Join us for a look back at the wonderfully wild South African destinations we visited during 2022. May 2023 be a blessed year for you and your family, memorable for all the best reasons.
Tag Archives: Mantuma Rest Camp
iSimangaliso Wetland Park: uMKhuze Game Reserve
On the 15th of February 1912 the Mkuzi Game Reserve was proclaimed in the north of the Natal Province. At that stage the reserve covered 251km², with its northern and eastern border being the river of the same name. In the west the reserve straddles the Lebombo Mountain and in the south it reached to the Umsunduzi River and Nsumo Pan. Before its proclamation the area was popular among hunters, especially in winter when the dangers of malaria and tsetse flies were diminished, and as a result several animal species, including white rhino, buffalo and eland, were wiped from the area. With a large and impoverished human population living around it, after the reserve was established it faced, and still does, a never ending war with both commercial and subsistence poaching.
In the early years there was lots of hostility to the reserve’s existence, with neighbouring farmers seeing it as a breeding ground for the cattle disease nagana (of which the tsetse fly is a vector from game, which is immune against it). As a result, the reserve was deproclaimed in 1939 and control of the land transferred to the government veterinary department. Subsequently more than 38,000 wild animals were killed, with only black rhinos spared, after which an extensive aerial spraying campaign with poisonous insecticides followed. The war to control the tsetse fly was won at great financial and environmental cost. The reserve was re-proclaimed, under the auspices of the Natal Parks Board (now Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife), in 1954.
Shortly after, the reserve faced a new existential threat when the Mkuze River and the pans it feeds at Nhlonhlela and Nsumo dried up due to dams and extraction for irrigation upstream. With no surface water available for the animals the reserve staff had to sink deep boreholes in the bed of the river to pump water to two waterholes deeper in the reserve to prevent animals moving out. One of these waterholes, Kumasinga, is still a major attraction for both game and human visitors.
In 1972 the Nxwala State Lands, on Mkuzi’s then south-eastern boundary, was incorporated into the reserve, increasing its size by a further 58km². The reserve boundary was later moved further south to beyond the Umsunduzi River to bring it to its current size. Today the reserve covers 400km² and uses the more correct traditional spelling of uMkhuze for its name. It forms an integral part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Have a read here for more about the history of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
uMkhuze is rich in scenery and biodiversity. Records indicate that the reserve is home to more than 700 indigenous plant species, 90 mammal species, 450 bird species, 64 kinds of reptile (perhaps as many as 85), 43 kinds of frogs and 32 fish species. The extensive Nsumo Pan, its shores lined by magnificent fever trees, is a watery haven for a myriad water-dependent birds and a magnet for other kinds of wildlife. Majestic riverine forest trees like the sycomore fig trace the course of the Mkuze River. Sand forest is a unique and endangered plant community in South Africa of which a tiny portion is protected in uMkhuze and the open plains of the reserve are covered by savannas and grasslands with a fascinating mix of plant species. Above this all tower the 600m high peaks of the Lebombos.
Elephants were reintroduced to the uMkhuze Game Reserve in 1994, and today number more than a hundred animals. They are however not seen very often.
While the founding population of uMkhuze’s white rhinos were translocated from Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in the 1960’s, the black rhinos have occurred here throug the ages. What a pity that these enigmatic creatures are now again threatened by poaching
In August 2005, buffalo was reintroduced to Umkhuze Game Reserve (from Marakele National Park). Although numbering several hundred, they’re still not often seen and tend to remain in the wilderness areas far from human eyes.
After an absence of 44 years, lions were reintroduced to the uMkhuze Game Reserve in December 2013.
uMkhuze is home to leopards, cheetahs and wild dogs, but we haven’t seen them yet. We did however have a few encounters with uMkhuze’s spotted hyenas over the years though.
uMkhuze harbours around 300 of the rare suni antelope which finds refuge in the sand forest.
uMkhuze is well know for its sizable population of the beautiful nyala.
Other herbivores that occur in uMkhuze are hippo, giraffe, plains zebra, warthog, bushpig, kudu, blue wildebeest, bushbuck, impala, steenbok, common and red duiker, baboon, vervet monkey, thick-tailed bushbaby and scrub hare.
uMkhuze is considered one of the top bird-watching destinations in South Africa
Cold-blooded creatures abound in uMhuze too, and visitors can expect to see anything from fish to nile crocodiles while exploring the reserve.
In 1958 Mkuzi Game Reserve opened to the public, when three rustic huts were erected for use by overnight visitors. The reserve’s Mantuma Rest Camp today provides a variety of comfortable accommodation options in huts, chalets, safari tents and cottages with a swimming pool available to accommodated guests. Unleaded petrol and diesel is available and the reception office doubles as a small shop selling mainly snacks and fizzy drinks. The Rhino Din-o is a small cafeteria in Mantuma that sells light meals and offers excellent value for money. There is also a well-shaded picnic site for day visitors in the grounds of the reception office. Guided night drives and guided walks through the Fig Tree Forest departs from the main camp. The exclusive Nhlonhlela Bush Lodge, overlooking the pan with the same name and able to accommodate 8 guests, is located a few kilometers away from Mantuma, while the rustic Umkhumbe Camp in the far south of the reserve also accommodates groups of up to 8 guests. There is a spacious camping ground at eMshopi at the western entrance to the reserve. All these overnight facilities are booked through Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. Malaria is still endemic in the area and precautions are strongly advised.
