Zululand Site Visits 24 Jan – 28 Jan 2019

Blog Post By:  Natalie Knibbs 

-RHINO RIVER LODGE, MANYONI PRIVATE GAME RESERVE-
-THANDA SAFARI, THANDA SAFARI PRIVATE GAME RESERVE-
-ANEW HLUHLUWE, HLUHLUWE-
-RHINO RIDGE SAFARI LODGE, HLUHLUWE IMFOLOZI NATIONAL PARK-

Discover some of Kwa-Zulu Natals (province in South Africa) most beautiful game reserves & lodges as we embark on our journey today… the car is packed, camera packed and our sense of adventure is packed. Why KZN or Kwa-Zulu Natal? For one… we have it all… mountains, bush, beach, forests, lakes, warm ocean, historical landmarks, and great weather.

Over the next few days we are going to explore Zululand – an area of KZN here Zulu kings such as Dingiswayo and Shaka hunted, where Ian Player spearheaded Operation Rhino saving the white rhino from extinction and where private individuals have invested conservation and preservation of Africa’s wildlife and wild spaces by developing private game reserves in prime wilderness areas. It through tourism that we can continue to protect and conserve. Join me as I explore some of these special places… I will be posting pics and info as I go…. so excited to go on a journey of discovery of Kwa- Zulu Natal’s Zululand region.

Roads in KZN are really good. The drivers…well that’s another story. King Shaka International Airport connects you to KZN and from here we can road transfer you or you can hire a vehicle. Aaah the open road…. let’s see where it takes us in Zululand.

THU 24 JANUARY 2019 – RHINO RIVER LODGE, MANYONI GAME RESERVE

We travel north from Durban to Zululand, Kwa-Zulu Natal. An approximate 300km drive. We take the well sign-posted D464 secondary dirt road land travel for about 4km to the private entrance to Rhino River Lodge in the Manyoni Game Reserve. This is a corrugated dirt road but very doable in any vehicle. Before you arrive, ensure you have a gate code to get in – if you forget, don’t despair as there are cell phone numbers listed on the gate and if you are lucky enough to get cell phone signal, you can phone the office for the code. Once through the gate, wait for a few seconds for it to close behind you before driving on to the lodge.

Not even 2 minutes into the reserve, a pleasant road block brings us to a halt – Zebra, Wildebeest and Giraffe. The birds are shrieking alarm calls at the disturbance of us arriving and settle as we continue. The scene is just magical with the Lebombo Mountains in the background, the winding track before us and the horizon dotted with Acacia Trees. The gentle, soothing sounds of the rustling grasses is the perfect backing base for the birds’ harmonic symphonies. A very heavily pregnant Zebra makes her way across the road with the rest of the herd.

We carry on towards the lodge with our windows down absorbing the sights, sounds and smells of the bush whilst the hot Zululand air, belting off the dry road surface, is felt in the vehicle through our open windows. We keep the air conditioner going on our feet to keep us cool. A warthog’s tail is spotted as it dashes away from us whilst the impala nearby continues to graze without a care in the world.

As we come over the horizon, we see civilization against the base of the Lebombo Mountains and as you get closer to the lodge you do see powerlines in the distance but once at the lodge, civilization vanishes and you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. We are greeted at the main entrance to the lodge by Bongani who tells us to leave the vehicle there and he will drive it around for us after we have met with the lodge assistant manager, Stacey, and signed our indemnity forms. Stacey warmly greets us and ushers us into the open lounge area which overlooks the Dry Msunduzi River. Cool facecloths and a refreshing welcoming drink are enjoyed in the open lounge area after our relatively short drive. Bongani leaves us to park the vehicle close to the room so we can unpack. A family of warthog play on the grass – 7 babies and 2 mommies. They are too cute and we take a moment to watch their playful antics. The pool is located just outside the dining area – the water temperature is perfect!

 

 

We are in room number 4 – there are 4 adjoining rooms with their own balconies, a spacious bedroom with a kingsize bed and full mozzie net (with tables inside the mozzie net so you don’t fight to get to your glass of water during the night), a charging station (really just an adapter and you need to bend under the counter to get to it – not the ideal spot but a charging station none the less), a bar fridge (+/- R20 for a bottle of water and R14 for a beer) although a free fillable jug of water is provided, a couple of chairs in the room and an en suite bathroom. Towels and basic amenities are provided. Bring your own facecloth or sponge. There is also mozzie spray, peaceful sleep and a torch provided. There is a kettle with coffee, tea, sugar, milk, coffee plunger etc. – it’s all put in the fridge at night to keep the Bushbabies from raiding your much needed morning supplies. There are lots of cupboards although you really don’t need too many clothes in this hot climate. The air-conditioner and overhead fan are most welcome and our room is lovely and cool. Bongani settles us in our rooms and orientates us. This is a family-style lodge – unassuming and relaxed.

