Tuesday, September 27, 1994
Part of the Kwazulu - Natal Park System, HLUHLUWE UMFOLOZI GAME RESERVE is situated in north Zululand, 280 km north of Durban. The reserve (pronounced Shu - Shlu - wee) was established on April 27, 1897 and is one of the oldest game reserves in Africa. This Reserve of approximately 96000 hectares in extent is home of the "BIG 5" - Lion -- Leopard -- Rhino -- Buffalo & Elephant.
Hluhluwe is characterized by hilly topography and is thus a particularly scenic reserve. The area is noted for its wide variety of both bird and animal life.
Hluhluwe-Umfolozi is a self-drive game park (unless you are staying in some of the private lodges or going on a morning/night drive).
Easy to read, clearly illustrated maps are sold at every entrance to the park. Take some time before you leave the main gates, to look at the map and navigate your route. The park also offers three self-auto trails - you can buy the map and booklet at the main gates or the camp receptions, and you can follow the trail in your car, stopping off at points of interest along the way, that are highlighted in your book.
I have often found that it is best to spend a few hours driving around the park before checking in on your first day. Head into your camp just after lunch, check in, unpack and then throw a few snacks together before heading out to a nearby water hole for some sundowners as the sun slips over the savannah.
Take note of the speed limit and keep to it! There are often speed traps (believe it or not) throughout the park.
Umfolozi/Hluhluwe National Park.
Game drives with your own car! At least by day. In the evening it is possible to make a guided drive. The parks are famous for their white rhino's, but there are many other animals too.
Read my story about the rhino baby in the travelogue.
You will often hear the term the BIG FIVE while on safari...the term refers to five particular animals in Africa: the Lion, Buffalo, Rhino, Elephant and Leopard. You may wonder why these five animals fall into the BIG FIVE catagory, and not perhaps the giraffe, cheetah or hippo! The term doesn't actually refer to their size, or their scarcity, the term was originally used by big game hunters when describing the five animals most difficult to hunt because of their ferocity when cornered and shot.
Hluhluwe-Umfolozi can boast having all the big five in their park. While we have seen many times over the lions, buffalos, rhinos (both black and white) and the elephant, we have not yet managed to spot the leopard - the elusive leopard! My dad and I dream about seeing one in a tree...well, maybe one day! It keeps us going back for more!
I read a great quote the other day, but forget who said it...basically it goes something like this: If you come to the end of your stay in the park, and have not yet seen a lion, be rest assured at least you can leaving knowing he has seen you! I guess the same applies to our leopard spotting...I am sure we have crossed his path more than once over the years!
There are two types of Rhino in the park: the White Rhino and the Black Rhino. The White Rhino was brought back from the very brink of extinction by conservation efforts in the park during the 1950-1960's...in fact, most of the Rhinos found in Southern Africa stem from being transferred from Hluhluwe-Umfolozi game park.
Black and White do not refer to their colour - both are grey - the White Rhino got its name from its mouth: it has a long wide mouth. The early Dutch settlers in SA referred to them as "wide" mouthed Rhino - the Dutch word for wide sounds similar to the english word for "white"...or that is what I heard anyway - hence the name stuck.
The Black Rhino has a prehensile lip - a sharp pointed lip - they eat shrubs and their heads tend to extend upwards, while the White Rhinos are grazers and their necks naturally hang down. Another way to tell the difference is the way they walk when their baby is around: the White Rhino always walks behind their baby, the Black Rhino always walks in front of it!
The Black Rhino is the more aggressive of the two, and had a tendency to charge - so don't get too close!
This is probably the most impressive animal one can encounter in the African Bush. In the park you will see herds or single animals, single animals normally being bulls that have been chased out of the herd.
If you come close to them make sure that you have an escape route. I have seen many times that visitors come far too close and when an animal charges there is no way out.
We had a great 2 nights in the Hilltop Camp in the Hluhluwe Game Reserve.
What an amazing experience to be so close to the amazing wild animals. We saw lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and loads of antelope and giraffe. It was a great thrill to be slow close to these animals in the natural, unspoilt environment.
It was a privilege to be allowed into their world, where they are protected from mankind and have the right to exist much has they have for thousands of years all over Africa.
Driving around the park in our hire car allowed us to enjoy the park at our own pace. Visiting waterholes and hides and taking time to enjoy the African bush.
The camp at Hilltop was superb, with stunning views and the chalets we stayed in were large, comfortable and clean. We could barbeque in our private area or enjoy a meal at the restaurant in the main reception area, but we opted to enjoy own barbeques, sitting under the African stars.
Arranging our own accommodation and driving ourselves around was easy and remarkable cheap way to visit this part of the world. At 500 rand (about 35 pounds) per person, per night, the chalets are great value. They are clean and comfortable, with en-suite bathrooms, equipped kitchens and ceiling fans.
An truly awesome experience, not to be missed.
They always say the best game to be seen is first thing in the morning, or late afternoon as the sun goes down...Well, getting up at a sparrow's hasn't always been the most productive time of game spotting for me! Never the less, we decided on our last trip to get up fairly early, give breakfast a skip, pack up and head out so we could have breakfast en route - preferably at a picnic site!
