Zululand Is In The Tropical Zone.
We entered northern Zululand on the new N2 highway which ran past private game reserves like The White Elephant along Lake Jazimi, which was backing up the Polongo River. At the southern end of the lake the country. Ghost Mountain Hotel rested below Ghost Mountain’s peaks that look like molars in a baboon’s jawbone. In historic times, Zulu kings were buried in the cave network on Ghost Mountain. This is the land of King Shaka, the most famous of the Zulu kings. We were now in Kwa-Zulu Natal province, with a population that makes up 1/5 of South Africa’s demography.
Zulu kings are buried in caves on Ghost Mountain.
We spent the next two nights in Drifters’ magnificent Zululand Inn, perched on a bluff in the sand forest overlooking False Bay (actually a lake) and the St. Lucia World Heritage Site. We were near the ocean; trade winds tousled the palm fronds. A sundowner was organized in short order on the Lodge deck overlooking the bay and carried on past sundown; the beginnings of a braai was firing up in an iron grill on the mowed lawn. It would be a gourmand dinner of beef chops, flame roasted chicken, Voortrekker sausage, and Griffiths’ awesome African cheese and tomato bread toasted to a melting point.
My sweet suite at Zululand Inn.
The Inn had four outstanding suites, with a lease lodge farther back; I had the suite nearest the dining hall. One thing I hadn’t seen yet on the trip was a bath tub. While other Drifters went on a morning walking safari I indulged in my private tiled tub. Large screened bath windows opened out and let in the cool breeze; this is a low level malaria area.
South Africa’s oldest national park and the second oldest in the world was nearby: Hluhluwe –iMfolozi Park, formerly Hluhluwe–Umfolozi Game Reserve National Park. Hluhluwe (shoe shoe lee) is the breeding grounds that saved the white rhinos from extinction. Over 2,500 of them now roam the Park and many are moved to other parks and game reserves to spread out the gene pool. About 300 black rhinos also thrive in the Park. Rhino dung can’t be used to fertilize the garden or lawn because they eat thorn bushes; a yard would soon be a thorny bramble from the germinating seeds in their poo piles.
And we are off for another Drifters adventure.
We were all excited when Megan, our lithe Afrikaans suntanned Drifters guide, pulled up in an open game wagon to drive us through the 960 Km² Park. Griffiths was at the wheel of a second rig. Warthogs munched on the lawn of the park entrance station, which closes in the early evening to keep out poachers.
Hluhluwe was named after a drooping thorn vine that is seen on all the sub-tropical trees – living emerald necklaces. The park is the only reserve in KwaZulu-Natal where all the big five game animals roam in the valleys and in a hilly topography. The area was once the royal hunting grounds for Zulu kings. Tsetse flies carrying the Nagana disease (sleeping sickness) protected the area from hunters in the colonial era, but the insects are now kept in check. Stone Age tools have been found throughout the park.
A high browser in the low veld.
The park is between the two Umfolozi Rivers where they divide into the Mfolozi emnyama (Black Umfolozi) to the north and the Mfolozi emhlophe (White Umfolozi) to the south. The topography in the Umfolozi section ranges from the lowlands of the Umfolozi River beds to steep hilly country, which includes some wide and deep valleys where we spotted bull elephants powdering themselves with a dirt bath in an open savannah.
The nocturnal predators – lions, leopards, and hyenas – keep the game edgy at night, while cheetahs keeps them edgy by day. Cape buffalo grassed on lush grass on a hillock scarp above the road. We kept our eyes peeled for the elusive black rhinos.
Here come the monkeys.
What is unique about the part is that It is home to 86 special species including: Nile crocodile, hippo, cheetah, spotted hyena, blue wildebeest, jackal, giraffe, zebra, waterbuck, nyala, eland, kudu, impala, duiker, suni, reedbuck, bushpig, mongoose, a variety of tortoises, terrapins, snakes and lizards. It is the best park in the world for viewing nyala, a medium sized antelope. Wild dogs have been reintroduced into the park.
A National Geographic moment.
The park is a prime birding destination and is home to 340 bird species. The Hluhluwe River is the only area in South Africa where Yellow-throated, Pink-throated and Orange-throated Longclaw species can be seen together. Other bird life include Night Heron, Wood Stork, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Shelley’s Francolin, Black-bellied Korhaan, Temminck’s Courser, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Little Bee-eater, and Crested Barbet. Megan pointed out Weaver Bird nests dangling like baubles from a Fever Tree.
The only traffic jam in the park was the baboon troupe and schizophrenic warthogs that scattered and scurried down the red dirt back road. Hluhluwe was a beautiful world of elephants, rhinos, cape buffalos, giraffes, and kudu, which were all seen in the first thirty minutes of the drive. I was awe struck when three rhinos plodded down the road, turned, and a giraffe meandered between them. A true National Geographic moment.
A traffic jam in the bush.
We stopped at a picnic and restroom area along the swollen Hluhluwe River, which is normally a slow moving puddle at the end of autumn. The river is home to crocodiles and hippos; a 40-seater tourist boat once plied the waters. Hopefully, with the drought in remission the boat will make a comeback.
Outside the park cattle, timber, sugarcane and pineapples are farmed in the area. Almost all of South Africa’s pineapple comes from the farms around the small town of Hluhluwe, where we visited the artisan craft markets. The village is situated between iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve on the banks of the Hluhluwe River.
Drifters supports local schools.
On the morning we left the Zululand Inn we visited a secondary school nearby that Drifters helps fund. Even though some of the windows were knocked out, the ebullient school principal was proud of his school, as were the students. A singing and dancing session quickly emerged and the glow in the students’ faces proclaimed blossoming happiness.
Drifters has strategically placed their lodges along their adventure routes. The Drifters Dolphin Coast Lodge was under renovation (completed in May, 2013), so we were placed in leased guest houses next door; some were beachcomber Sea view Villas, with patios shaded by bundles of sticks.
The Drifters Dolphin Coast Lodge.
The monkeys made a clatter on the tin roofs. The overpowering freshness of the ocean was just in front, a golden strand that disguised the clawing undercurrents. Some Drifters suntanned on the beach, others walked the short distance to a market. Griffiths was busy with the evening fish braai; what type of fish, no one really knew, but it looked like sea bream. With words in good withstanding, Griffiths pulled off another feast feat for the effete palate.
A Monitor takes a siesta at the Marina Village Mall.
Before making the long drive to the Drakensberg Mountains, we spent three hours at the Marina Village Mall in Durban while Griffith restocked the pantry. It would be a long haul before we were near a Spar grocery store of any size; wine and beer were stowed in the ice cooler. We never lacked spirits. It was also a good time to download some rands from the ATM machine. Not many are needed because most everything is included in a Drifters Adventures Overland Tour.
After slogging through the late morning traffic jam of downtown Durban, it was a relief to leave the humidity of the coastal zone for the coolness of the Drakensberg Mountains due north.
Read on, click the sign for The Drakensberg Lodge and the Fouriesberg Country Hotel.
— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.