For anyone who has the slightest interest in game viewing, wildlife and nature in general, the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve is defiantly a must. The park is situated roughly three hours from Durban. For people travelling from Durban the reserve is well situated, as it is ideal for both day visitors and those who want to make an extended holiday out of the experience by staying at one of the renowned and well-kept camps.
We made a worthwhile day trip to the reserve, which is only made a little more expensive than your regular weekend excursion with the family due to the rising petrol prices. Despite this, the entrance fee to the park is only R35 for South Africans. The worst part of the trip was the time of departure in the morning. In order to get a full day’s worth of game viewing we left at about 4am. Taking into account that visitors must leave the park by 7pm during summer months due to light restraints, one literally does get a full day of entertainment for their meagre R35.
After entering the park at the Hluhluwe entrance we were immediately greeted by a pair of giraffe and a large buffalo. We immediately became optimistic and believed that we would see lots of game and potentially even the ‘Big 5’. We decided to work our way through the Hluhluwe section and eventually into the larger Umfolozi side of the park. The latter was defiantly more viewer friendly, as less dense bush and a greater supply of water made spotting game, to the untrained eye at least, a lot easier.
The Umfolozi side of the park also has a large ‘Wilderness’ area, which is not reachable by general visitors to the park. One can go on five day guided hikes through this section. From personal experience the hike is amazing. The game viewing is by far better than driving around in a car. The experience is unforgettable and the initial sleepless nights due to roaring lions and nearby elephants is soon negotiated and readily accepted.
However, a regular holiday or visit is still able to give people some memorable moments and good photography opportunities, for both the amateur and the professional. On our recent trip we were able to view four of the ‘Big 5’; unfortunately the leopard remained well hidden! We were also lucky enough to see an array of buck, birds, giraffe, warthogs, zebras and wildebeest.
The most exciting viewing that we had was defiantly that of the large male lion guarding a dead buffalo, presumably hunted earlier. A number of cars had stopped on the road and many people were hanging out of windows and sitting on roofs in order to get the best photo. After closer inspection we were able to see the buffalo carcass and the lion a little further away. Due to the thick bush a clear photo situation did not arise but the image is firmly stored in the memory bank nevertheless.
A close second, in terms of exciting encounters, was made possible by a large bull elephant that was eating right next to the road. The elephant had the need to slowly walk towards our car! In order to keep a safe distance from the animal my father was made to reverse our vehicle an estimated 500m before the animal ventured back into the bush…where he belongs according to my sister!
The park provides a great opportunity to explore one of the many wonders that our country has to offer. In fact the theory that game parks are only for tourists and overseas visitors is defiantly false. Many of the cars in the park were sporting Durban number plates! For more information about the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game reserve visit the KwaZulu Natal Wildlife (Ezemvelo) website at: http://www.kznwildlife.com