Our 2013 December holidays kicked off at one of our favourite South African wild places; the scenically spectacular Ithala Game Reserve in the north of Kwazulu-Natal province.
We’ve become accustomed to start seeing game as soon as we enter Ithala’s gates, and this visit was no different.
We were booked to stay in a self-catering chalet at Ntshondwe Resort, Ithala’s award-winning main camp, for four nights from the 14th of December (more about Ntshondwe here). I quickly had to leave the reserve to have a punctured tyre fixed in the nearby hamlet of Louwsburg while Marilize and Joubert settled in, and before long we set out on our afternoon drive. Inclement weather was setting in and while the animals were hiding away from the thunder and lightning the scenery more than made up for the sparse game viewing.
Have a look at our “community photo challenge” post for other photos taken on our first day at Ithala, before the massive thunderstorm (that knocked out the electricity at camp for hours overnight) set in.
The next morning we went out early for a short drive before spending most of the day settling into the holiday groove in camp.
Whenever we visit Ithala we treat ourselves to a guided sundowner drive. Ithala’s one of the few game reserves that allow children as young as Joubert to participate in these open vehicle safaris, and he enjoys it tremendously (as does his parents). The guides share a wealth of knowledge about the reserve and its inhabitants, and the drive often takes in roads that are not open to the general public, thus exposing visitors to areas they would not have experienced otherwise.
Unfortunately the Dakaneni road down into the Pongola River valley, which is one of our favourites at Ithala, was rendered impassable due to the heavy rains the previous couple of days. While we couldn’t enjoy our traditional breakfast picnic beneath the massive trees at the river picnic site, we still had wonderful sightings on the roads that we could traverse. It is difficult to decide which was our most memorable experience of this visit: the excellent leopard sighting we had on the Ngubhu loop, or the number of close encounters we had with the magnificent and highly endangered black rhinos? Not to mention the inspiring scenery!
We try to visit Ithala at least once a year – in our opinion it is one of the most diverse and beautiful South African conservation areas and never as crowded as some of the more well-known reserves sometimes feel. The staff are always very hospitable and willing to assist with any issues and the facilities are all well maintained. If you’d like to read more about Ithala you can have a look at two previous detailed blog posts we published about the reserve: Ithala Game Reserve and Ithala Game Reserve – December 2012.