30 October 2017 Ithala Game Reserve, South Africa
It was holiday time - we’d booked ourselves four nights in Game Reserve Lodges. We were heading north to Ithala Game Reserve, but made a slight detour to the entrance to Hluhluwe Game Reserve to get a map to allow us to plan for when our son Craig comes out to visit in a couple of weeks. We saw our first Elephant right next to reception building.
The main road goes straight through the Game Reserve and we saw some Impala and another antelope - very exciting. We turned on to Route 66, which was good at first, but suddenly turned into a rutted, gravel road. It seemed to go on forever, but it was only about 10 kilometres. It felt very unsettling being in a little compact car, driving through the middle of nowhere, especially because we were down to ¼ tank of petrol and no sign of a petrol station.
The road finally improved, but there was no petrol station until we arrived at the small town of Louwsburg, where there were two… It seems that petrol stations are only in towns - townships and villages don’t count. I think that it will be different as we get towards Cape town, but Zululand is very rural. My tip for the day is “Don’t pass a petrol station when you have less than ½ tank of fuel”.
After buying some cold beer and wine, we drove to the Ithala Nature Reserve and to the main centre where we were given a lovely one bedroom chalet. The “resort” is situated amongst trees at the bottom of an impressive set of cliffs.
In the afternoon, we went on a guided game drive, which was fabulous. We saw White Rhino, Black Rhino, Blue Wildebeest, Warthog, loads of Zebra and several types of antelope. The game drive cost R250 (£14) per person, which is a bargain for a three hour tour with an experienced guide. The trucks take 9 people and there were only 7 of us so there was plenty of space and it was good viewing from any seat.
We had the evening meal in the restaurant – a buffet which was ok. They had completely run out of red wine because they had a big party of 30 people last night and another 20 person party tonight, so I had to walk back to our chalet and pick up a bottle a wine. As always at a buffet, I ate too much food - when will I grow up?
31 October 2017 Ithala Game Reserve, South Africa
The alarm went off at 05:15 to go on an early morning game drive which started at 06:00. The animals are more active in the early morning and tend to hide in the bush in the heat of the day. It was a little cold at first because we are in a mountainous area, but it was a great three hours.
We saw the same animals as yesterday, but also found three Elephants on a steep sided hill. There are 180 elephants on the reserve, but they are shy and difficult to find. The park is 290 sq.km, but can only sustain 100 elephants because a larger number will strip too many trees and cause long-term damage to the environment. The park’s solution to this growing problem is to shoot contraceptive injections into the elephants.
The highlight of the drive was the Rhinos. White Rhinos graze on short grass and are very placid - almost like huge cows. There are many White Rhino in Ithala. There’s a huge problem with poaching for Rhino Horns, so many of the Game Reserves cut the horns off the White Rhino, which are easy pickings for the poachers.
However, the Black Rhino (who browse on branches of trees) are much more aggressive and dangerous - the parks leave the horns on the Black Rhino. We came across a male Black Rhino, who was very, very grumpy and almost charged our truck. We then saw the reason for his bad temper - a female, who our angry friend was trying to seduce, with no luck...
We left them in peace and when we returned 30 minutes later, he’d gained favour and we saw them mating. After the event, he looked very serene with a post-coital smile.
We were back at the main centre by 09:00 and had a huge buffet breakfast. After chilling out in our chalet for a few hours, we took some sandwiches and went for a little drive by ourselves. We were very restricted because we didn’t have a 4-wheel drive, but it was nice to be able to spend more time watching the few animals we saw. Impala are beautiful antelope, but they are so common that the guides always drive past quickly.
At 15:00, when it was starting to cool down, we went for a short 2 hour hike along the hillside above the resort. It was a nice walk to a rocky view point. After only one day at a Game Reserve, I’ve turned into an Experienced Animal Tracker and noticed that there were lots of signs of African Elephant - piles of droppings and the remnants of branches broken off and chewed. It was a little worrying, especially as evening approached and there was more chance of elephants moving about.
1 November 2017 Pongola Game Reserve, South Africa
It was another early 06:00 start - this time to go on a guided hike. The guide was armed with a huge rifle and started by telling us to keep quiet because he was trying to find Rhino in the hilly bush. Unfortunately (or is it fortunately), he couldn’t find any Black Rhino, so we headed off for the grass lands and spotted the usual Impala, Zebra and Warthogs.
The highlight was finding a Dung Beetle pushing his tightly rolled ball of dung (containing fertilised eggs), which he strives to bury in a safe place. Sisyphus springs to mind. It was a nice walk, but you see more wildlife in a Safari Truck.
After another huge breakfast, we jumped in the car and drove 1½ hours to Pongola Game Reserve and then to the Mvubu River Lodge. Again we were given a lovely chalet, this time overlooking the meandering river.
We went on an afternoon cruise on a nearby lake, which was on a small 5 metre boat with just four people plus the guide. It was very good and we were shown Crocodiles, Hippopotamus and lots of birds. Many animals come down to the water’s edge to drink, so we saw White Rhino, Cape Buffalo, Warthogs, Impala, Waterbuck to name a few.
The Hippopotamus are amusingly boring. They spend all day hiding from the heat submerged in the water. They huddle together in groups of about a dozen, sinking below the water and only appearing to breathe or when they hear a boat coming close. All you see are their heads, but we’re told that they are very dangerous if you get too close or get between them and their young.
The dinner was included with our accommodation. It was disappointing - too much like English pub food - two types of meat, cauliflower cheese, potatoes and cabbage.
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