Day 16, Year 6 Wild Wonderful Africa
Date: Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Weather: Sunny AM, Heavy Rain PM
Location: Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Nature Reserve, South Africa

Africa worked its magic on us today. After changing plans to enter Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park early today to try and see some animals before the forecasted rains came down, we left Richards Bay by 7:15 am and saw our first animals only minutes after entering the park. Our first sighting was a warthog that had just emerged from the water and then zebra grazing on the hillside. Then shortly the spectacular show began. We saw more zebra grazing and ‘lazing’ just beside the road. And then there were more zebra hanging out with nyala, a type of antelope. We drove a few hundred yards and saw a car pulled to the side of the road and then saw the reason. There was a massive elephant just off the side of the road. The park brochures warn not to drive any closer than 50 meters of these animals that seem so placid but can turn and charge a car within seconds. We hung back contorting our bodies to try and get good photos while sitting in a car. You absolutely cannot get out of the car except at designated picnic and viewing spots, but arms were out windows holding cameras at every possible angle to try and capture the beauty and size of this creature. At this point we were pretty excited to have seen so many animals so quickly so we took the time to drive to the top of hill to a viewpoint showing us the grandeur of the landscape. We drove down the hill and started a new loop when a troupe of white rhinoceros stepped into the road just ahead of us. So now we had seen two of the Big 5-elephant and rhinosceros but still no sign of a lion or leopard. We drove on and watched giraffe and zebra hanging out together. There were five giraffe, two who appeared to be a mother with a young one and one giraffe we named Princess as she sat in the grass holding her beautiful little head up on top of that long, graceful neck. We saw more nyala, the males and females looking very different, and then we stopped at a view point and could see bits and pieces of a river snaking through a valley with elephants and herds water buffalo in the distance. Another couple drove up about that time and told us that we could drive to another viewpoint and see the elephants up close and what a special moment when we reached that viewpoint. There was a herd of elephants with a couple of babies. They were washing and splashing like little kids in the water and at first paid no attention to us. Then the mother with the tiny baby started to lead the herd across the river toward us. She looked up at some point and saw us and immediately herded the group in the opposite direction. We could hardly draw ourselves away as watching this herd seemed just magical, but on we went. It was time for lunch and we had a few kilometers to drive to the closest picnic area. We had lunch and then stopped by a hide to sit and watch. Our timing was a bit off as it was mid-day and the animals must have all been taking a siesta as no one wandered into view. While in the hide the thunder started, so we headed to the car and decided to head for the Ondini Complex out of the park where we would be spending the night in the uMuzi Bushcamp. We thought we could get there in time to see the Zulu museum, but then the rains came down, and down, and down causing us to slow down considerably. We saw more animals, a big warthog, a wildebeest, herds and herds of impala. We saw dung beetles rolling a ball of dung, guinea fowl, and even a turtle. The rain was slacking a bit, but the washes across the road were tricky to negotiate. We came to one wash out with big rocks and required us to get out of the car and walk across while Ed drove the car. Muddy and wet, we got back in the car and even though it was too late to see the museum, we were ready to call it a day. But something stood in our way. The most massive elephant we had seen all day was standing right in the middle of the road. This guy took his good time moving to the side of the road far enough for us to feel safe to continue on. We reached the bushcamp and were most pleasantly surprised. It is a small group of rondavels and beehive huts surrounded by indigenous plants and hosted by a delightful Afrikaner couple, Catuo and Rex. We enjoyed drinks and conversation and then feasted on a braai (grilled) dinner including Zulu specialties. It was a fantastic first day in the wilds of South Africa.

101109 Day 16 South Africa-Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Nature Reserve, Day 1
101109 Day16b South Africa–uMuzi Bushcamp