We make our way to the dining area for lunch. There are 3 other local South African couples and a child. Everyone is very relaxed and friendly. Lunch is delicious – a chickpea, tomato & lettuce salad; rice; rich, flavourful bobotie dish. Bobotie is a ground beef South African dish with a slightly sweet curry flavour. Our meal is followed by the most decadent chocolate biscuit cake with coconut topping. Satisfied with our lunch, we have a couple of hours to relax until our afternoon game drive. And that’s where I’m sitting now typing in the cool room, watching the warthogs rest and a red duiker forage under the giant Weeping Boer Bean tree (Schotia brachypetala) gracing the expansive lawns. Cell phone reception here is pretty good and it’s time to check in with the family.

How lucky am I to have the privilege of being invited to visit lodges all over Africa? Not a day goes by where I don’t appreciate and love the work that I do. As soon as I am in the bush, all worries fade away and I immerse myself completely into the moment – I listen, smell, look, feel and taste the bush… it is one place that completely restores me and I feel complete. I have had the satisfaction of having a positive
impact on people’s lives as they journey through Africa with Africa Memories Travel.

At 16h20 we make our way to the game viewer – it’s parked next to a sturdy set of wooden stairs to make ‘boarding’ that much easier. Vic and I sit right at the back – the bumpiest spot but my favourite place on the viewer. Warm blankets are provided on our seats, a waterproof poncho in the seat cover in front of us and a bottle of water – pleased to say that this is a glass bottle filled with filtered rainwater and not plastic. Bongani gives us a rundown of the rules and regulations, his need to carry a radio and cell phone and a bit
of background on the park and the mammal species found here.

Manyoni is a 23000 hectare reserve made up of several private landowners and lodges. Rhino River Lodge is owned by a local South African businessman based in Kwa-Zulu Natal – the cottage here is their home away from home and is also let out to guests when they are not using it. This reserve is home to the big 5, including black rhino, brown and spotted hyena, side striped and black backed jackal and cheetah.

Cheetah is definitely at the top of my list to see – a graceful animal with the most incredible sanguine eyes and natural makeup making it one of the most beautiful cats in my opinion. We head out and stop by a waterhole, which is pumped with water. A huge hippo resides here with thepool all to himself. I wonder if hippos ever get lonely. He didn’t look bothered one way or the other. On our drive, we came across many nyala, as you do in Zululand, impala, wildebeest, and warthog. We got told that there was a big male leopard that had crossed the dry river and try as we may, we could not locate him. But it was thrilling to be scouting for this elusive animal.

Bongani drove us to open grasslands and lo and behold, cheetah… not just one but a female with 5 cubs. I am in my element. I feel goose bumps all over my body and find myself grinning from ear to ear. I take a moment to give thanks for this wonderful sighting and to take it all in before lifting my camera and click away. The cubs play, running around and pouncing on one another. One inquisitive cub has found a hanging branch in a dead tree and extends his full body up the tree tapping the branch with his paw. We sit  there for a good while until another vehicle eventually arrives to share the sighting but the cheetah have now started moving off. We follow the cheetah family for a while and as they make their way towards our vehicle. The adult female cheetah lies down just metres from the vehicle, unperturbed by our presence. She calls her cubs and they come running, playing at the same time like children do before wandering out of sight. My day is made!

Our sundowner spot has beautiful views over the reserve. Bongani sets out a table of snacks and drinks. We get to know our fellow passengers who are all from Kwa-Zulu Natal. In fact, the one lady is related to friends in Hillcrest – a small world. We all got on famously and lovely to hear of each other’s bush experiences. After sundowners it was time to head off back to the lodge as the sun is setting. The powerful spotlight picks up eyes of animals and we come across thick tailed bush babies, genets, fiery-necked nightjars and a puff adder! Awesome nocturnal sightings. Our last stretch home, along the dry riverbed. Another favourite of mine – dry riverbeds where stories are told by the prints in the sand.

Arriving at the lodge, we are welcomed by two of the lodge staff. Paraffin tilly lanterns light up the platform. Sherry and warm facecloths are very welcomed. We make our way to the boma and dining area and enjoy a glass of wine around the fire before sitting down to our meal in the open dining area. Conversation  between the 4 tables is great – we are all now friends and haven’t stopped talking. Time to eat – starters is a rather sharp but tasty tomato soup, mains is the most delicious fillet steak with mash and veg in a red wine sauce and desert is a wicked Amarula trifle.

It’s late – time to get into bed but not before a moment to appreciate the silence outside our room a quick shower and into very comfy beds, which have been turned down by the staff a little earlier. You can hear the cars from outside on the main road but once inside, you can’t hear anything as the air conditioner and fan are going.

DAY 2 – 25 JANUARY 2019 – RHINO RIVER LODGE, MANYONI & THANDA SAFARI, THANDA PRIVATE GAME RESERVE

4am I’m awake! Up, shower, tea. Quick catch-up on my computer and its 5am. The Woodland Kingfishers are calling along the dry riverbed – every now and again you see a flit of blue as they fly from tree to tree. Time for our morning game drive. Chat just now when I get back…

We meet up with the other guests in the lounge area for a cup of coffee – I make a nice big pot of plunger coffee and indulge in a muffin before we make our way to the game viewer where Bongani is waiting patiently for us. A few of the other guests have opted to sleep in but Bongani double checks they haven’t changed their minds and only departs at 05h30 as scheduled. Bongani starts up the Land cruiser and we head off.

