24 Hours in Hluhluwe
By Romi Boom
The feast of the uninvited begins as our table is set for lunch at Maphumulo picnic site. Enter a handsome nyala bull, unfazed by human presence. Shortly afterwards the big boy is joined by an equally casual ewe. The pair browse awhile, then saunter along. I’m so excited I can hardly swallow my tuna salad.
Our late-morning entry through Memorial Gate has already produced top class action: a rhino sighting just alongside the road, their trust in humanity tragic. Then we find ourselves gridlocked in a zebra traffic jam. Are these animals laid-back or what?
At IsiVivaneni what appears to be a pile of stones turns out to be a cairn of great cultural and historical interest. These cairns were used by the Zulu people to mark the place where a traveller had died. The body was covered with stones to protect it from scavengers. People passing the cairn would pick up a stone, spit on it and throw it on the IsiVivane as a sign of respect. They believed that by doing this the spirits would protect them for the rest of their journey.
Arriving at Hilltop, resort manager Matt Jackson asks whether we’ve seen the lioness and her cubs at Magangeni. Following the introduction of new males from Tembe Elephant Park, a litter of eight cubs was killed. “Absolutely heartbreaking,” says Matt, “especially to us who watched them grow up.” The course of nature is not ours to judge, we agree, grateful that at least the lioness has new cubs, albeit three only. I promise to go look for her between sections 19 and 20. Just when we give up hope, there she is, right in the middle of the road, a house tabby out for a stroll. No sign of the cubs, not surprisingly. Hopefully she hid them really well.
Early the next morning, after a hearty breakfast at Mpunyane restaurant, we head straight for the resort’s Umbhombe forest trail. The first thing we notice on the 2km trail is thorny rope, aka monkey rope, which twists its spikes, vine-like, around trunks alongside watercourses. Known as Umhluhluwe in Zulu, hence the name of the park, the plant plays an important role in the community. The thin, well-armed branchlets are woven into muzzles for young calves to prevent them from suckling from their mothers when weaning. The sharp thorns prick the cow’s udders and she will not let the calf feed. Aware that black rhino enjoy the bark, leaves and fallen seed, we are comforted to know that the rest camp, including Umbhombe trail, is fenced.
We hear the emerald-spotted wood-dove calling “My mother is dead, my father is dead, all my relatives are dead, oh oh oh oh.” Legend has it that the bird remembers the wars of Shaka’s time. Forest birds are far more vocal than grassland or water birds because they need to keep in contact with each other, declare territories and find mates in thick cover where they often cannot see each other.
The leaf litter crackles underfoot, so I stand very still and try my utmost to identify the call of a red-capped robin-chat. I fail miserably. These little forest dwellers have been known to copy up to 30 other calls, including doves, eagles, owls and even barking dogs.
Other forest animals are equally furtive and very good at not being seen thanks to tricks of stealth and camouflage to hide their presence. Though reintroduced to the park, blue duikers are locally extinct, unlike forest pigs that are fairly abundant and forage on the forest floor late at night. No sign of either on our early morning walk.
What we do admire are Natal milkplum, common hook-thorn, white milkwood, ankle thorn, thorn pear and pink wild pear thanks to the botanists who have identified them for visitors. In KwaZulu-Natal there are over 750 indigenous tree species, 11 times more than the whole of Europe.
Just then a bushbuck appears from the dense woodland, unperturbed by our presence. We follow it to the swimming pool, which marks one end of the trail, and among the chalets, where it grazes happily below a weeping wattle. Soon it is joined by a vervet monkey, then another and a few more. A nyala ewe dawdles past the petrol pumps, and the rest camp begins to resemble a sanctuary for wild animals. Which, in a way, it obviously is.
In 24 hours in Hluhluwe I’ve missed out on much, most regrettably a visit to the game capture complex at the Centenary Centre, but I’ve experienced and seen more than any visitor to a game reserve could wish for. I fondly remember the zebra outside my window at first light, Zululand’s rolling hills in the distance. How wild is that!
Getting there: Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park lies some 230km north of Durban. Follow the N2 highway to Mtubatuba, then the R618 to the park entrance.
Accommodation: Chalets for self-catering with breakfast from R1,800 a night for two people, R2,160 in peak holiday season. Secluded bush lodge R7,200 for eight people, R7,560 in peak season.
Conservation fees: R220 an adult, R110 a child, free with a Wild Card. Present card, ID and confirmation letter.
Bookings: Ezemvelo Central Reservations 033-845-1000, www.kznwildlife.com
Source: Wild Magazine