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KwaZulu-Natal February 2019: sea, mountains, and birds in between


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Our next stop was a short drive away so we have had full morning for exploring also the other side of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. This one is less visited part, greener and to my eye also a bit more scenic. We have had good luck with finding birds and other wildlife. 


Brimstone Canary



Sabota Lark (?)








Greater Kudu female





Saddle-billed Stork




Roads are gravel, and there are not many side loops. Some small water ponds added to the otherwise dominant color green. And more birds added to our Big Year numbers.










Long-crested Eagle





Southern Grey-headed Sparrow



The positive highlight of the morning was watching a group of giraffes “socializing”.  I know that they can be quite vicious with their heads but these were more encounters of the amicable kind. At the end of the “session” they all leave the area together.















The adrenaline (and a bit nervous) highlight of this drive was on the far end of the park. Close to Makakatana Bay Lodge is a side path which in parts was in a form of two raised concrete tracks. Once on this track there is no turning back, and driving back would be a daunting task. The path is following the dense bush/forest on its left side … nice … until we have spotted an elephant on the path!! Now, there was an elephant in front of us, and a dense bush hiding who knows how many other ellies, probably in heat, to the left of us. No option to turn off the raised concrete tracks, and driving back was also not a viable option. All we could do was to turn the engine off and to wait.  Luckily the ellie was more interested in fresh branches then in us, and those “other” elephants were has never emerged out of the woods.  Once the only ellie we have actually see moved back into the bushes we continued our drive, with a certain amount of trepidation, and not talking much until we have reached the end of the path. There we shared some winks and high fives and comments like, Oh, not a problem and Oh, nothing to be nervous about etc.

Photos? Are you serious?! 



More birds to end our brief but enjoyable visit to St.Lucia and iSimangaliso Wetland Park.


White-faced Whistling Ducks



Blue-cheeked Bee-eater






Next we will explore Imfolozi Game Reserve:




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I love the 3 Kudus taking a walk down the 2-spoor track.:wub:

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Beautiful photos so far Alex!

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Hluhluwe/Imfolozi Game Reserve  area was originally a royal hunting ground for the Zulu Kingdom. It then became the oldest proclaimed game reserve in Africa. It covers around 96000 ha, thus much smaller in size to Kruger or Etosha. The main road is dividing it into 2 sections: Imfolozi and Hluhluwe. To my eye these two sections are very different to each other.


The sign on the right is becoming very common these days




Imfolozi park driving & sighting experience was closer to what our experiences about “safari” was from previous visits in Africa. It has one large camp (Mpila) and several satellite bush camps. Gravel roads were decently maintained, yet the hilly configuration of the park does not allow for any faster driving.  Basically there is one round route with several side loops.  Two hides, good for mammals watching but not for bird watching. Yet, with about 340 species of birds counted in the park, each drive was good also for birders.


The Hluhluwe/Imfolozi Game Reserve is famous for its huge number of White Rhinos. And during our visit, it looked like they all have been on the Imfolozi side. 


Mpila Camp was where we have stayed for 2 nights. A fairly small reception area, with gas pump and small shop, both with limited offer.  Therefore came with full tank and with full trunk.


Our 2-bed chalet was spacious, positioned at the end of the row so giving us good views. Outside of the chalet is a braai; already when picking up the keys, game ranger warned us about hyenas that has a habit to “ask for donations”. Braaing after the sunset was advised against, and leaving any food outside and not supervised the same. The braai itself was positioned some distance away from the chalet. Later that evening I have learned why.


From the parking lot










Chalet inside was spacious, beds comfortable, and fridge really big.  No A/C but none was needed. They have mosquito nets above the beds, however I do not remember if there were any mosquitos during the day. For sure none was flying around at the sunset time.









Now about braaing (and mosquitos). Already the opening statements from the ranger about how to deal with hungry hyenas did nothing good to my braaing confidence. On top of it, in the evening a strong wind started to blow, and while I have managed to start the fire somehow, it never produced enough heat to even start changing meat into steaks. @Peter Connan might have a word or two about the quantity and the quality of the fire (or lack of it), but that wind was really strong and the sun set down quickly and in the dark I have started to smell hyenas all around ... so I have wisely put out the fire and moved the meat behind locked doors. Zvezda did the rest of my job, and steaks were as delicious as always. The second night I have tried again, and failed again :(.


More about distance of the braai from the hut; it has a straw roof, and with such strong wind, a fire in the roof could be a common episode. The positive effect of the wind was also mentioned, mosquitos for sure does not bother whoever is willing to sit outside.








Edited by xelas
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Dave Williams

With the park gates opening at 6.00am and just an hours drive from St Lucia I am happy that I have made the right choice about not staying in the park now. Hyenas after dark ( when else would you cook?) doesn't make for a lot of fun. Enjoying your report Alex, keep it coming!

