We kicked off our recent “summer in the bush” holidays with a two night stay at Chelmsford Nature Reserve near the town of Newcastle, in the north-west of Kwazulu-Natal Province. Chelmsford may be a tiny reserve as far as African game parks go, but it is a very important piece of conservation estate, conserving South Africa’s largest population of locally endangered oribi antelope.
We stayed in one of the comfortable two-bedroom self-catering chalets at Leokop Camp, right on the banks of the Ntshingwayo Dam. The reserve was busy with holidaymakers coming to enjoy the great watersport opportunities and picnics at the water’s edge, while others, like the de Wets, enjoyed the reserve’s more natural attractions.
After unpacking, we were off to explore the wonders of this special little reserve that’s crept so deep into our hearts. These plains zebra entertained us with the running of the Chelmsford Derby…
Being a grassland reserve, Chelmsford hosts large populations of plains game, including the already mentioned oribi and zebra, black wildebeest, blesbuck, and springbok, one of our national emblems. There’s no large predators at Chelmsford, but smaller carnivores like yellow mongoose and cape fox are well represented and frequently encountered.
The reserve is surrounded by farmland, and this fence-jumping cow was an unexpected find during one of our drives.
Because there’s no dangerous man-eating predators lurking in Chelmsford’s grasslands, visitors are free to explore the reserve on foot, making it easier to appreciate its smaller, less obvious, inhabitants.
Bird-watching is another pastime to revel in at Chelmsford, especially as the reserve is home to several special bird species, like the blue crane (our national bird).
For such a small piece of land, Chelmsford offers an amazing variety of scenery. Leokop-hill is an ever-present element, as is the dam, making for dramatic vistas at sunrise and sunset over the wide-open spaces.
Chelmsford may only be a small reserve without any of the charismatic Big-5 African animals, but to those that take the time to get to know it better there’s a chest of treasures waiting to be unearthed and savored. We’ll be back, that’s for sure.