Issie and I were lucky enough to find ourselves with a day off on Saturday so we did what any normal person would do and decided on a drive around Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve;
- 5:30 am: Why am I up this early?! It’s cold, feels like I’m back in the UK! Why are we doing this again? I must be insane, I only went to bed 6 hours ago Ok checklist; Camera, batteries, wallet, me – ready to roll!
- 6:00 am: As we get on the road I’m reminded we’re in South Africa by the beautiful sunrise behind me and after only 30 minutes of driving we’re at the Memorial Gate entrance to the park.
- 7:00 am: Ok, we’ve been in the park less than an hour and eagle-eyed Issie (despite being the driver…) sees out of the corner of her eye a baby Rhino quite deep in the bush as we drive past. A quick U-turn and we quietly head back to where we saw it. Lucky for us the mother led her baby right out in front of us across the road. Stopping at the side of the road the mother and baby turn to look at us before the mother heads slowly into the bush munching on the grass.
The baby however decides to tell us that she is boss, and stomps her little legs and paces around like a spoilt princess before – with a look from her mother – she follows her into the bush.
I am always amazed at how quickly rhino – like Elephants – can disappear into the bush so quickly and effectively. It shouldn’t be possible, they are huge!
- 8:00 am: Despite the cold we have already seen three (sleepy looking) Giraffes, two Elephants (far away) and a herd of Buffalo over on the neighboring hill. I can’t wait for it to warm up a bit more and wake up the animals.
- 10:00 am: Peek-a-boo Mr. Croc, we see you. This little guy is always here swimming and sunbathing – I guess when your home is perfect, why move?
- 11:00 am: Quick tea break enjoying the view at Hilltop Camp. Great gift shop here as well, it is hard to resist having a peek.
- 12:00 pm: Leaving Hilltop Camp we head down into one of the valleys in search of Zebra. Then, all of a sudden this little furry thing shoots across the road in front of us and darts up a tree. I vainly strained my eyes in search of the Vervet monkey in the tree ahead when from behind me comes a little snapping noise as one breaks a twig. The little thing had been sitting there watching us, no doubt mocking us because we couldn’t see any of them.
At the sound of the twig the other monkeys reacted allowing us to pick out their little black faces peeking between branches. We had sitting above us three adults and two juveniles. After about ten minutes of playing “who-is-watching-who”, two of the adults made a break for it dashing away into the denser trees.
The third adult remained and called to the young ones who were making their way higher and higher into the tree canopy. At the call these two little ones came crashing through the trees as though racing each other to get to their mother first, then in a flash they too were gone. Let the Zebra search continue!
- 1:00 pm: By now we’re starting to get a little worried that we’ve seen no Zebra or Impala. Normally you can’t go an hour in the park without seeing them and now we’ve been in here 8 hours and not spotted one! What we do find as we turn the corner into more open savannah is an Elephant, nice and close to the road, absolutely beautiful munching away without a care in the world, it is a very serene scene.
And then we see the tour guide in front of us get out of his car and encourage his client to wander away from the car to get a better angle for her picture of the Elephant. Idiot – although saying that he is not completely stupid, he did wait next to his open car door so he could get in quickly…
Then more Elephants arrived, and then a Giraffe crossed the scene in the background closely followed by two Zebra (Woo hoo! We’ve finally seen some Zebra!). It was like being in a Disney movie, perfect.
- 2:00 pm: Straight ahead, Vultures! Fantastic we think, we might see a Lion kill or maybe a Wild dog. So crossing our finger we head for the rough direction of the Vultures and find ourselves going up and up and up and up – oops wrong turn, but no worries, Nyala.
- 3:00 pm: Right, time to consider heading home, the rugby is at 5:00pm. But it would appear the park has other ideas, directly on the hillside opposite are two zebra and four impala all grazing together.
Then the next corner reveals another Giraffe and a Warthog, then all the birds start to come out.
I have the greatest respect for bird photographers, birds tease. Just as soon as you get your shot lined up they turn their heads, or hop to another branch or worst of all… fly away. Another thing the birds like to do is sit very still in front of you, with their head behind a branch – it is like playing hide-and-seek with very small children who have grasped the concept of “I can’t see you, you can’t see me” except more frustrating. Children can at least be bribed to sit still.
Still operation leave-the- park commenced and was hindered most spectacularly by all the birds, and more Giraffes, and more Buffalo and more Elephants and then by the sunset which was beautiful as the sun dipped below the hills and then reappeared as you drove out of the valleys. Our departure then halted abruptly as we passed a family of Rhino at a waterhole (Video here).