Nancy Vandermey, Author
South Africa/Botswana Trip part 2 Hluhluwe/Umfolozi and St Lucia - 22-28 October 2007
Self-driving across South Africa and Botswana is quite easy, once you get used to the "wrong side of the road" thing, and shifting with the other hand, and that intersections and roads aren't necessarily marked...then again, my husband did all the driving! At least all the signs would be in English...or so we thought. Driving from Joburb to Hluhluwe Park, we went through Bethal and Ermelo towards Piet Relief. I had detailed directions thanks to some online route planners. Enter Bethal on N17, turn right on Church Street to connect to N11. One would think there would be a SIGN for the N11. Luckily I am of Dutch heritage, and the Dutch language is close to Afrikaans, so when I saw "Kerk Street" I knew that that was really Church Street and to turn there...eventually, there was a sign verifying we were on the right road. We both liked the signs warning of "Potholes!", although they weren't consistently placed. Stray animals weren't too bad on this leg of the trip, only a few cattle in the road.
Piet Relief was our first "stop", at a convenient grocery store/bottle store. We purchased a cooler (ice box), which came in very handy during the whole trip. Some sandwich makings, snacks, and drinks, and we were off. Entering Hluhluwe through the Memorial Gate, our first wildlife was clustered soon inside - warthog, white rhino, buffalo, zebra, and giraffe. The rest of the drive to Hilltop Camp was much quieter. We had lunch at Hilltop (a great Indian buffet), then took the scenic route to Umfolozi, watching crocodile, nyala male and female, sacred ibis, wildebeest, and a large rhino. We checked into Mpila Camp, then headed straight back out as we were supposed to be back in camp by 6 pm. More warthog and zebra and impala and nyala posed in the gorgeous afternoon light, dung beetles did their job, then a few elephant crossed the road, then...6 white rhino playing (video). Hluhluwe/Umfolozi are known for their rhino, we would end up seeing nearly 30 white rhino during our stay (no black rhino, unfortunately). Heading back to camp, Eric joked about not missing any BIG wildlife...as he drove right past a bull elephant munching at the side of the road (video). The elephant was relaxed, so we reversed back past him. Note how close to the car he was!
After a great sunset, we enjoyed an evening of drinks and gin rummy. Note - the barbecue pork flavored potato chips are gross. At one point in the card game Eric wondered why I hadn't discarded yet, I said "Because there's an animal walking by!" It was a hyena, on his nightly stroll looking for food left out at the tents. We heard hyenas that night as well. The next morning we had time for a leisurely scenic drive and saw hadeda ibis, rhino & buffalo, male kudu, young wildebeest, and spent time at a hide watching Egyptian geese, turtles, and an elephant. Another road brought a mother zebra with foal, impala chasing each other, waterbuck, an agama lizard, and lazy warthog. Returning to camp, the vervet monkeys had attacked, and found some of our granola bars by UNZIPPING the tent. The camp nyala were much better behaved, just grazing nearby. Large colorful locusts were also around.
At noon we met up with out trails group at Mpila. Guide Sownooty (I don't know how to spell that), tracker Richard, and trainees Sean and Louis. Our fellow hikers were from a variety of places - San Francisco, New Zealand, Cape Town. One man, Russell, grew up in South Africa but now lived in the US, but had friends in common with the three Cape Townians. We hiked to the trails camp in a misty rain and met Shadrach, the cook. They showed us the dining area, kitchen, bucket shower, and toilet area, our home for the next 3 nights. A brief downpour drove us to our tents but it cleared up in time for dinner, a nice buffalo meat spaghetti. Hyenas again called at night. Bright red millipedes and giant land snails visited camp. Our hike the first day was pretty gentle, along the river. We stalked some kudu and wildebeest, saw skulls and fungus of various sorts, posed for a group shot, talked about tracks, and then came close to a white rhino nursing a calf. We saw other rhino, and buffalo, on more distant hillsides. Dinner was buffalo stew. The second day's hiking was much more eventful! We started going uphill in the mist, and the guides pointed out 3 dots on the distant riverbed and said they were lions! We didn't believe them until the dots moved. We hiked along and then saw a hyena just in front of us! We followed the vultures (and smell) to a giraffe kill. After a rest break a rhino ran around us quite close - they can sure move fast! We went up and down more hills in the mist, seeing many rhino, then some waterbuck, then - in the distance - elephant! We hiked down to get close to the elephant. Now it was getting late - we had a quick lunch (the big excitement was me choosing the wrong clump of bushes for a pee and surprising two buffalo) and then a long hike back, seeing lion tracks, leopard tracks, more rhino. We arrived back in failing light, all very dirty and tired. On our final day, the donkeys came to carry our stuff out. We crossed the river, checked out rhino tracks, and then snuck up on a few more rhinos. Next, more vultures - a buffalo carcass - this was where the lions we saw yesterday were! Back across the river to base camp, with more rhino on the way.
We then drove back to Hilltop to SHOWER! (I like my long hot showers) and do some laundry. On the way we saw a scenic overlook, female kudu, giraffe, impala, zebra, nyala, wildebeest, baboon, and a leopard tortoise, which crawled under our car and wouldn't come out! He then did the same to the next car that stopped. Besides the usual game, there was a crested hornbill and great white egret. The buffet dinner was excellent. Saturday morning we drove out via the river, with more hornbills, black masked weaver, giraffe, play-fighting zebra, rhino and our last sighting, another warthog.
A road leads through Hluhluwe/Umfolozi, making for interesting signs. Our next stop was nearby St Lucia. We were in the Lidiko Lodge, a great place. Jurik set us up on the sundown estuary cruise and we were off for a walk in the forest, which also had interesting signs. We saw several duiker in the forest, but all ran away quickly (I never did get a duiker picture all trip, despite many sightings!). We also saw many birds, butterflies, crocodiles, and hippos (and their tracks). After lunch at the boat club, Eric wanted to touch the Indian Ocean, so we got sandblasted walking in the wind to the water. The cruise started off with weavers, a water monitor, more crocodile, pied kingfisher, white egret, more hippo, and then, Eric spotted her - a Leopard! In the excitement I never did see the leopard that first time, but she actually came back to the water's edge several times - the boat captains were amazed!
St Lucia is also known for the hippos grazing on people's lawns in town at night, but as that doesn't happen until midnight usually we missed it - we were on a 9 pm to 5 am sleep schedule! By 6 am we were on the road with a box breakfast, and drove through Swaziland on our way to Kruger. There were no lines at the borders, many cattle and goats on the roads, and lots of sugar cane on the road as well. We reached Komatipoort by noon, to stock up on more supplies.
Part 1 - South Africa/Botswana Trip
Part 2 - Hluhluwe/Umfolozi and St Lucia
Part 3 - Kruger
Part 4 - Mala Mala and Exeter Leadwood
Part 5 - Mashatu and Planet Baobab
Part 6 - Mobile Safari to Moremi, Kwai, Savuti
Part 7 - Vumbera Plains
Part 8 - Jwana Game Park, Cheetah Conservation Botswana