Just outside of the lodge are a tower of giraffe with a baby, umbilical cord intact. Too precious for words. We sit in silence for a moment, vehicle switched off to watch these graceful creatures browse whilst the baby only has eyes for the vehicle. Bongani starts the vehicle and the baby runs off in fright – in time he will get used to the sound of the vehicles.

We follow lion tracks for some time until they head off into the bush and we can follow them no more. Not long afterwards… cheetah… 2 brothers lie in the road. We cannot believe our luck and have now nicknamed Bongani ‘Ingulule’, Zulu for Cheetah. We watch the cheetah, with their full tummies, lick each other’s faces, marking their territory and doing what cats do flopping down every few minutes to take a breather. We get closer to them as one of them ablute – my goodness what an awful stench. We hold our noses and plead with Bongani to please go forwards to escape the unbearable smell. That’s better, now we can enjoy the cheetah without the smell.

We start heading towards Bayete Zulu and Leopard Mountain where an elephant bull has been sighted. En route we come along 6 dehorned white rhino grazing amongst the fever trees – the setting is picturesque with the mountains in the background, the bright green of the fever trees and the deep shades of brown of the rhino. A beautiful sight but they are dehorned – necessary to avoid them being poached for their horns but very sad. They almost look like overgrown warthogs!

We enjoy a short stop for coffee and biscuits and if you so wish, you can lace your coffee with Amarula. A perfect spot for a comfort break but take a little bag with you if you use tissues please – very necessary not to leave any traces in the bush.

Back into the vehicle and shortly thereafter we come across a waterhole where the habituated Bayete elephants, Rambo, Rachel and Jabulani who are used to educate people about elephants, their anatomy and behaviour through elephant interaction encounters. We aren’t permitted to hang around but we do manage to get a couple of photos of these beautiful gentle giants. Not far from Bayete Lodge, we find the wild big bull elephant that we have been looking for. He’s relaxed and continues to forage as we admire his enormous size and notable tusks.

We leave this magnificent bull and make our way to the fence line and come across a lone rhino. Is it.. isn’t it? Bongani isn’t sure if it’s the female that hasn’t been seen in a while… yet it is! It is ‘Lucky’ a female rhino… a survivor. Lucky survived a poaching attempt when she was shot in the face by poachers. The reserve and vet managed to save her and the only evidence of her horrific ordeal is her lame right ear. My heart aches as I watch her, completely forgiving of our human intrusion during her peaceful grazing.

Tummies are grumbling and it’s time to head back to the lodge for breakfast. We say our goodbyes to Bongani and make our way to the dining area. A welcoming glass of muesli, fruit, yoghurt and honey awaits us, followed by a delicious hot breakfast. After breakfast, I need to walk it off a bit and walk to reception to look around the curio shop and make my way to the little bird hide – they pump water into the little waterhole here and a lovely rustic hide, perfect for a quiet space to enjoy the birds.

We had a quick look at the 2 cottages and the Homestead. The cottages are lovely – perfect for families with a loft room with a double bed as well as separate downstairs room. The main area is open plan with a lounge and kitchenette and there is a bathroom downstairs. The Homestead is lovely – beautiful views of the dry riverbed through the giant Ficas trees with its own pool, kitchen and lawn area. Inside there are 2 bedrooms on opposite sides of the living area, one en suite with an inside bath and shower as well as an outside shower and one bedroom with a detached bathroom. There is an upstairs loft with a hairy flight of stairs – not for kids or teens though or irresponsible adults. This can be used as a self-catering unit with a fully equipped kitchen. Love this unit – private, spacious and a lovely outlook.

We settle our bill and say our goodbyes. Stacey has been a wonderful assistant manager showing us around. We thoroughly enjoyed Rhino River Lodge for its simplicity, value for money, relaxed atmosphere, comfortable accommodation, good guides and great food.

THANDA SAFARI, THANDA PRIVATE GAME RESERVE

We are back on the N2 and take the secondary dirt road to Thanda’s main entrance where we are met by a driver and ranger and gate staff. They have been notified of our arrival as we are asked to sms about ½ an hour before arrival. Warm and welcoming introductions, we load our luggage onto the game viewer and Vic parks the car in a secure shaded parking area. There’s a wooden stepped platform to get comfortably onto the game viewer.

With 14 000 hectares to explore we are hoping to see a diverse array of wildlife, bird and plant life. There are 3 choices of 5* luxury accommodation on this reserve:

1. Thanda Safari Lodge is known for its 9 beautiful bush suites – each self-contained for absolute privacy. Shaped like a traditional Zulu homestead, the 220m² suites have panoramic views of the surrounding game reserve. This is where we have been booked into.
2. Thanda Tented Camp offers a relaxed and real safari experience. It comprises 14 spacious tents, each with a private sun deck and en-suite canvas bathroom.
3. Thanda’s private Villa Izulu is in a league of its own with its own. This magnificent Afro-chic the homestead includes a heated swimming pool, a traditional boma and bonfire area, wine cellar, library, private business area, games room and a vast viewing deck overlooking a waterhole. It’s the ultimate safari hideaway for guests needing total privacy or for families, friends and meetings. Villa iZulu has its own helicopter pad and separate accommodation for child-minders and VIP security officers. The homestead was designed and created for Thanda Safari’s owners, Christin and Dan Olofsson.

