched two slender mongooses ‘play’ in the dust while a small group of young impala inquisitively sniffed them. They were only interrupted by a white rhino mother and calf coming to use a huge midden. The rhino were accompanied by swallows feeding around them. Not to be outdone the impala were hosting red billed oxpeckers clearing ticks from their coats.
Late one afternoon and out of the blue a single wild dog made a fleeting appearance in front of our car. Later that evening, after watching a malachite kingfisher fishing, a second cheetah showed itself to us on a road only meters from the car. I have always maintained that by watching the ‘small things’, big things will follow.
It was on our last morning that we were rewarded with a special encounter. We had driven amongst a wealth of grazing and browsing plains game. Vervet monkeys sat feeding on acacia leaves, rolling them into balls before chewing them. Then a secetary bird strolled passed us. It was two wildebeest looking particularly skittish though that grabbed our attention as they bolted in front of us. Just behind them a face looked up from the grass. At first glance it looked like a hyena. But no, it was a young male lion. A vehicle carrying staff from the reserve approached and we felt sure it would scare the lion off. Instead though, another lion appeared from rocks just behind the first one. I am stickler for the rules of the bush but I had an overwhelming urge to step out of the car for a better photo opportunity – which is not only against the rules but extremely irresponsible. Any thought of leaving the safety of the car disappeared with appearance of another lion. Within five minutes a total of six young lions were crossing the road almost brushing the front of the car.
This had truly been a most memorable three days in Zululand. Hot days, warm evenings, good company, a wealth of wildlife, four of the ‘Big Five’ plus cats and dogs.
And the binoculars? Well they dried out and the fog eventually cleared. However we could not clean the water marks off the inside of the glass!