We stopped off at a picnic site overlooking the river - on the far bank are tall cliff faces (ideal for baboons) - and there were loads of trees about, so birdlife was plentiful!
An ideal way to pass the early morning hours...wrap up warm though - it can be a bit chilly (even in Africa!) before the sun warms the day up. We saw loads of birds, a few crocs, loads of buck and some vultures soaring up above - lots of tracks on the sand by the water's edge - and two elephants crossing the river! Bonus!
Pack a thermos of coffee, get the bacon, onions and sausages going on the skottle and you are A for away!
The elephant is one of Africa's big five. Literally the world's largest land mammal they are an impressive sight walking through the African savannah.
If you have a pair of binoculars with you, when you spot some elephants (and you are close enough) take a look at their eyes - they have the most wonderful set of eyelashes! So unexpected!
While we have spotted elephants on river banks and wandering along the open plains, they are also to be found in quite dense foliage.
Keep your eyes open for freshly broken branches and stripped trees are often distinctive signs that elephants have moved through an area of bush.
The Latin name for Giraffe is "camelopardalis" meaning "camel marked like a leopard". It is this mottled hide that helps them camouflage themselves against the light and shade patterns created by the sunlight shining through the trees.
A giraffe's coat darkens as it ages, so the older a giraffe, the darker the patterns on their hide, and like the zebra, a giraffe's coat pattern is unique - just like our fingerprints!
Giraffe have incredibly long legs and their loping gait is quite distinctive. It is interesting to watch, as both legs on the same side move simultaneously, rather than the front and back legs moving independently of one another.
Despite their long necks, giraffe only have seven vertebra - the same number as humans and most other mammals!
They have superb eyesight - as you would expect from such an elevated position - and a great sense of smell. As a result, you will often find them in a similar vicinity to both the zebra and the wildebeest who take advantage of the giraffe's early warning system!
Giraffe can be easy to spot as their heads tend to loom way above the trees...we've often seen them in pairs or groups of three or four. They are facinating creatures...especially when they attempt to lower themselves down to lap at water...I also love watching them graze - their tongues are blue-black in colour and wrap effortlessly around thorny branches whipping off acacia leaves without spearing themselves in the process.
Burchell's Zebras are common in the game reserve.
Their distinctive black and white markings form a type of camouflage called "disruptive colouration" which effectively breaks up the outline of the body. So while during the day zebras are quite visible, after dark their outlines appear indistinct confusing their predators by distorting their true distance.
As with the giraffe, a zebra's hide is unique - no two zebras share the same pattern of stripes.
Zebras often wander through the camps at nightfall...it is not uncommon for a herd of them to pass by your hut as you are sipping your sundowner. Usually they appear in the early morning too - a wonderful sight to wake up to!
I love watching warthogs in the park! They are frequent visitors to campsites and almost no day goes by without spotting them rooting about in the grass around your cottage!
They have quite large heads in proportion to their bodies, are grey in colour and usually have distinctive "warts" on their face - hence their name. They also possess very large tusks, which you can imagine they use to great effect when threatened.
I almost got too close trying to photograph one once and he had no qualms about letting me know he wasn't keen on me getting so close!
Warthogs are different to bush pigs in that they have much larger tusks. Their skin is covered in bristles while a bush pig is hairier. Bush pigs also have no warts. The warthogs also hold their tails straight up in the air - like small aerials - as they run, while bush pigs keep their tails down.
Wild Dog is one of the most amazing carnivores in Africa. It is also one of the most endangered and is very difficult to see. They require enormous territories and have been hunted as nuisance animals by farmers to protect livestock. Their densities are low and number continues to dwindle.
Here at Hluhluwe-Umfolozi they have been successful in maintaining healthy populations of Wild Dog. The dogs are doing so well that their numbers are increasing as well as their territory. Wild Dog were spotted in Mkuze Game Park 100 kms to the north where they were not supposed to have any Wild Dog at all. They must have come from Hluhluwe.
Wild Dogs are fun to watch as they are very social animals. They hunt together, rear young together and live together. Each member of the pack has its own job and works for the benefit of the whole.
I saw this group at sunset hunting in a group of 5. They nearly got an adult male impala right in front of my car.
Bush pigs are similar to warthogs, however you can tell them apart by their lack of facial warts! They also have smaller tusks and more hair than warthogs..
Bush pigs tend to be nocturnal. Interestingly enough, bush pigs are also the largest animals to build nests for their young!
Buffaloes are large, cow-like animals. Unlike the cow (! )they are unpredictable and can be dangerous if cornered or wounded - one of the most ferocious animals when hurt, Buffaloes make up one of the big five.
They are usually dark in colour with a powerful set of thick horns.
On one visit to Mpila camp, a pride of lions took out a buffalo just outside the campsite. We heard the plaintive moo-ing of the poor beast as it was attacked. The next morning we went out to see if we could spot the carcass. We did. The lions were there too - an awesome sight - huge and powerful, eating their kill.
While a buffalo's sight and hearing is poor, they have a highly developed sense of smell.