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


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@xelas Great report so far, maybe I missed out anyway ;) ... 

And I am glad you had 15 minutes with the lions before the guide ruined it (in my experience there is a lot of good guides, but unfortunately almost just as many bad ones :angry:).  

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@Treepol, @JayRon, I kinda understand the guide/driver. The longest lens their clients have was good for elephants but surely not for lions. And, it is those passengers that gave tip at the end of the game drive ...

But I have learned my lesson, being selfish is not a bad thing when following a pride of lions in a vantage position.

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Some really nice photos there. I’m continuing to enjoy following along with you on your journey. 

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I will continue soon, at the moment I am waiting for Chief Editor to return from a short "ladies only" trip to England (while UK is still not requiring visas :rolleyes:).

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Lovely reports of National Parks I remember so well from my childhood. It’s brings back a lot of memories to see them again - although I’m not sure that we were ever lucky enough to see Lions.


FYI - Your Bushbuck strikes me as more likely being a Common Duiker 

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11 hours ago, lmSA84 said:

FYI - Your Bushbuck strikes me as more likely being a Common Duiker 


It very much might be my mistake. I have worked by on-line images, they look similar ... anyway, it is a nice portrait of a lovely animal.

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Only a short drive away, yet Hluhluwe is a very different reserve to Imfolozi. Hilltop Camp dominates this side of the park, and indeed its name describes both its location and the area around it.


This is a large lodge, with 69 chalets (vs. 15 chalets + 10 tents at Mpila), a pool and a large restaurant. Outside of the restaurant is a large terrace with wonderful view.


As said, the drive from Mpila to Hilltop is short, and nothing has distracted us (unfortunately), so we have arrived too early. Time to sit on the terrace, and to enjoy in the ice cream. 








Once we have got the keys to our (first) chalet, we have been happy with the view from the balcony but very unhappy with the strong smell of urine next to the entry door.  The bathroom was clean, and the smell did not came from the toilet. So it must have been contained in the carpet. Off to the front desk to explain our problem, and to ask for a replacement. The front desk manager sent a guy to inspect the situation, luckily his nose worked good, and soon we got new keys. Same type of chalet just positioned more in the center of the camp. It has had worse view from the balcony but there were also some positive aspects presented. I am sure @Dave Williams will noticed at least one.


First chalet







Second chalet







Both evenings we have had dinner at the restaurant. Food was OK, nothing to rave about, apart of the very handsome personal waiter Zvezda had.












Edited by xelas
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Dave Williams

Was it live and free to view too Alex! I was amazed to be able to watch on the "ordinary" channels when in J'berg.

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4 hours ago, Dave Williams said:

Was it live and free to view too

 It was live and free, and I have watched our team!

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The landscape is one of rolling green hills. Some times I have had hard time to accept I am in South Africa. Hluhluwe part of the Game Reserve is narrow, and the main road that connects Nyalazi gate with Memorial Gate is the artery that is used for game drives.  










Views from the top of the hills are spectacular. However, spotting wildlife is quite difficult. There are only a few side tracks from the main road. Those are indeed quite difficult to drive, narrow and rocky at places, and most of the time dense thicket is on both sides. Not only this prevents any good spotting, it also hides possible dangers.










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Several warning signs are positioned along the roads, and to underline the message, a “black&white” patrolled the roads.






Not all elephants are happy with tourists, specially when they came too close. On a narrow track it can be quite complicated to find your way out of the troubles.






One of the side tracks is between Hilltop Camp and memorial Gate. There is a long downhill section. Almost at the bottom we have heard a loud trumpet sound. No elephants were seen … at first. So I have moved a little forward only to be stopped by another, louder sound. Then the ellies started to emerge from the thick wood. One after another, the herd must have been at least 50 animals or more. A couple of times I thought the passage was over just to be warned by the ellie police that there are still others to cross the road. Eventually we have return the same way that we have arrived, not knowing how long we should be waiting for the “green light”.






On our full day we have stayed on the main road mainly. We did have the good luck to spot quite many elephants. But as a safari destination, I prefer Imfolozi part over Hluhluwe part. Our last sighting from Hluhluwe, already close to Memorial Gate.







Edited by xelas
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@xelas you are giving a real good flavour of different parts of the park- very useful.

And beautiful photos!

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Thanks @TonyQ. I wish I would have more stories to tell but this was one really relaxed safari. Good thing is that Zvezda is always willing to share her photos I can use in trip reports.

Edited by xelas
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Dave Williams

Interesting comments about the park Alex. In the northern section of the Kruger we had several close encounters with Elephants where we found ourselves surrounded and on one occasion I had to put my foot on the accelerator to escape some unwanted attention. Once you have been in a situation like that the mere sight of Elephant makes you nervous and I am quite happy to avoid them totally. I think I'll skip Hluhluwe !!!

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There was an obvious lack of mammals apart of elephants, so we have turned our attention to next of kin. Three species were seen and photographed in Hluhluwe.


