It’s the first day of our two-week autumn breakaway, and this is the view we’re enjoying this evening from the veranda of cottage 27 at Glen Reenen Rest Camp in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park…
Our December 2019 bush breakaway concluded at the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, one of the oldest game reserves in Africa and a place that is very dear to our hearts. We spent five nights there, accommodated in Chalet #16 at wonderfully wild Mpila Camp.
Hluhluwe-Imfolozi is looking as green and lush as we’ve ever seen it, with the rivers flowing strongly, and that is a heartening sight to behold considering that not so long ago the Park was in the grips of a terrible and prolonged drought that tested the metal of plant and animal life alike. Compare the images in the gallery below with those we took during a visit in 2015, at the height of the drought.
A place as magnificent as Hluhluwe-Imfolozi is home to a countless variety of wildlife. Depicted in the following gallery is just a smidgen of the array of invertebrate life that crossed our path during our visit – we enjoyed them all of course, except those pesky mosquitoes… Regular spells of rain resulted in eruptions of termite and ant alates taking to the wing to establish new nests, providing a glut of food for a wide variety of insectivorous fauna.
The warm, wet weather and ample insect buffet meant that amphibians and reptiles were quite regularly seen, especially in the camp and at other places where you are allowed to exit your vehicle. These ranged in size and danger from frogs and geckos to monitor lizards and nile crocodiles and even a snake or two.
Hluhluwe-Imfolozi is a bird paradise at any time of year, and even more so during the warm summer months when their numbers swell with migrants from northern latitudes. These are just a few of the over 100 species we recorded during this visit.
What would an African game reserve be without charismatic big mammals? Hluhluwe-Imfolozi certainly delivers on that score, but the occasional and usually unexpected glimpses of small or lesser seen furry creatures – mice, hares, bats and the like – can be just as pleasing!
Even the magnificent King of Beasts provided us a few memorable encounters, and the lions at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi definitely are as regal as any elsewhere on the continent.
A visit to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi is just never long enough, no matter how long we stay. We exited the Park at Memorial Gate as we headed back to Pretoria to spend Christmas with our family, which of course is always a great treat, but truth be told it would have been so much nicer if the rest of the family could’ve joined us in HIP to spend Christmas in paradise…
The Dlinza Forest Nature Reserve is a 319-hectare pocket of indigenous forest, rich in a stunning variety of trees, other plants, birds and other wildlife – several species of which is rare or endangered.
The Aerial Boardwalk is Dlinza’s main attraction, extending a distance of 125m and allowing easy access to the lower, middle and upper stories of the forest, thereby providing visitors with a glimpse into a world they’d seldom be able to experience otherwise. The boardwalk ends at an observation tower 20m high that emerges above the treetops.
Two walking trails, the iMpunzi (1.3km) and uNkonka (1.8km), lead through the forest – be warned though that there are some steep sections along the way and sturdy footwear would be an advantage. Along the way you’ll be enchanted by the sights, sounds and smells of the forest and you really do not want to be rushed while hiking at Dlinza, so be sure to allow yourself enough time! Roughly half-way along the uNkonka trail you’ll reach a lovely clearing in the forest called Bishop’s seat as it was a favourite spot for a local clergyman in years gone by.
Expert local bird guides can escort visitors through the forest – best to arrange this before your visit. Aside from the boardwalk and trails, visitors can enjoy a leisurely picnic in the grounds at the visitor centre. A rough and narrow road, the Royal Drive, passes through the forest but attempting it in a vehicle with low ground clearance would not be advisable.
Situated in the town of Eshowe in northern Kwazulu-Natal, the Dlinza Forest must be one of the most accessible of its kind in the country, although being entirely surrounded by the town does bring with it several management problems, not least of which is feral pets straying into the forest and killing wildlife, and exotic garden plants establishing themselves within the reserve. There’s no accommodation in the reserve, but the town has a number of lovely bed-and-breakfast establishments or you could drive through from nearby towns, as we did from Mtunzini while staying in the Umlalazi Nature Reserve half an hour’s drive away.
Our December holidays kicked off with a five night stay at Umlalazi Nature Reserve on the north coast of Kwazulu-Natal Province and conveniently right on the outskirts of the small holiday town of Mtunzini. It is quite a drive from Pretoria, and by the time we arrived in stifling heat and humidity we were thankful for being allowed to check in a bit earlier than the “official” 14:00 time.
Of course we can’t sit still for long and with the relative coolness of the evening setting in we decided to go for a walk through the mangrove swamp and then through the forest to the beach before returning to our cottage.
After the previous day’s long drive Marilize and Joubert were a little late to wake for my liking, so I set off on a hike while they lay in. Upon returning to the cottage they were thankfully already up and ready, so we could set about exploring Umlalazi and surrounds as a family for the remainder of the day.
Early on Sunday morning we set off inland to Eshowe and the Dlinza Forest – we’ll tell you more about Dlinza in our next post. Just after returning to Umlalazi and a quick lunch, I set off on the longest trail in the reserve – the one leading to the mouth of the Mlalazi River where it meets the Indian Ocean. In retrospect starting the trail in the heat of the day was probably not the best idea, but the further I walked the more intrigued I became by what scenes were still waiting around the next corner, and by the time I started questioning my sanity it was too late to turn around anyway. This particular trail leads through the forested dunes and along the river course to the mouth and one can then choose to return to the camp along the same way or along the beach – all in all a round trip of around 9km or so. I chose to return along the flat beach with the cool waves lapping my overheated feet… 😀
With Monday the 17th of December being a public holiday, we expected that the beach would soon be packed with throngs of sun-seekers, and with sunrise coming so early in summer, we were out the door by 04:20 to first enjoy the emergence of the sun over the horizon of the Indian Ocean and then have a bit of beach fun-and-games. By the time the day started heating up around 08:00, with a steady stream of people heading for the beach, we had our fill of seaside-fun and headed back to the cottage. In the afternoon the mangrove swamp and Mlalazi river begged further exploration.
Joubert and I got an early start to our final full day at Umlalazi to go looking for interesting birds, and we were certainly not disappointed. A rain shower in the afternoon cancelled any plans we had of spending more time in Umlalazi’s forests, but brought welcome respite from the oppressive heat and humidity. The next morning we were moving to Mpila in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park and of course we’re going to tell you about that part of our trip soon!
This was our second visit to the Umlalazi Nature Reserve. After our first visit in 2016, we blogged about the reserve, the mangrove swamps, the beach, the forests and the Mlalazi River – follow the links if you’d like to learn more about this beautiful and underrated destination.
This was the scene we enjoyed our first cup of coffee, rusks and biscuits with this morning, here in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.
We spent the morning exploring the beautiful Dlinza Forest Nature Reserve in the town of Eshowe. This panoramic view awaits you at the top of the aerial boardwalk at Dlinza – an excellent way to experience the middle and upper stories of the forest that one doesn’t normally have access to – click on the image for a larger view. Of course we’ll share more about Dlinza when we’re back from holiday!
Today we spent some time exploring the Raphia Palm National Monument, quite literally one of the biggest attractions here at Umlalazi Nature Reserve. See if you can make out Joubert standing next to two of the towering giants.