Saturday, October 27

Zululand – from Zebras to Whales, Owls to Twinspots

I've been meaning to post about Zululand for sometime now. For the last four years I have been fortunate enough to guide a safari each spring/early summer to this beautiful part of South Africa.

In actual fact, the main reason I've just been back there is due to extolling its wonders to Dave and Jean, whilst they were on safari with me in Kruger in late 2009. So this year, they returned and asked me to guide them on an exhilarating 10 day exploration of this amazingly diverse province.

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve

Picture in your mind - steep, grassy mountain sides; dense cool shady forests; crashing Indian Ocean rollers; endless silver beaches; colourful coral reefs; glittering lakes, lazy rivers and reedy marshes; and in-between, around these carefully conserved wilderness areas, the scattered rural homesteads and settlements of the Zulu and Shangaan people and the extensive sugar, pineapple and eucalyptus plantations of “big” agriculture.

Nyamithi Pan, Ndumo Game Reserve

A province of contrasts, a modern melting-pot of the low-intensity but persistent competition for the rich, rain-endowed rolling landscape, between people and wildlife, big business and traditional practices, conservation and development.......

For many years, this part of South Africa has been little known except to South Africans themselves, but international visitors who want to experience Africa beyond the “big 5”, are growing in numbers.

Cape Vidal
The destinations roll off the tongue – the Elephant Coast, Maputaland, Ithala, Ndumo, Sodwana, uMkhuze, iSimangaliso, iMfolozi, Hluhluwe, St Lucia, Cape Vidal......

And so.... to the safari itself......

The rains came early this year, so for October the country side was unusually lush, with wild flowers scattering colour over every open grassland, and woodlands intensely green with the bright colours of new leaf. The pans, lakes and rivers were all full and muddy brown and the skies were mostly grey, black and white with mists and thunderstorms.

The mammals, birds, insects and reptiles, thriving on this early release from the privations of late winter could be seen anywhere you looked and we had some really memorable experiences. These are just a few of them:-

African Wood Owl

A Marsh Owl perched on a fence post next to the roadworks – a first sighting for all of us, and then the very next morning, another first, an African Wood Owl perched deep in a forested mountainside going down to the Phongola River;


We saw at least one (usually more) White Rhino on every day of this safari;


A tense, bumpy, slippery 20 kilometre drive, on deeply muddy roads into Ndumo, culminating in a wonderful sighting of giraffe soon after entering;

Zebra at uMkhuze

An hour, plus, sitting enraptured in the car park of an uMkhuze hide, watching Blue waxbills, Yellow-fronted canaries, Pink-throated twinspots, Golden-breasted buntings, Green-winged pytilias, White-browed scrub-robins, Fire finches..........;

A leopard dragging it's antelope kill away into the thickets close by;

Morning on the beach

Seeing hump-back whales breaching against the sun rising over the Indian Ocean;

Coming back to our log cabin after a long day out bird and animal watching to find all our bread and bananas scattered into crumbs by invading monkeys;

The agile bats whizzing around our heads, inside the cabin, catching insects attracted to the lights;

The magnificent, stately Kudu bulls of Lake St Lucia Eastern Shores;

Two large crocodiles patiently stalking warthog and bushbuck just in front of the hide (not successful whilst we were there);

On a rare sunny day, vultures, eagles, kites filling the skies above the rolling iMfolozi hills;

First hearing and then spotting a Gorgeous bush-shrike in a thicket right next to the road;

Picnic breakfast on the banks of the Hluhluwe River;

 First, one large family of elephants, youngsters digging holes, chasing each other whilst mothers calmly carry on demolishing bushes and pulling lush grass. 

Then as we carry on up the river valley, more and more groups, herds, families of elephant, young males sparring, youngsters flopping down on river banks, older males deep in the trees up the hill sides, stately matriarchs with babies hugging their flanks........

And our last morning, on the open grasslands of Ithala, seeing Secretary birds, Blue crane, Bald ibis, Ostriches, Lanner falcons, zebra, rhino, Tssessebee, Red hartebeest, warthog......

Tssessebee in the flowers

Blue Crane (our national bird)

Hartebeest and Wildebeest

A glorious finale to an unforgettable 10 days.

Thank you Jean and Dave!

PS. The company that organised this particular trip now offers 7 day Zululand Explorer packages, so if any of you are inspired to visit Zululand after reading this post, please contact me and I will put you in touch with them.


Andrea said...

Never been here: a really interesting environment.

Coral Wild said...

Thanks for visiting Andrea.
It is very beautiful and the birdlife is awesome. There are many bird hides in the game reserves and if you have the right equipment you can get really good photographs:)

Joyful said...

Fantastic shots. It's hard to pick favourites. I guess I don't have to ,lol, but I do like the misty beach scene. Hope you're doing great!

Coral Wild said...

Thanks for the comment Penny - no you don't have to pick favourites:)
To be honest, after my next 5 day safari - next week - I am looking forward to a bit of a break from the road:)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Coral - I'm definitely interested .. but just not now. I had a few days at Umfulozi showing a friend round before I left SA .. and we were in a donga type road .. with a rhino coming steadily down towards us - I decided in the end to do a three point turn - had to back first to find sufficient room ... didn't relish going backwards all the way - it was an eleven point turn.. well more than three! I was happy to be going forwards .. not a close encounter, but getting near!

Beautiful photos ..

Cheers Hilary

Coral Wild said...

Hi Hilary - your rhino encounter sounds as if it was quite exciting:)
I hope you do get back here one day soon.