We’ve been singing Ithala Game Reserve‘s praises on this blog for a long time and our recent Heritage Day long weekend visit to this South African treasure further cemented our belief that Ithala is one of our country’s prime conservation areas.
Colourful spring flower displays were in evidence all over the reserve, despite not receiving much rainfall yet. With over 900 plant species at Ithala, including some extreme rarities like the pepper-bark tree and Lebombo cycad, Ithala is a botanist’s delight. Unfortunately we don’t know the names of most, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy the show just the same!
The giraffe is Ithala’s emblem, and we were lucky to enjoy several encounters with these curious animals.
Most large game species were eradicated from the area before the reserve was proclaimed in 1972, and Ithala therefore had to be restocked. Today it is home to all the species that occurred here historically, with the exception of lion, and all-in-all provides sanctuary to 83 mammal species.
Ithala’s a bird-watcher’s paradise, with a list of 318 species recorded in the reserve. While we didn’t tick quite that many species during our visit – most of the summer migrants have not yet arrived – we were very thrilled with our close-up sighting of a pair of blue cranes shortly after arriving. Being South Africa’s national bird, it seemed a particularly special treat for Heritage Day!
Ithala’s not only about the big and obvious birds and animals, and closer inspection will reveal a multitude of insects, arachnids, amphibians and reptiles. We even encountered three of the reserve’s 41 snake species while walking around Ntshondwe Camp; they pose no danger as long as you don’t threaten them and true to form all three moved away very quickly and quietly.
Talking about Ntshondwe, we just have to mention again how beautifully the accommodation units are placed into the natural vegetation, offering privacy and a really intimate nature experience.
Its faunal and floral diversity aside, Ithala is richly blessed with amazingly diverse scenery. The reserve extends over 30,000 hectares, its area ranging in altitude between the 1,450m peak of Ngotshe Mountain to 400m above sea level along the Pongola River. The reserve’s vegetation ranges from grasslands to woodlands to dense riverine forest.
We’re already making plans for our next visit to Ithala in early 2016, and you can probably see why!