There are two access gates into the uMkhuze Game Reserve. In the west, 15km from Mkuze town, lies eMshopi Gate. In the east, providing easy access from Sodwana and the R22 road, is the newer Ophansi Gate which opened in 2006. Visitors have access to a road network spanning 100km within the reserve for game viewing, much of it tarred. There is a beautiful picnic site with braai facilities on the shores of Nsumo Pan. Photographic hides at kuMalibala, kuMasinga and kuMahlahla as well as two on Nsumo Pan are well maintained and very popular. The Lebombo Lookout Tower, just a few kilometers south of the main camp, is another spot not to be missed.
Autumn Adventure: Autumn Birding
Whenever we’re out exploring South Africa’s wild places, bird-watching is one of the pastimes we most enjoy. In this regard we rate the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park very highly, as both these reserves have a wonderful combination of bird species on offer, several of which are unique to the area in a South African context. During our visit in March, we managed to identify 105 different species at uMkhuze Game Reserve and 89 species on the Eastern Shores of Lake St. Lucia (both part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park) and 104 species in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. These photographs feature just a few of them.
Autumn Adventure: Butterflies in abundance
Autumn Adventure – uMkhuze’s Giant Carrion Flowers
Now this is a plant that really grabs your attention when visiting the uMkhuze Game Reserve in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, especially if you have a chance to walk the grounds of the Mantuma Rest Camp where we stayed for 4 nights in March this year.
The Giant Carrion Flower is notable not only for the smell of its flowers, which really does smell like rotting meat (especially on a hot afternoon!), but also because it boasts the biggest flowers – up to 40cm across! – of any South African plant. These flowers can be borne at any time of year, though mainly in late summer and early autumn. Their succulent, green stems are small by comparison, growing around 25cm tall only. Probably not surprising, the flowers are pollinated by flies, and so convincing is the smell that flies often lie their eggs on the flower! The seedpod that develops from pollinated flowers carries lots of plumed seeds that are dispersed by the wind, but they can also be propagated vegetatively as the stems will easily re-root. Giant Carrion Flowers grow best in dry, hot areas and rocky outcrops.
Giant Carrion Flowers occur naturally in all the countries of Southern Africa (Angola, Zambia and Malawi southwards) and in all South Africa’s provinces. It is considered to be of least concern, but some wild populations are declining due to extensive collection for ornamental and medicinal use. In traditional medicine these plants are used to treat pain, constipation and bruising, and also as a magic charm against evil and lightning. They are popular and easy to keep in the garden or in pots, especially as it requires very little water.
Autumn Adventure – uMkhuze 20 March 2022
Autumn Adventure – uMkhuze 19 March 2022
Our 2017 in pictures
Looking back at the places we stayed at during another year of enjoying South Africa’s beautiful wild places.
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This toad was waiting for us at the back door of our cottage in Mantuma Rest Camp at uMkhuze Game Reserve, in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, when we visited in December 2014.
“Close Up” is the theme for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge.
Summer at uMkhuze
uMkhuze Game Reserve, in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and World Heritage Site, was the third destination of our epic summer 2014 bush holidays. We arrived at uMkhuze’s western gate, Emshopi, on the 18th of December, after an easy 164km drive from Ithala Game Reserve. Our reservation was for three nights in an extremely spacious cottage at Mantuma Rest Camp. When we say “extremely spacious”, we are not lying; you could have held a dance in the lounge!
We’ve already shared with you our experiences at two of uMkhuze’s biggest attractions, the Nsumo Pan and Kumasinga Hide, and in this post we’ll focus on some of the things we saw in the rest of this unique reserve.
Of the bat, it has to be said that uMkhuze is one of South Africa’s best known birding destinations. The variety of birds is absolutely staggering, thanks to the diversity of habitats the reserve protects, and we were lucky to add a couple of new “lifers” to our birding tick list.
uMkhuze protects a sizable piece of sand forest, a very rare plant community in South Africa. An equally rare little antelope, the suni, lives only within this habitat. We had several sightings of them, but getting even a half-decent photograph of these shy creatures proved very difficult!
We also had our first sightings of large predators (on this trip) at uMkhuze. Lions were reintroduced to the reserve a year ago, and we were thrilled to find two females during a guided night drive. On our last afternoon at uMkhuze, we found a very shy spotted hyena lurking in the bush.
uMkhuze protects large populations of other well-known African mammals and they certainly were not shy to show themselves!
uMkhuze has its fair share of creepy-crawlies too!
I’ve already mentioned what a diverse reserve uMkhuze is, and there’s no better place to see this than from the top of the observation tower just a few kilometers south of Mantuma Rest Camp.
uMkhuze really is a gem in the crown of South Africa’s wild places, and we always enjoy visiting here. Leaving through the Ophansi Gate on uMkhuze’s eastern boundary we felt like we should have stayed a bit longer still, thankfully we could console ourselves by thinking about the great destinations that were still waiting for us on our summer trip to the bush!