 

At Safari Lodge the game viewer has 3 rows of seats but each person has a window seat. Tented Camp you may need to sit 3 up and the private villa Izulu you can come and go as you please on the private game viewer/s. The game viewers are open i.e. no roof which is great for photography.

Bhusi and Winneth don’t hang around as they make speed the lodge, passing by a herd of grazing buffalo. The landscape here is very different – lots of rolling hills and the foliage a lot thicker than at Manyoni. We arrive at the lodge, perched on the side of a mountain with the most magnificent views of the valleys and hills below and beyond.

Precious meets us with warm facecloths and welcomes us to this 5* lodge. We are blown away! Wow… what a stunning lodge with a fusion of Moroccan, Indian and Zulu décor. We walk past the inviting reception area where Precious’ office is as well as the business centre where you can work, book your air tickets and print them out etc. as well as the curio shop which is well stocked with local art and various
handmade crafts as well as stuffed toys for the kids. We then walk into the main lounge / bar area and sign the indemnity forms before having a tour to the dining room and downstairs stocked library which also has a few yoga mats and weights or if you would prefer, a TV.

Now time to see our room – the Elephant Suite – oh my word… it’s huge! The door alone must weigh a couple of hundred kg. A beautiful open plan bedroom area looking out over the deck into the bush, a lounge area with a coffee station and stocked minibar, a huge fireplace between the bedroom and lounge, a huge bathroom with bath overlooking the deck and outside pool as well as his and hers basins. There is an inside shower and, my favourite, an outside shower and separate toilet. All amenities are provided (liquid soap, shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, cotton swabs, shower caps, vanity kits. One of the basics I think should be provided at all lodges is a small jar of soap salts – an essential for smalls that you really don’t want to pop in the laundry for anyone else to wash or I usually take a long a bar of sunlight soap which I find very useful. There is even his and hers gown and slippers and hairdryer. The deck has a heated plunge pool and sala where you can escape for a bit of solitude or 40 winks. There’s even a separate fireplace and table and chairs in your own private boma. Okay I’m in love! The accommodation is stunning. As I sit here and type, I am sitting on the daybed with a glass of wine, listening to the birds and enjoying the cool breeze.

Time for lunch… not that I need lunch… just that I need to sample the food and rate the service. Someone has to do it! We make our way up to the dining area, not before greeting the several Nyala outside our room and along our path and are warmly greeted by a young trainee who has only been here 5 days and doing famously well. Sizwe is his name and he brings us a choice of brown and white home-made bread – I just cannot bring myself to say no thank you and try a slither of brown… it melts in your mouth. Delicious! Victor has the white and just cannot contain himself and devours the whole slice. In the meantime we are offered beverages. The house wine is lovely and a perfect accompaniment to our meal. The chef greets us – a young lady with enormous talent. Her eyes are focused on me as she carefully gives us the menu. I can see that she’s a little shy and smile and nod and my tummy rumbles at thought of all this deliciousness
coming our way. Starters is a cold apple and ginger soup with brie cheese which we share just to taste. Vic has the tasty morocco chicken, veg & couscous and I opt for the prawn and salmon creamy pasta. Oh my… heaven in my mouth. We savour every mouthful but there is no way that I can finish. Who eats like this at home? Certainly not us! Now it’s time for pudding – I don’t feel too guilty as we share a chocolate brownie, strawberry soufflé and berry sauce. Huge compliments to the chef…. Just delicious.

Tummies full and eyes heavy, we head back to the room but it’s a waste to rest when you can enjoy the sights and sounds of the bush so we slip into our bathing suits and into the warm, heated plunge pool and savour the moment. Time to rinse off in the outside shower whilst Vic catches 40 winks and I sit in the Sala typing whilst listening to the birds and hoping desperately for a visit by the elephants who had been by only this morning drinking water out of the huge water feature outside the lodge. The wind is blowing gently, it’s
wonderfully cool with thick clouds above which is very welcome in Zululand which is notoriously hot and dry. Rain is predicted from tonight so I think it’s best to dress warmly for the game drive later. I close my eyes for 10 minutes until an ant or two start crawling over me and the ticklish sensation keeps me very much awake. I lie there giving thanks – for the privilege of doing what I do and to be invited by lodges such as Thanda to experience first-hand what is offered to guests, so that we may give informed and experienced guidance to our guests.

