Saturday, June 2

On Safari in Kwa-Zulu Natal, Part 1 - the far north

Zebra, Itala Game Reserve
Some time back, I guided a safari to the game reserves of northern Kwa-Zulu Natal (aka Maputaland and/or Zululand) for my good friends and clients, Dave & Jean. 
Here's the link to the post on that safari:- Zululand – from Zebras to Whales, Owls to Twinspots

Map of Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal

 I've longed to return ever since and when my cousins Simon & Diana asked me to put together another safari for their second visit to South Africa, I planned it following the same itinerary but with a few more days.

So, after much anticipation, we set off  from Johannesburg in mid-February, for our 12 day extended safari of Zululand.

Our itinerary took us to 1. Itala GR (2 nights) nestled in the dramatic foothills of the Great Escarpment, 2. north-east to the floodplains of the Maputo and Pongolo Rivers (Ndumo GR, 1 night), then south to the beautiful open plains, dense sand forests and wetlands east of the Lebombo Mountains, 3. Mkuze GR (2 nights), south again to the steep hills and deep valleys of the 4. Hluhluwe & iMfolozi Rivers (1 night at Hilltop, 2 nights at Mpila), and finally 3 nights on our stunning Indian Ocean coastline, at 5. Cape Vidal. On the way south to Durban, we also popped in to the Dlinza Forest aerial boardwalk in Eshowe.

Due to the number of photos I'd like to show you I've split the post about this safari into 2 and I will just cover Itala, Ndumo, Mkuze and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi in this first part. At the bottom of this post you will find the link to the 2nd part.......

Impala, Itala

1. Ithala Game Reserve

 With masses of plains game and fantastic birding (being a transition zone between high altitude wet grasslands and the lower, sub-tropical zones of KZN), there's always lots to see at Itala.

Their elephant, however, are very shy & generally hide in the Pongolo River hills.

Looking down towards the Pongolo River valley
Late summer in this part of South Africa tends to be warm and humid with long grass and lush vegetation. So although we saw a lot of animal life, good photographic opportunities were thin on the ground (not like the grass ;)).

I didn't mind that at all, as I so enjoyed just sitting back and watching everything going on...

Giraffe on the way into Ndumo

2. Ndumo Game Reserve

The main purpose of our 1 night at Ndumo was to do a morning birding walk and visit Nyamithi Pan.

Ndumo Rest Camp

Sadly for us, although always good for the bush, the whole region received over 6 inches of rain just a few days before we got there, so in all the reserves we visited, the guided bush walks had been cancelled due to the sogginess of the ground or localised flooding.

Never the less we had an absolutely amazing morning at the bird-hide on the Pan, with hundreds of Yellow-billed stork perched in the trees on the far bank, dozens of pink-backed pelican and many other water birds.

Nyamithi Pan
Pink-backed Pelican
an interesting spider
3. uMkhuze Game Reserve (iSimangaliso Wetland Park)

Next stop was uMkhuze. The western gate into the reserve is nestled in a valley at the foot of the Lebombo's and the road cris-crosses the river, by low level bridges(fords), many times before hitting the open plains. After all the weekend's rain, it was quite nerve-wracking to ease our way through the fast flowing water over each bridge.

Our game drives the next day were most notable for the birds that we saw. Firstly this Southern-masked weaver busy building his next right next to the bird-hide, and then the 30 minutes plus we spent in the middle of a massive Red-billed Quelea nesting colony with thousands of Quelea's building nests, feeding young and flying over and around us continuously. The racket was quite incredible and impossible to describe.
Red-billed Quelea
After a mostly wet & cloudy day, our last morning at uMkhuze dawned clear and turned into a stinking hot day..... The giraffe, zebra & other plains game gave us a really good showing on our way out.....

4. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve

This is Kwa-Zulu Natal's flagship "big 5" destination and our first afternoon in Hluhluwe lived up to it's reputation despite the scorching heat.

from Hilltop Camp

After a long, hot day game viewing in both uMkhuze and Hluhluwe, the view from our bungalow at Hilltop Camp, whilst sipping on our gin & tonics,  was "the best" ever!!

The next morning we spent a while on the trail around the inside edge of the camp, enjoying the views, birds, red duiker and Samango monkeys. A late breakfast & then we headed south to Mpila camp. The day was once again searingly hot and all the animals had disappeared into the shady thickets.

So we were very grateful to arrive in camp (Mpila) and spend what remained of the afternoon enjoying the Vervet monkeys, warthog and impala that grazed, rooted and scavenged around our chalet in a never-ending cycle..... whilst sipping on our G&T's of course!!

Vervet monkey
Please click on this link to get to Part 2 of our amazing KZN safari......  On safari in Kwa-Zulu Natal - Part 2 From hilltop to beach