We saw a rhino within five minutes of entering the reserve. We didn’t even have to search for it. The rhino came lumbering across the tar-sealed road as we rounded a tight corner, small calf close by its side. It walked slowly across the road, obviously familiar with the excited murmurings of park visitors and the whirring of cameras, before heading off into the scrubby brush on the other side of the road. The three safari novices in the car, Mary, Melanie and myself, thought that this animal spotting caper would be a walk (or drive) in a park. However, the quest to see the rest of the so-called big Five (lion, elephant, leopard and buffalo, so named because they are the game animals that are most dangerous to hunt on foot) would prove to be much more time consuming. It would also show that there are a lot of lion and leopard shaped rocks in the park.
Hluhluwe Umfolzi is Kwazulu Natal’s biggest game reserve and the first park of its type in Africa. It is now most famous for its large number of rhinos, in particular white rhinos, like the ones that we had seen soon after entering the park. 1600 of them call Hluhluwe Umfolzi home. We saw rhinos (always white rhinos) on several other occasions until we almost became apathetic with a(nother) rhino sighting.
|First rhino (and calf) that we saw in the game reserve.|
|Giraffes under the shade|
|Warthogs at the front gate|
|A curious and photogenic male nyala|
|The Hamerkop, right before losing its fish to a bigger black stork.|
We still had no sightings of a cat (lion, leopard or cheetah) and about this time, the concerted effort dubbed Hunt for Big Pussy was initiated. Kerry randomly met friends who had been in the park for only a day. In that time, they had seen the Big Five, hippos, cheetahs and even wild dogs. Such reports gave us hope, made us optimistic that by persevering we could hope to see all of the animals that we wanted to. For a change of pace, we went to check out several of the hides erected around watering holes that may or may not prove tempting to animals. At one, we were able to watch a herd of impala for a long time, at another, some birds with beautiful long tails. But still no cats.
|One of the hides, no cats but we watched a group of impala from here.|
|Our guide with a leopard turtle, one of the little big 5|
|The conclusion of Hunt for Big Pussy|
Hluhluwe Umfolzi may not be South Africa’s premier safari destination (that honour would fall to Kruger whose big cat sightings are legendary) but it makes for one hell of an alternative. Kerry’s father was probably right when he said that you needed to walk in the African bush to really savour and experience it fully, to get to know its sounds and smells (some of that smell in my case would have been fear). But that being so, I don’t feel cheapened by my experience. Those three days, as an avid animal follower, were a dream come true and something that I definitely want to repeat at other parks in Africa.