A hundred years ago there were only 50 white rhinos in all of South Africa, but because of conservation efforts, there are now over 20,000, but only about 4,500 black rhinos, down from 100,000 in the 1980s. Poaching of the Jurassic like animals is a deep problem, with nearly one rhino killed daily for their horns.
In 1993 trade in rhino horns was banned by the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) and today the treat includes 175 countries. The horns are agglutinated hair and are not valued so much as an aphrodisiac in Asia, but more for a cure for high blood pressure and cancer.
A pregnant white rhino at Falaza.
There are five species of rhinoceros in the world, two in Africa (black and white), and three in Asia. Over 90% of all African rhinos live in South Africa, mostly on huge private or government game farms and parks, such as Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park on the Elephant Coast, the first game park in all of Africa, established in 1895.
Poaching is now by global criminal syndicates but luckily rhino birth rates are paced above the slaughter. The two biggest markets for the horns are China and Vietnam. The Zoological Society of London states there is no medicinal value in rhino horns. The horn will regenerate like fingernails and grow about 4 inches a year. Conservation officers now implant computer tracking chips in live rhinos’ horns to track them. China is in the process of farm raising rhinos for the horns, which many believe is the only way to stop the wanton killing.
Falaza has four resident white rhinos.
The best place in the entire world to see rhinos in the wild is Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, and the best accommodations near the park are the luxury tents at Falaza Game Park and Spa. Falaza means “chatterbox” and I discovered the full meaning of the term when I awoke to the arguments of the vervet monkeys just outside my zippered tent window. During lunch, they raced across the grounds expecting me to throw them a treat, and they would chatter in the trees if it didn’t arrive.
Modern luxury tents at Falaza.
Falaza was developed by local farmer bunching their landholdings together to create the reserve. The 15 tents are modern and private and separated for serenity by gravel pathways. The tents are electrified and come with full showers, both indoor and outdoor. My spacious tent had a sitting area and a writing desk, along with twin beds. A small deck is just outside. A dining hall and bar are in a separate structure, with a patio for game viewing.
The tent accommodations are serene and private.
One afternoon Johannes, my Falaza game guide, and I went out on a private drive to search for the park’s four white rhinos. We meandered back and forth on the sandy tracks and searched the bush with diligence. We saw plenty of giraffes, and Johannes stated that baby of giraffes are born dead and the heart starts when they hit the ground. They have the same number of vertebrae in their necks as humans. Giraffes have four arteries in the heart, one for the neck, stomach, body, and legs. A giraffe once kicked the door of Johannes safari truck, punched a hole in the door and broke his leg and laid him out unconscious in the hospital for a week. No wonder lions fear giraffes.
Johannes observes the rhinos.
There are no lions or elephants at Falaza, it is a small reserve, but Johannes takes guests out on walking rhino tracking safaris, night drives, horseback safaris, boat birding or fishing excursions on Lake St. Lucia, and scheduled truck safaris. Falaza is only about 20 miles from the Indian Ocean and False Bay is actually a huge fresh water lake along sand forests, thornveld, and open savannah, the best viewing area to spot over 300 bird species. For a Jurassic fishing adventure the ancient but rare Coelacanth fish are found in the deep ocean canyons offshore.
Driving Africa's oldest game reserve.
The highlight for my Jurassic adventure was when Adam, my driver with Umhluhluwe Safari Tours, picked me up at Falaza and we drove the 15 kms (45 minutes with game photo stops) to the 96,000 hectares Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. The park is actually two parks in one. The northern section is called Hluhluwe (shoe-slewy) after the nearby village and the river that runs through the park, while the southern section, closer to the coast, is called iMfolozi. The northern park topography is rolling hills and ridges, while the southern section is flatter, along a piedmont with large savannahs and pans.
Zebras in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game park.
Although rhinos themselves don’t date back to the Jurassic age, they certainly look like they belong in the dinosaur era. The park is the prime breeding ground for rhino and a game auction is held annually to supply stock to other parks, zoos, and start up private game reserves. We drove along an ocean breezy paved ridge road and spotted grazing Cape Buffalo below us in the shade of acacias. It is possible to see the Big 5 in the immense park, so bring the digital camera.
Young bull elephants had been killing rhinos so adult bull elephants were reintroduced and for some psychological reason, the killings stop. We witnessed a Mexican standoff at a watering hole when a big bull stared down an encroaching rhino across the pond.
We were within feet of these park rhinos.
There are nine safari cars in the fleet of Adam’s company, so you are assured an open air seat to the dramatic animal views at Hluhluwe. Ancient Zulu game trails lead through the thornveld, once the exclusive hunting grounds of King Shaka, the first Zulu king.
From The Centenary Capture Centre extended overnight game trail treks are guided by professional park rangers where you may spot blue Wildebeest (gnu), zebra, giraffe, impala, waterbuck, eland, baboons, reedbuck, nyala, kudu, bushbuck, steenbuck, duiker, warthog, cheetah, wild dog, hyena, lion, leopard, elephant, Cape Buffalo, flocks of birds, and of course the prime denizens, the rhinos.