Time for our game drive and we head to the reception area and wait for the game viewer to fetch us. We are joined by a family of 5 from Norway – parents, grandfather and 2 young boys. After a briefing, the boys are delighted as they are handed little satchels containing a colouring book and colouring pencils as well as a water bottle. Their little eyes light up as they discover these little treasures. Bhusi explains to them that he will be telling the children things in the bush and quizzing them as he has to issue them a certificate at the end of their stay. Bhusi does a quick sun dance to keep the rain away – well that didn’t work! It did rain! Bhusi is a big man and has a big personality and a really big smile and deep laugh. Everyone is drawn to him as he laughs at his own jokes and engages with the guests. Winneth, the tracker, and Bhusi’s teacher is quiet, serious and focused on his job of tracking.

We head of into the bush and come across a big herd of impala, zebra and wildebeest. The impala are chasing each other around having a great game when all of a sudden they stop, all look in the same direction. They snort alert calls and we make our way in the direction of their focus… cheetah! Yes, more cheetah – 2 males, one a little younger than the other. They were apparently both introduced separately
into the reserve but first into a holding boma where they became friends and were released together. They now stick together and hunt together. We watch them for well over an hour scent marking and making their way to a hill which gives them a better view of the valley below… what’s on the menu I bet they are wondering to themselves. They really have a good choice and not just chicken or beef. The rain starts to fall and we don on our waterproof rain jackets. One thing I always take is a peak cap – this not only keeps the sun off your face but also the raindrops – it works a treat.

Back to the herds down the hill and the impala numbers have increased to their hundreds. A couple of zebra walk across the road whilst one remains lying in the grass. The others stand and wait patiently as this zebra eventually makes its way to its feet and hobbles across the road to join the rest of the herd. It’s back left leg has been injured. Another Zebra, obviously part of the herd, runs to greet this mate and
pushes his nose against the injured zebra’s leg. He squeals in pain. They all walk off together slowly with their injured friend. It’s hard to see this in the bush but nature will do its thing and time will heal or predators will have their way.

It’s now bucketing down and we make the decision to return to the lodge, spotting a hare along the way and a hyena across the road from the lodge. The staff welcome us with warm towels and there is a blazing fire burning by the bar and lounge. As we make our way up the stairs to the fireplace, the grandfather / father of the group asks us where we are from and we reply that we are locals from Durban – he is so pleased to meet locals and connects with us immediately. We warm ourselves as we chat with the family that joined us on the game drive. The grandfather is particularly fond of Victor and they talk continuously as do I and his daughter.

Time for dinner and we have a choice of soups for starters which we regretfully decline as it’s just too much food otherwise, Kudu steak or Dorado fish, cheese and biscuits or malva pudding. The portions are just right – not too much and not too little and it’s simply delicious. We savour every mouthful. It’s late so we say our goodnights and our guard lights up the path and guides us to our room. Little Amarula bottles have been placed in our lounge for a nightcap – oh okay, why not. We sleep with the curtains and sliding doors pulled open and close the gauze door – to us, this is the best way to sleep out in the bush so you don’t miss out on any activity that may occur outside and the bush sounds are not filtered and the sound of the frogs, cicadas, nightjars and the occasional hyena, lull you to sleep. The beds are super comfy but one mistake – the mosquito net over the bed does not enclose your side table so getting to your water and the light is a bit of challenge in the darkness.

4am and I beat the alarm… again. A quick cup of tea and lovely filtered coffee, shower and up to the main area to meet up with the others for another cup of coffee. The two young boys are well rested and very excited for the drive and have nicknamed themselves Crocodile Dundee and Indiana Jones. They are wearing their lodge satchels that they received from the lodge the day before and proudly show me what they have filled them with – coldrinks from the mini bar and sweeties – this is going to be an interesting game drive with all that sugar. Their coldrink bottles that came with the bag are filled with orange juice as well and the little guy is insisting to sit next to Bhusi and assures Bhusi that if he gets scared at a sighting, he’ll just drink his orange juice. He has an amazing sense of humour this little guy, even if he doesn’t realise it.

The rain has subsided which we are so pleased about – the morning is beautiful. We jump onto the vehicles and today we are heading to the southern section of the reserve. The colours of the bush are stunning and as the sun rises, the grasses and fever trees turn into this iridescent green colour – very pictures with zebras in the grass. The injured zebra has made it through the night thankfully and we also
come across some beautiful kudu. The little guy, Alex, pipes up… those must be the ‘leftovers’ – he is referring to the kudu meal last night. Well, the whole vehicle was in fits of laughter.