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Dave, drive time will be closer to 2 hours. And, those hyenas never materialised ... they have stayed away for the 2 nights we have had. However, I am assured Claire will prefer the sunny side of the pool to the windy side of the Mpila. 

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@xelas Great trip report so far, I am very excited about the next part about Hluhluwe/Imfolozi. Never been there, but maybe I missed out on something :) 

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I am in awe of your fantastic bird photos! Just got back from Costa Rica and found the bird photography to be even more challenging than I expected. 

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On an un-sheltered pan.like that, strong wind would make braaing virtually impossible. And with the fire risk you mentioned, you made the right call!



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15 hours ago, JayRon said:

Never been there, but maybe I missed out on something :) 


Not really. However, it is nice that South Africa has so many different options to explore.

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15 hours ago, mtanenbaum said:

Just got back from Costa Rica and found the bird photography to be even more challenging than I expected. 

 There is really no comparison between Africa in general, and Costa Rica. Photographing under the dense canopy of the rain forest pose a challenge to every photographer. Looking forward to read your trip report, with photos of course.

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11 hours ago, Peter Connan said:

And with the fire risk you mentioned, you made the right call!

 Thanks, Peter. Next evening I have tried with tin foil to screen the fireplace, but to no avail. However, it might be also that I have been really "cheap" on the quantity of charcoal used. Anyway, I have left Mpila with all roofs intact :D 

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Much of the park is bordering to Black Imfolozi river (photos below) and White Imfolozi river.









Two hides are in this game reserve: Bhejane and Mphafa. They are very different to each other. Bhejane is next to a flat dry area waterhole, and was full of different game at each of our visits. That also attracted many visitors to stop there, so it can become quite crowded.









Mphafa sits on a cliff above a small natural pond and only buffalos have been seen here (and some birds). There were reports about leopard in the trees near the parking lot, but as we are unlucky enough, no signs of it during our two visits there.








Edited by xelas
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The place claims the presence of Big Five, and indeed we have spotted four of them, missing only the spotted one.  


Our first morning drive started with a bang … OK, with a gang of lions. Lionesses and young lion were walking on the road, slowly and without any concerns. I have followed them at some distance. After about 15 minutes a game vehicles filled with visitors joined us. But there was no place for them to overtook us. And obviously my safety distance was not good enough for the driver of the game vehicle.  I thought he reprimanded me being too close. So I pull at the side and let him to lead.  Yet, instead of increasing the distance to the pride, he drove as close as he could. Normally, as most of his guests have phones instead of cameras. The pride did the only reasonable thing, taking the turn to the private road, and thus kept us out. Lesson learned, not all of the game vehicle drivers are true professionals. At least we have had our quality time with the pride, and long lens.















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Cape Buffalos were seen in numbers and on each drive, and they loved the mud baths. 









Not the same with elephants. We have seen them only once, late afternoon, and at a considerable distance.






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Among other mammals seen were:


Blue Wildebeest family photo



Out of the mud bath



Burchell’s Zebra twins portrait



Stripes everywhere



Common Warthog family drinking water ...



... and milk



One more portrait



And not a lifer,


Common Duiker




Edited by xelas
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9 hours ago, xelas said:

instead of increasing the distance to the pride, he drove as close as he could.

The selfish nature of humankind becomes evident in all nature parks. :angry:

Luckily you had 15 minutes of exclusivity initially. :)


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Duplicate post



Edited by xelas
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Rhinos are undoubtedly the stars of the iMfolozi Game Reserve. End of 19thcentury there were only 20 rhinos left, and the park was proclaimed to save them from extinction. Fast forward, that was one of the rare success stories. Not only Southern white rhino is now in such numbers that it is relocated to many South African and other African parks, same has started to happen also with Black Rhino through Operation Rhino. 


It is so easy to see a rhino in iMfolozi. By the road, in the mud holes, and specially at Bhejane waterhole. iMfolozi (and to lesser degree also Hluhluwe) is where a rhino fan will be a happy camper.






















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On 12/7/2019 at 3:48 AM, xelas said:

The sign on the right is becoming very common these days


And rightly so!   


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Birding was also very good in this reserve. Not from the hides, because there were no trees or bushes close enough, and at Bhejane wildlife traffic was just too dense. Driving around was another story, and Zvezda’s preferred way to take photos of birds is anyway out of the vehicle. Below are 10 birds that represents 340 different species counted in iMfolozi (in alphabetical order).


African Harrier-Hawk






Emerald-spotted Dove



Helmeted Guineafowl



Lilac-breasted Roller



Little Bee-eater



Spotted Flycatcher



White-backed Vulture



White-crested Helmetshrike



White-fronted Bee-eater







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@xelas just catching up with your TR and beautiful photos. The ele encounter on the raised concrete road in Isimangaliso sounds challenging. 


Shame that your private viewing of the lions was spoiled by a thoughtless guide.

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