We recently ventured into the world of Safari Parks for the first time. First we collected a hire car, downloaded the South African road maps onto the Tomtom and packed a bag for a few days. And away we (Stephen, Annie, Patrick and Swee (from SY Gloria)) went to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Park which is in Kwa-Zulu-Natal province, S. Africa. (The name is quite unpronounceable but do not let that put you off!)
Getting to the park was not too exciting as it was motorway via acres and acres of Poplar trees. Apparently they are used for paper pulp and exported from the port in Richards Bay – a huge money earner for the local economy.
Entrance to the Park was through the Memorial Gate. We arrived about 12 Noon and had to register ourselves and the car. As we already had a reservation for Hilltop Resort, we did not need to pay the entrance fee – it would be added to the accommodation bill.
So, armed with a park guidebook, we headed for our chalet. But when we arrived at Hilltop we could not check in until 2pm. So we headed to the restaurant and had lunch on the verandah, looking out over the rolling hills all the while supping a glass of something cold and sparkling, courtesy of Patrick. It was so peaceful.
When we checked in, we also booked an evening Game Drive and a Sunrise Drive. They both last three hours with the evening drive at 6pm, and the morning one at 5am!! After booking the game drives we went to check out our chalet which turned out to be well equipped with a kitchen and a barbecue too.
The evening drive started in daylight and we saw rhinos, nyalas, baboons. Then as it got dark the guide had two spotlights which he ranged over the area close to the road looking for eyes. Then we saw elephants, water buffalo. It was very exciting.
The morning drive was difficult because of the early start but definitely worth it. We saw many more animals starting with zebra, a buffalo having a mud bath, a family of baboons, a large group of elephants and then we had a race as there were messages on the jungle telegraph that some lions had been spotted. Sadly our guide did not make it in time so we did not see any lions.
On our own game drive in the afternoon, we are 99% sure that we saw two Hippos. They were too far away to get a photo and the track took us away from that part of the river. All thanks to Stephen and his very observant eyes.
Leaving Hilltop, we tried to book Mpila camp, and after the third phonecall we managed it. No it is full, phones not working, haven’t got room for you. Then at last, someone realised that we were serious and said yes come we have room! In fact they had loads of room as the place was only half full. This seemed to typify the attitude of the park employees but perhaps they were protecting the animals!
At Mpila camp, we had another chalet and knew we had to cater for ourselves. The supplies in the shop were adequate but if you intend going then take the very basics with you – tea, sugar, salt n pepper, milk, bread, butter, eggs – as a suggestion. And several torches as the power is provided by a generator and it is switched off at night from 10pm to 7am. It is quite a challenge to visit the loo without lights – so Stephen said!
The distance between the Reception and our chalet was short but in that distance we saw Impala, monkeys, warthogs all before we had got out of the car.
The next day, we headed out ourselves and followed the track to the river.
Saw Impala, bushpigs, warthogs, wildebeest, bigger giraffes, eagles and more elephants.
Then back to camp for our fourth night before leaving by another route – the Cengeni Gate for the drive back to Richards Bay via Ulundi. We stopped for some lunch in Ulundi where we were very much a minority. Quite daunting. Stephen stayed with the car while we found something for lunch and ended up having a pizza picnic in the carpark!
So now back to life on board. We have had a fantastic experience and have been humbled by the animals we have been able to see. The game reserve experience is one we would definitely recommend and we all plan to try it again.