The road to the southern section of the reserve meets up with a secondary dirt road that links the N2 with Ulundi. It’s a quiet road and we don’t see any other traffic. It’s a beautiful area with mountains and lush bush. We follow this ‘main’ road for a little while and then turn off onto dirt tracks which are slippery from the rain the day before. We spot a couple of Broad billed rollers which are very colourful birds – that’s a great sighting and loved just watching them fly, filling the sky with colour. We follow the lion tracks deep into the bush, where the tracks are very much unused and the grass is knee high. We circle the area once, twice and cannot find these lion but the tracker Winneth and guide Bhusi are determined to find them. We spot a Wahlberg’s eagle high in a dead tree and sit for some time watching it through the binoculars. A flick of a tail not far below, alerts Winneth and there they are – the lions! We drive through the bush to them and it’s not a great visual so make our way around, through the thick bush… there’s not just a couple of lion… there are 10. 3 females and the rest cubs. 2 of the females are the mothers and the older female, granny and mother of one of the lionesses. The cubs rub themselves up against their mum and their purring is electrifying. They have just eaten a male impala – a mere snack between 10 lions. They start
heading off in the direction of the dirt track so we make our way there. We now have great visuals of each and every lion and the cameras are clicking away and we are oohing and aaahing at the cubs and gasping at the sheer size of the females, the one in particular who is huge! We watch the lions for a good hour before returning back to the lodge. What a fantastic morning.

We come across a herd of zebra and Bhusi explains why the one has no tail – it’s not from lion or any other predator, it’s from the males fighting and they sever the tail by biting it. Painful stuff. Ouch. The clouds have built up and it’s starting to rain – time to get back.

Breakfast is served and there is a wonderful selection of cereals, yoghurts, nuts, seeds, homemade toasted granola, smoothies, cheese and biscuits, cold meats, salmon, muffins, fruits, stewed fruit and more. Delicious. We are then offered a choice of hot breakfast – how can you resist when you read through the menu. Tummies now overfull, it’s time to have a quick look at the spa before we pack up and head off.
The spa is stunning – it overlooks a huge outside water feature and there are a couple of lovely treatment rooms and a steam room. If there was only time to indulge in a treatment but I cannot and need to get going.

I meet up with Christian Sperka who is the professional on site photographer who runs through some info about the reserve and in particular his passion – photography. He offers great on-site tuition and uses his own ‘green mamba’ vehicle which takes no more than four people and has been adapted for photographers. Now this is something I’d like to try and a great opportunity for novice and serious
photographers alike.

Time to say our goodbyes at the lodge and we get into an enclosed 4×4 Fortuner thankfully so we don’t get wet. We go to Tented Camp and have a quick look around there. Wow, those tents are just lovely. They have everything you need and more and most of them also have an outside shower. Fantastic! Love outdoor showers. The main area is huge – I did not expect this – big swimming pool, lovely lounge/bar
area, curio shop and dining room. There’s also a very large boma area and can just image it lit up at night – it must be very inviting. We reluctantly make our way to the vehicle which takes us to the main gate where our vehicle is parked. We say goodbye to our wonderful guide and tracker.

We now head for Hluhluwe and just on the outskirts of town is the Anew Hluhluwe Hotel. Here we are meeting up with Anew’s Group Sales Manager, Tanielle Dreyer and a number of other invited agents and tour operators. The hotel is currently undergoing refurbishment and the changes are already looking good.  We enjoy a hearty buffet lunch and are shown around the hotel and grounds. The hotel rooms are well, hotel rooms – very comfortable with everything you need. There are 2 new rondavels in the gardens with a downstairs bedroom, upstairs bedroom, kitchen and outside braai area. The lounge area has sleeper couches. Perfect for families and really lovely units. They are busy building three more. We then have a look at the private house – I did not expect this – it’s stunning. It’s been very well appointed and the finishings have not been spared. There is a full kitchen, huge lounge and dining area, two downstairs bedrooms and a huge upstairs loft area with a bed and sleeper couch. Outside, the garage has been converted into another 2 rooms. There is also a pool with loungers. A little oasis overlooking the farmlands beyond. Its sleeps 10 and the rate is really good, particularly in low season. Time to check into our rooms before heading to Hluhluwe Game Reserve for a game drive.

A note – for the game drives, take something warm as it’s a bit of a drive on the main road and very windy so also take something for your head like a cap or a beanie or scarf. I always carry a pair of clear glasses for this reason and so bugs don’t fly in my eyes, particularly on night drives and the cold air doesn’t make them water. Take a bottle of water or some sort of refreshment as well. There are very nice rain jackets which we wore on the way back as it started to rain and they also keep the cold wind out. The game drive was quite eventful and we saw elephant, rhino, giraffe with a baby, zebra, buffalo, impala, nyala and hundreds upon hundreds of vultures who were all hanging around an area where a carcass lay. The vehicles are brand new Toyota Hiluxs’ and very comfy. We even spotted a red-backed shrike which breeds throughout most of Europe and W. Asia and flies all the way to Africa in the winter months. This is a great find.

We make our way to a picnic site overlooking the river and are warmly greeted by Tanielle who has arranged tasty snacks and drinks. We put on our rain jackets and make our way back to the hotel where we have a quick shower before meeting up for dinner. It’s a buffet with a good selection. Tanielle has a big personality and is full of fun and quizzes us on today’s facts, figures and wildlife sightings and our reward… Amarula! Vic and I and managed to win 2 bottles. Great fun. Then time for the Zulu dancers who were really good. Mandy, one of the African agents and I were roped into the dance…. Some of those moves though… eish!!! Hilarious. After a good evening of fun, laughter and dance it’s time for bed. We sleep soundly and enjoy sleeping in a little this morning.

