Friday, 18 December 2015

Christmas Brings Rain For The Wildlife In Kwa Zulu Natal

Our first day inside the Hluhluwe / Imfolozi Reserve and we find a breeding herd of elephant, watering in the virtually dry river bed. The drought here had been very bad, and the Park Rangers were trucking water into the water holes to support the animals.  This actually made it easier for us to see the larger animals, as they were concentrated close to what little water remained.  However the pressure on the animals is enormous, with competing species and herds in close proximity and predators always close by.

Miraculously, that night, the rains arrived and we watched from our mountain-top camp as the spectacular purple and black thunderstorms rolled in from the south. This area, between the Black Imfolozi and White Imfolozi rivers, was the traditional hunting ground of the Zulu kings, where the King's sons hunted Lion to prove their manhood.  Both those rivers flowed briefly that night, and then more strongly some days later when further substantial rains arrived.

We returned four days later to find trees budding, water holes filling, grasses sprouting and the animals engaged in a celebration of life.  Seriously, even the Rhinoceros seemed happy to see us - with so much fresh water around, the environment seemed drunk on life.  Giraffe, Cape Buffalo, Elephant, Impala, Wildebeest, Eland - they were all out celebrating, wallowing in mud holes, feeding on new growth and virtually ignoring our presence.  It was a special time, with Lions mating and other species getting the love message very clearly.

The new growth brought out exceptional behavior and we often found ourselves having to back down when the elephants claimed the road, stripping new green shoots from the trees as they (destructively) moved along the river valleys.  Easy to see when you are getting close to the elephants - the tree branches and fresh greenery thrown all over the track are a sure "tell".

The Hluhluwe / Imfolozi reserves are the oldest nature reserves in South Africa, the site of the White Rhinoceros research, capture and breeding program that effectively saved that species on the continent.  Kwa Zulu Natal province operates all it's reserves and parks through the KZN Wildlife organisation, which in our experience is a very professional and well managed operation.

We stayed at Hilltop Camp, a laid back and very comfortable resort in the middle of the park, with spectacular mountain views.  Hilltop is a government run enterprise, with skilled rangers employed to provide guides and tour experiences. However the level of staff motivation and "ownership" is exceptional, and we were thrilled to be part of the experience there.  Certainly Hilltop Camp is a special place, and the KZN Wildlife organisation is a world class operation.  We'd go back to Hilltop Camp in a heartbeat.

We did travel on the well organised early morning and evening game drives, in 4 wheel drive trucks operated by the resort.  However our most exciting experiences happened when we were exploring in our own rental car, in which we covered every track that could be reasonably driven.  We made it back to camp each evening in time for a relaxed gin and tonic on the balcony, and celebrated our own early Christmas.

Need more encouragement ?  Click the link below for more Christmas animal magic....

1 comment:

  1. Good to see you are getting a good soaking of both the rain and the culture. Enjoy. cheers at Xmas from Taipansxxx


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