A wildlife safari in Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve South Africa
It is a cloudy day and the sun is playing hide and seek as we drive out of Durban in South Africa. Our quest for the Big Five in South Africa leads us to the oldest game reserve in the country, Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve or Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve which is a little more than three hours by road from Durban.
Located in the land of the Zulus, Kwazulu Natal, the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park established in 1895 was once the hunting ground of the royalty. Hluhluwe is the closest town to the Hluhluwe Imfolozi park and our driver tells us that it is located on the banks of the river Hluhluwe. Out destination is the Hilltop Camp Hluhluwe and we are heading on a safari at Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve.
It starts raining a bit as the scenery turns into a picture postcard with poplar trees growing tall on the fringes of savannah grasslands greeting us. As we drive along the landscape alternates between plains and mountains. Lush sugarcane fields fade in and out of view. I am told that the region is famous for its pineapples. As we however enter the game reserve, the habitat changes to scrub and thorny forests. Managed by the state and conservation efforts, especially to promote the rhinoceros, Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park is the land of the Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, rhinocerous and the buffalo
The accommodation is at Hilltop Camp Hluhluwe and it is a great weekend getaway option from Durban. But we are in Hluhluwe game reserve just for a day . We have no time to waste and we are just huddled into our safari vehicles hoping to sight the Big Five in South Africa
Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve South Africa
The moment we start our safari at Hluhluwe game reserve, a bird screeches “Go away.” I peer at it through my binoculars only to see it flying away into the foliage. “We call it the Go Away bird,” explains the naturalist, referring to the grey lourie or the kwevoel. I wonder if we had annoyed it with our presence that it is asking us to immediately go away.
The rains come and go. In the vast wilderness of the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve. I see the giraffes thrusting their necks and gnawing at every leaf of a stunted tree. There is a herd that is enjoying their breakfast. We wait patiently as a dazzle of zebras accompanying them cross the road . Our next sighting is a horn striped antelopes called Nyalas which are native to the country.
Our naturalist explains that there are different kinds of antelopes. The impalas are also darting around the grasslands and I hear that they can leap over ten feet . I also see the National Animal of South Africa, the springboks, their white face standing out amidst the green landscape.
The Search for the Big Five in South Africa
I am looking for the Big Five in Hluhluwe Game Reserve South Africa especially the elusive leopard. “It is even easier to spot the lion but the leopards are difficult, “ explains the naturalist as we drive through Hluhluwe Umfolozi game reserve South Africa.
The grasslands now give away to the green hills which rise and fall gently There are clumps of bushes in the distance and we mistake them for rhinos. But in a few moments we see them moving and realize that the hills are dotted with rhinos. As we try inching a bit closer to get a better view, a buffalo glares at us through the thorny branches.
All of a sudden we are distracted by a movement in the bushes. A pair of rhinos are right next to my window but their faces are buried deep into the grass. One of them looks up and we stare at each other for a moment. He then poses for me rather disinterestedly and moves away.
We continue on our way too until the naturalist stops and points to something in the undergrowth. All that I can see are clumps of thorny scrubs with dry branches and stalks of grass. And then I see it, in the haze.
The king of the forest is sitting in the savannah grasslands, contended after a heavy meal. A carcass of its lunch, perhaps a buffalo lies next to it. Our eyes lock for a moment even as the thorny branches do not provide a clean view. It barely moves an inch. The raptors are around, flying low . We stop there for as long as we want, hoping he would move eventually.
The rains slowly tumble down and Simba as we call him lies there without moving an inch. The light is fading and it is time for us to leave back to Durban from Hluhluwe game reserve hilltop camp. More giraffes and zebras cross our paths as we eventually head back to the city. We keep hoping for more sightings of the Big Five but that is for another wildlife safari in South Africa in Kruger National Park and Sabi Sabi Game Reserve
I was hosted by South Africa tourism when we attended INDABA