This is my twenty-sixth (Z) and final entry for the Blogging From A to Z Challenge.
On my cross South Africa trip in 2011, we left the confines of Kruger National Park and headed south towards the Dolphin Coast, stopping on route in Zululand, part of the Kwazulu-Natal Province in South Africa. We drove through the Kingdom of Swaziland in one afternoon, having our passports stamped at either end of the country (we did stop for a roadside lunch break), and arrived at our lodge near the famed Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Reserve in the early evening. After going to our rooms and unpacking, we had a hearty dinner ready for our big day the next day visiting two of the area’s premier attractions.
In the morning we headed to iSimangalisa Wetland Park for a short hike around the area. We were greeted by some warthogs, a really fresh looking leopard print, but nothing other than a few spiders and some herons in the water as we would up our hike. The area is simply beautiful, and the myriad of trails make this place a hiker’s dream. Being part of the St Lucia Wetlands as well, there are so many options to consider when staying in the area. I would have loved to have gone on a cruise on Lake St Lucia, home to roughly 900 hippo and over 1000 crocodiles, but it wasn’t in our itinerary for this trip. Apparently the crocs are some of the largest in Africa, and that would have been a great site to see.
The highlight of this day for though, and possibly the trip, was the 3 hour safari spent within the fences of Hluhluwe-iMfolozi. The Reserve is famed for its work in rhino conservation, and in fact, there is no place in the world with a greater concentration of white rhino. I’m not saying they fall out of trees there (although they would if they were ever in one – I can’t really see them being adept at tree climbing with their build), but they pretty much fall out of trees there. Within 30 minutes we had seen four members of the Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo).
The first one to be crossed off the list was the buffalo. A small herd was interspersed with some wildebeest, both herbivores content to spend time in each other’s company. The wildebeest, or gnu, is an odd looking animal that will not be winning any beauty pageants anytime soon. Have no fear though, they have a fantastic personality. We then saw a mother and baby white rhino, the youngster showing just enough courage when mum was nearby, and absolutely no courage when mum took a few steps away. And here’s a fact for you, since I’m all about education these days – the white rhino mum will walk behind her baby. The black rhino mum will walk in front to clear a path. Also, the white rhino is so named because early English settlers mistook its name. It was called “wijd” meaning wide, but the English thought they were saying white so the name stuck. The white rhino does indeed have a wide mouth, the black rhino has a hooked top lip. This is the easiest way to tell them apart (sadly I have none of my own photos of a black rhino as they are the really rare one).
We saw a lone male lion walking through the soft breeze towards the bushes, and even though Milton was certain he knew which road to take to end up on the other side of the bush to hopefully see the lion again, we never found him. I reckon he found a nice spot to sleep in, seeing as though he must have walked at least 100 meters and they’re the laziest things on Earth. Our first group of elephants was small, but then we were rewarded with the elephant river crossing I posted about earlier in my blog for R. That moment ranks as one of my top safari experiences ever.
We had to leave the park at around 5:30, so we started our slow exit once the elephants had started to head into the bushes on the other side of the river. We caught up with the mother and baby rhino again, his bravery still reliant on her. And as we were watching the buffalo scattered across the hillside, we were joined on the road by two rhino, their slow cadence showing us no fear whatsoever. Moments from the gate, with the big Welcome Centre in sight, our road was blocked by three more rhino, the fence line to the park only metres away. We sat with them, engine off, for 15 minutes. The sun had started to dip by now, the long orange rays leading to longer shadows. The rhinos busied themselves, noses down to the grass, occasionally lifting them up to peer at us, before concentrating on finishing their meals. One of the males, probably the youngest one, took offense to Milton starting the jeep again and he faced us head on, trying to look mean, but when Milton shut the jeep off again he veered off the road and back to his dinner. When he had moved sufficiently off the road, Milton fired up the jeep again and we left them to bask in the last of the sun as we headed for the exit and onto the highway to take us to camp.
The next morning we stopped at a local Zulu school before heading to Durban for the night. Most of us had brought school supplies with us to give them, and we were treated to some traditional singing and dancing by one of the classes. Myself and Beat, the only other male on our trip proved quite popular (especially Beat with his blonde hair), and we were soon up dancing with the eldest girls and making fools of ourselves. Before I left, one very confident young man approached me to tell me the girl I was dancing with was his girlfriend so I better not think about asking her out. Considering I was 40 and she was probably 17, he didn’t have a single thing to worry about. But hey, I admire his commitment to her. Zululand is an area I would like to return to and explore more. Rolling hills, many rivers and lakes, and beautiful people make this a must see. The area, even for Africa, is steeped in history, and the topographical diversity is just about rivalled by the diversity of the people you find here.
I was saddened to say “Hamba kahle” (good bye) to Zuzuland. But like all of my experiences throughout this A to Z Challenge, it has left me a better person. Thank you all for sharing this month of adventure with me. Hopefully I continue to write things that you’ll enjoy reading. No doubt, you’ll be seeing me around.