I recently had the privilege of spending a few days in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (officially known as St Lucia System) which was South Africa’s first registered World Heritage site. Shockingly, this is the first time I have visited this jewel. iSimangaliso translated from isiZulu to English is “a miracle” or “something wondrous” and for me, having grown up on a dry cattle ranch in Rhodesia, there is something incredibly special about large bodies of water (and flowing rivers) and iSimangaliso, did not disappoint.
Our first night was at Cape Vidal, with its beautiful wide beach and wild ocean. Unfortunately, we did not get to see any Samango monkeys, which would have been a first for me, but on our drive around the Bhangazi Loop the next morning, we were spoiled with our sightings of wildlife. From an industrious dung beetle rolling his perfectly spherical ball down the road to white rhino grazing a few metres away, it really was like Eden, especially as everything was so green.
What a contrast our next stop was! uMkhuze Game Reserve has recently had devastating fires and no rain has fallen so there are no new grass shoots sprouting yet, and the unburnt bush is terribly dry. We still saw a fair amount of game, especially at Msinga, the only hide that had water, and lots of water birds at Nsumu Pan. All the hides and viewing spots are beautifully maintained by iSimangaliso, and a delightful touch, which must excite foreign visitors and children, are the very authentic-looking animal “footprints” set into the concreted walkways. They vary from the Big 5 prints to hippo and various buck and it amused us just thinking about how they were imprinted whilst the cement was wet (artists, there is a series of cartoons waiting to happen here), but they are really well done and bring a new dimension to game viewing. The sun setting over Msumu Pan was magical and was worth driving back to camp in the dark (but only a few minutes late). And don’t get me started on the night skies!!! Every night at home, I continue a ritual that my mom used to do which is to count 7 stars and 1 for luck. In Durban, I am lucky if get my 7 and maybe 3 or 4 for luck but in uMkhuze, I could count 7 million and 20 million for luck - absolutely breathtaking!!!
Early the next morning we were at the hide and watched hordes of animals come down to drink including a be-jewelled cluster of 8 Purple-crested Louries (yes, I know they are now turacos, but I will always think of them as Louries). On the way back to camp for “breakfast” we drove kilometres of tightly bending road without seeing a thing. My friend Jane commented “Not a sausage!!” and literally 2 seconds later, as we came around the bend, there were 2 elephants in front of us – a cow and a “very interested” (nudge nudge, wink wink) bull. Needless to say, we stopped and reversed away from them. With the twisty road it was hard to keep them in sight and at a safe distance, so we would inch forward, only to see them still walking towards us. They would stop to browse but then would walk on. At one point, out of our view, the female must have wandered off into the bush, but that bull had no intention of getting off the road and eventually, after reversing for over a kilometre, we knew he was just being ornery and showing us who was the boss, so we found a place to turn around and left. That afternoon, when we saw the couple who were reversing their car behind ours, but did not leave when we did, what the outcome was, they admitted that they too turned around because that jumbo was not going to back down.
Even though it was such a short break away from deadlines and traffic and NOISE, those few days in the bush were food for my soul. Jane and I were saying how fortunate we are living in Durban. Apart from the glorious winter weather, there are so many places that are in relatively close proximity, that one can escape to and get away from it all. And indeed, all over South Africa, there are so many easily accessible and affordable wild areas to explore… just make a plan to get to them. If I did not have family in the UK, I would much rather spend my leisure time discovering all the treasures that Southern Africa has to offer.
All the advertisers on this page contribute to a donation to our nominated charity, which this month is CROW – the Centre for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, based in Yellowwood Park. CROW is committed to rescuing, treating and, if possible, releasing back into the wild, any indigenous creatures that are orphaned, injured or brought to them for whatever reason. I thought of them when I saw the destruction that the fires had caused in uMkhuze and of all the animals that must have been injured – the TORTOISE CROSSING sign was particularly poignant for me because I knew that many must have perished in the fires.