Operation White Rhino began in the park in the 1950s to stabilize the animals and no poaching has occurred in many years. The Centre has a capture boma where the large animals are rounded up. There is also a take away restaurant, and a unique native crafts marketplace.
Crocs and hippos make the Hluhluwe River home.
We rounded a bend in the road and took a side track for a vantage point view of the magnificent Hluhluwe River. Tour boat excursions were stopped because the recent drought dropped the water below the sandbars, but there is a 40-seater boat on Hluhluwe dam which takes visitors on guided trips twice a day. Suddenly in a deep pool a hippo head popped out of the water. Kayaking and canoeing are forbidden on the river because of the danger of crocs and hippos. The Hluhluwe River Flood Plain is one of the only areas in the whole of South Africa where Yellow throated, Pink throated and Orange throated Long claw species can be seen together. However, the area is in a malaria and bilharzias region so the best time to visit is in the cooler winter months.
The park gates close at 6 p.m. in winter (7 p.m. in summer), but guests can overnight at the park’s two camps, with advanced reservations (and extended game treks). The northern Hilltop Camp offers a commanding view of the park with the ocean in the distance. The camp offers picnic sites, bar and restaurant, and the Thiyeni game hide overlooking the Hluhluwe River. The Mpila Camp is located in the southern park with its Bhejane hide overlooking a watering pan. Both camps offer electric power and petrol stations.
Adam and I rushed to make the evening gate closure, and back at Falaza it was a delightful dining evening with a group of visiting aluminum engineers and scientists from Richard Bay, an industrial center on the Indian Ocean. Much of Australia’s bauxite is processed in South Africa due to lower labor costs. After a wonderful meal of wild antelope, I ordered the lodge’s last warm date pudding with ice cream dessert, to the dismay of one of the engineers, so I shared it with her.
Falaza's Spa and Recreation Center.
The spa is located in the indigenous gardens near the huge recreation center, all fenced in against predators. Order a spa gift voucher for indulges for yourself or others, with Dermalogica and TheraNaka products. Signature treatments include: African full body scrub and the African Awakening Massage, using TheraNaka body oils which concludes with the soothing sounds of a Rain Stick. Ask about the Honeymoon and Anniversary specials; Hot Stone full body massage; and reflexology and facials. The 5-day package includes accommodations and dining and an African izinyawo cleansing treatment and waxing and makeup treatments and full body exfoliation and hydrotherapy and an African Milk Bath. For the ultimate treatment try the “Out Of Africa” experience or the TheraNaka African Wood Massage which uses specially designed Swarhout body and foot dumbbells (wooden implements) over an olive and shea butter massage.
Other National Parks, reserves and nature areas along The Elephant Coast include:
Tenis, one of the Falaza game rangers, drove a bunch of us over to the Zulu Croc reptile park for an afternoon experience of snakes, crocs, and lizards. The park’s guide, Alexander, was a true snake charmer, but I still wouldn’t touch the live black mamba he presented on a snake stick. Black Mamba’s are actually gray, but their mouths when open are the color of death — black.
South African rock pythons are now protected but once were hunted to near extinction. Alexander rolled out a python skin, which were once prized for handbags and boots and wallets.
There are three types of a real Jurassic age animals in Africa - crocodiles. The Nile croc is the most numerous, the kind seen in Tarzan movies, while the pygmy and narrow snouted crocs are much rarer. All three species are raised at the park Ben was the oldest croc in the park, and the biggest. He was a living set of luggage.
Many venomous and non poisonous snakes from around the world are draped across tree branches behind thick glass at the park. The kids (and adults) will love the Zulu Croc park, so schedule it into your trip to Falaza.
I did notice the Jurassic age cycads growing in the rock gardens at the park’s entrance. The spindly cycad bush and many types of ferns survived the meteor destruction of the dinosaurs; cycads are protected throughout Africa.
Western Shores and Charters Creek — where you may see the rare and elusive tsessebe antelope.
uMkuse — a bird lovers paradise with guided walks through the Sycamore Fig Forest; or visit Nsumo Pan for wildlife viewing.
Lake St. Lucia — South Africa’s largest estuary system at 80 kms by 23 kms and home to 800 hippos and 1,200 crocs, pelicans, flamingos, ducks, waders, and fish.
Lake Sibaya — South Africa’s largest fresh water lake, with hippos and crocs and forested dunes.
Sodwana Bay — one of the top ten dive destinations in the world with over 1,200 fish species in the coral reefs. The ancient Coelacanth fish was discovered off shore in 2000 in Jesser Canyons.
Kosi Bay — comprises four lakes and winding channels, one of the top fly-fishing destinations in the world, but also great for snorkelers. Traditional fishing practices date back 700 years; this is the only area in South Africa with natural mangrove swamps and Raphia Palms.
Eastern Shores and Cape Vidal — is a beach and safari destination with dunes, grasslands, pans, lakes, coastal dunes, and once the home of the ancient Bhangazi people. Drive along the many game viewing roads.
My Falaza HQ.
Although I never saw any of the rare black rhinos (Diceros bicornis), I will always remember the baby white rhino that came within inches of the safari truck, munching along like a bulky bush lawn mower.