There’s just something so very special about Ithala Game Reserve that causes us to return year after year. Maybe it is the spectacular scenery or the amazingly diverse wildlife. Maybe it’s the friendly, hospitable staff members that makes us feel so welcome. Whatever the reason (and we suppose it has to be the entire package), there was no way we couldn’t include Ithala in the itinerary of our “summer in the bush” December holidays.
Ithala’s only 197km from Chelmsford Nature Reserve, and we arrived in the morning of the 15th of December under heavily laden skies. In fact, we’d see very little sunshine during our three night stay in comfortable Ntshondwe, Ithala’s award-winning resort.
The reserve has a good network of all-weather gravel roads, and the rain did not interfere with our game-viewing to any large degree, although we weren’t able to enjoy quite as many picnics as we had hoped to. While we didn’t have any sightings of the predators that roam Ithala’s diverse habitats (mostly at night) on this trip, the numerous herds of large herbivores were a sight to behold.
The elephants at Ithala are shy and seldomly seen, so we count ourselves very lucky to have had two sightings of them on this trip. One sighting was of a big herd near Ngubhu Picnic Site, moving along a drainage line some distance away. The second sighting however was a thrilling affair as we happened upon two young bulls right in the road, near gate closing time, around a bend between the Ngulumbeni Loop and camp. One of the bulls hightailed it deep into the bush as soon as we appeared around the corner, but his companion decided to give us a good show for quite a while, not prepared to relinquish his spot on the road to let us pass.
Whenever there was a break in the rain, we’d undertake short walks around Ntshondwe, enjoying the opportunity to get closer to some of Ithala’s smaller and more delicate inhabitants.
Ithala in summer is a bird-watcher’s delight, and even us, relatively novice “twitchers”, managed to seek out and identify a wide variety of the reserve’s feathered denizens, despite the mostly inclement weather.
Before leaving Ithala for uMkhuze Game Reserve, we took a short, final early morning drive towards the gate and Onverwacht Loop, and were rewarded for our effort by a herd of giraffe moving serenely along the horizon, dark clouds and the sun struggling to break through providing a dramatic background to the scene.
Reason enough to return to Ithala? Absolutely! Not that we need an excuse, this place has had us under its spell for so long we won’t be able to stay away.