DAY 4 – 26 JANUARY 2019 – ANEW HLUHLUWE& RHINO RIDGE SAFARI LODGE, HLUHLUWE GAME RESERVE

This morning it’s a relatively clear day and we make our way to breakfast which is a buffet style of cold and hot breakfast. We say our goodbyes and we are excited to be visiting our next lodge in the infamous Hluhluwe iMfolozi Game Reserve.

 

After paying your entrance fee or in our case getting in for mahala, for free, as we are Honorary Officers for EKZNWildlife and hold Rhino Cards, we make our way slowly to the lodge, exploring dirt roads here and there. We don’t see much apart from lots of warthog and a couple of nyala but it’s just really nice being in the bush.

Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge is situated on the western boundary in the first private concession within Africa’s oldest proclaimed Game Reserve Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park, Northern Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa. Set in a 96 000 hectare park Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge enables guests to enjoy 4 star luxury at a private lodge for the first time within the park, offering spectacular scenery and excellent safari opportunities within the heart of Big 5 territory.

We arrive at Rhino Ridge Lodge. Our bags are taken to our room and our car is parked for us. We are given the rundown of the lodge, sign our indemnities and then shown to our bush villa, no 2. I must say this lodge is very different to your traditional type lodge, with all its simplistic modern décor. The smell of fire fills the rooms as the fireplace must have been used the night before and it’s not an easy odour to get rid of. The bedroom is lovely and big with a huge king-size bed. It leads into an open bathroom consisting of a bath, shower and his and hers basins and separate toilet. There is a bar fridge – drinks are not included but you won’t go thirsty with a well-stocked bar. Drinking water is provided and you are also given a branded plastic bottle on arrival so you can fill that up in the main area with drinking water for game drives.

The view from the room is magnificent – rolling hills and bush below. You are situated above the trees so you have a birds eyes view. There’s a small waterhole below – I wonder if it will be visited by any wildlife whilst we are here.

There is a large pool and spa area where you can chill or indulge in a treatment. The pool is not heated so it’s lovely and refreshing on a hot day but really chilly on an overcast day which is today so no pool for me.

After settling in, we may our way to high tea at 3pm. We are seated at a table with our guide and the other guests that will be accompanying us on our game drive. We meet our guide who is a lovely young African lady who was born and raised in the area, as are many of the other guides here. She underwent her training at the Wilderness Leadership Training School in Stainbank Nature Reserve and has been with Rhino Ridge for 3 years. She’s a quiet, unassuming guide with a lovely personality, engaging gently with guests and very knowledgeable. We also meet the rest of our group who are a couple from Germany, a couple from South Africa and Mark and Nigel from London. High tea is made up of sandwiches, sausage rolls, fish cakes, cheesecake etc. We get to know our fellow guests and make our way to the game viewer.

Our drive is great – Nigel and Mark are particularly friendly and curious … we chat most of the way and by the end of our stay, we leave as friends, promising to keep in contact. We come across a little white car in thick sand just before a causeway which has tried to back up but now stuck in the sand. He is backing up as an elephant forages and tears away big mouthfuls of foliage with its incredibly powerful trunk. I think the guest in this little car is grateful that we are behind him, not that we can do much with an elephant that weighs a good couple of tons! He has no option but to sit it out and let the elephant either pass him or walk deeper into the bush. Anticipation amounts as the elephant moves closer to the road and the little car tries once again to back up to no avail. There is most definitely a lesson or two to be learned in this situation…

A) don’t get yourself in a situation you cannot get out of and in this instance you are in a small car, not a 4×4 so sand is a no go area
B) don’t position yourself in the path of an elephant and keep a respectful distance. We all wait with baited breath and I can imagine the gentleman in the little white noddy car, heart beating in his chest, hands perspiring and goodness knows what’s going through his mind. The elephant decides to walk further into the bush…. phew… so glad that this situation did not end up badly. The rest of our drive is quite eventful with sightings of rhino, nyala, impala, and warthog. All the Rhino Ridge vehicles meet up at the picnic site and set up for sundowners an with snacks, all very well presented, especially by our guide who just has that women’s touch.

The landscape in Hluhluwe is quite diverse from open plains to mountains and valleys. The vegetation is thick and lush and the sounds of the birds is music to anyone’s ears. This is truly one of the most beautiful parks and isn’t overcrowded with hundreds of cars so you sometimes have a game sighting all to yourself.

It’s dusk and our guide shines the spotlight into the bush as we drive back to the lodge. The bush is quiet. After refreshing ourselves up in our rooms, we make our way to the lodge for dinner. The dining room has been made up with individual tables so you are able to enjoy your own company for the duration of your meal. Starters is cauliflower soup and we select the lamb shank for mains which is melt in your mouth delicious. Pudding is a compote and cheese and biscuits. Guests can choose from a good selection of South African wines. Exhausted from a great day out in the bush, we head to bed.

Good morning, it is 5am and time to get ready for morning coffee in the dining room/lounge/deck and game drive at 6am. There are some rusks and biscuits to nibble on and keep you going until breakfast. Coffee is made extra strong and enough to kick start anyone’s day. This morning Victor remains behind to do work and the South African couple decide to sleep in this morning as they are here for 3 nights. Nigel and Mark jump in the seat beside and in front of me and we chatter the whole game drive as I get quizzed on places to visit in Africa, wildlife behaviour, safety in Africa, medical related issues like malaria and HIV and so on…they are very enquiring and it’s a pleasure to engage in conversation with them. They get so excited at any sighting and I smile quietly as I appreciate their excitement and appreciation of Africa’s wildlife. We come across a flower called Queen of the Night which only flowers when it is dark – we get to see it before it
closes. We come across a herd of wildebeest and their calves, warthog, nyala and impala and then we come across a couple of rhino. Click, click, gasps of appreciation for the sheer size of these rhino and even more excitement as the rhino walk towards the vehicle and then flop down for a rest nearby. Nigel and Mark have now taken at least 200 photos of the rhino I’m sure. I must admit, I’ve taken my fair share as
well. Time to move on spotting a few snake eagles as we drive along, a vulture and then a crash of rhino with a really young rhino of about 6 months, it’s older sibling, mom, another female with badly infected teats and then a huge male with the most magnificent horn. We watch them for ages as the two youngest rhino play and as they all defecate and mark their territory. The big male is very interested in the female, but she is not ready to make more babies just yet as her baby is still suckling so she chases him off with a snort and a charge. Disgruntled he saunters off and defecates in his midden, poor chap.

Ooh look a whole lot of warthog says Nigel. Um, Nigel… those are wildebeest. We all pack up laughing but he is forgiven as they are a little distance away. We come across a warthog further along and I pipe up – hey Nigel, nice looking Wildebeest. “I’m not going to live this one down am I?” Nigel remarks. We have another good laugh. I must say that it’s been awesome spending time with people who enjoy a good laugh, engage in good conversation and have an appreciation for Africa.

We stop at the same picnic site and enjoy a hot cup of coffee and sweet biscuits. Time to head back to the lodge, have breakfast and check out. Breakfast tables are set up on the deck and we order the chef’s choice of the day – scrambled eggs, bacon, grilled tomato and mushrooms. Tummies full, we pack our bags, say our goodbyes and check out. On checkout you are given an exit pass for the gate and a little snack pack with a couple of chocolates and apples.

Cars are parked in the carpark away from the accommodation – unfortunately there is no cover so they are exposed to the sun so a sun visor may be an idea. I had a quick look at the family safari suites which are two units adjoined by a common entrance area. The suites have a lovely big bed, private deck, shower and separate toilet. These are particularly nice if you have kids or friends that can stay next door to you. The safari suites are to the right of the lodge and the bush villas to the left. It all comes down to budget I suppose and what your personal preference is to decide between the safari suites and the bush villas. There are 2 honeymoon bush villas that are exactly the same as the standard villas but have their own private plunge pools. This is a popular lodge and great to see so many people both local and foreign visiting.

Our drive out the park via the Nyalazi gate is one of mixed emotions as we leave the bush and the thought of traffic and buildings isn’t too appealing. A final departing gift is waiting at the gate – there are 2 huge elephant bulls grazing nearby – we just take a while to sit, appreciate, reflect and give thanks for the privilege of being able to be in the bush, to be invited to lodges such as these that we have just visited to experience the lodges first hand and to equip ourselves with the necessary knowledge to enable us to give our guests the best possible advice and recommendations when it comes to accommodation, logistics, activities, safety, hospitality, biodiversity and a multitude of other information.

Our drive back to Durban is all smooth sailing until we are alerted on our provincial what’s app group that there’s been a fatal accident. The N2 is not a good road to drive on unless you are a confident driver that can anticipate the stupidity of other drivers and know of alternative routes if need be. This accident has taken place around a bend, on a double white line – it appears that a head on occurred whilst one of the vehicles was overtaking…. A common occurrence this complete disregard for road rules. The vehicles had set alight and we drove past as the fire department was dousing the last puffs of smoke from the otherwise, carcass of a car and burnt body, burnt beyond recognition. We are delayed only 15 minutes and just beyond the accident on the open single lane highway as the highway is about to become 2 lanes, yet another impatient driver sits on our bumper trying to force us into the yellow lines so he can pass which we would ordinarly have done but just beyond the single lane becomes two and we shake our heads in utter despair as he overtakes us and bobs and weaves his way around other vehicles, after having just witnessed a most horrific accident scene.

It is 25 degrees and I am looking forward to getting home to our girls. It’s been a pleasure to share with you and I hope you enjoyed the read, taking you to places that you may like to consider visiting or revisiting in the future for yourself. We design itineraries to suit our guests and their budgets. We want you to enjoy every minute of your holiday in Africa without the worry and hassle and expense of arranging it yourself. In most cases you pay less booking through us as we have preferential negotiated rates with lodges and operators throughout Africa and we try and go the extra mile in providing you with comprehensive and informative itineraries.

We hope to see you on safari soon!

Over and out. Natalie