Most prolific one were Chacma baboons. Seen plenty on the camp grounds, climbing the steep cliffs or just enjoying in the trees.


Chacma Baboon








Otherwise easy to see, the Vervet Monkeys were only spotted in and around the camp grounds. For sure the maintenance crew dislikes them, as they were repairing the roofs on daily basis.


Vervet Monkey




A pleasant surprise was encountering Sykes’ monkey aka Samango monkey aka White-throated monkey. It was probably a lifer. 


Sykes’ Monkey





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Also birding was only so-so. Still Zvezda captured a couple of good shots. While some have been friendly and perched on exposed locations, or gliding over the blue sky, others have been much more secretive, or have found a very non-photogenic location to present themselves. 



European Roller



Red-backed Shrike



Brown Snake Eagle






Southern Grey-headed Sparrow



Yellow-throated Longclaw



Cape White-eye



Southern Boubou







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Lots of great photos, but that Cape White-eye photo is a real winner to me. Great timing! 

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It is a long drive from Hluhluwe/Imfolozi (or St.Lucia) to Royal Natal in Drakensberg. On the map there are some shorter options, however, all of them were discarded as soon as I have seen the “quality” of the local roads. 


While I do not trust Google Maps for its driving times, this time it was spot on.  We have exited the Hluhluwe Game Reserve at Memorial Gate at around 10:00 and have arrived at Berghouse & Cottages at 16:45, after 524 kilometers and 2 relatively brief stops.




As this was the day for driving, let The Road be the main attraction presented. Highway 2 till Durban and Highway 3 after Durban were both in very good condition. Traffic was not congested, only slowed down around Durban. Not many heavy trucks on the road, while those light trucks transporting goods and people were more numerous. Otherwise, smooth driving for us.








However, there are things to be careful about. Overloaded trucks, flat tyre repairs without proper signs, domestic animals, all can be encountered on this highway.








Near Durban the normal 2-lane road turns into a proper 4-lane highway, which increased our travel.






We have made one pit stop about halfway, and although there were many cars parked, we have decided to take shifts, to prevent any unpleasant surprise when coming back to the car.

Our second stop was in Bergville, to buy groceries for next 3 days. 




The local road was quite scenic already before Bergville, and it only gets better closer to the destination. After 6 hrs 45 minutes (make it 7 with time inside the park) only a short stretch of gravel road before a well deserved rest.






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I have found about Royal Natal and specifically about The Berghouse & Cottages - https://www.berghouse.co.za- from @Peter Connan, and I liked the place on first sight. While some accommodations are not up to what one expects them to be, this one even excelled my expectations. The fact that we have arrived in a beautiful sunny afternoon of course played a big role;





Our cottage was Phinda; main attraction of it was the covered patio with a braai/fireplace, so we could sit outside even if the weather would not be a typical African one. After all, we were in the mountains, so to speak. Inside is one large room, with double bed on one side and a sitting area and another fireplace on the other side, plus a well equipped kitchen. The bathroom was also big, with large round tub. No TV to distract, and wifi was only reachable if staying under the kitchen window, or outside in the patio, if not downwind.












Our cottage delivered on all counts and was a welcoming retreat during rainy hours. Evenings were quite chilly, so it was always a fire burning in the outside fireplace. And not to waste too much energy, usually a steak was put on top of it. For those with analytical eyes, no, it was not that cold to warm up the beer ... just a way to show what brand of beer I have had :) at hand in case of a fire alarm.







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There are several cottages, and 3 separate houses on the property. It is a working farm, and thus we have not seen the owners all that much.  Apart of the reception (where the wifi reception was good), there is a small hill with great views almost 180 degrees over the Amphiteater. Two separate open fire pits with seating, and a naturally-looking (but man-made) pool to cool down in hot days (which we did not use). One side of the property was a wooden area, very good for birds, and driving (or walking) along the approach road we have always seen plenty of cool looking birds. Above the property is a higher hill, maybe 30 minutes uphill walk. Even when not in a mood to drive somewhere else, there is a lot to do on and around the property itself.
















It can be either b&b or self-catering; we have opted for the second.  For food and other supplies there is Bergville at about 30 km drive, or Winterton, 50 km. Entrance to Royal Natal NP is mere 15 km away. This place I warmly recommend, as it ticks so many boxes, specially for whoever is interested in birding and hiking (and mountain biking). 



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Early morning or late afternoon, always a different light and different shade of green!
















When researching the Drakensberg-related trip reports on Safaritalk I have found one photo done by @FlyTraveler that must have been taken if not from the same place then one that is very close, with same excellent view. maybe he will see this report, and told us where he has stayed (as the report only covered the Madikwe Game Reserve).


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8 hours ago, xelas said:

When researching the Drakensberg-related trip reports on Safaritalk I have found one photo done by @FlyTraveler that must have been taken if not from the same place then one that is very close, with same excellent view. maybe he will see this report, and told us where he has stayed (as the report only covered the Madikwe Game Reserve).


Excellent TR and stunning photos @xelas! I am catching the report quite late and there are so many excellent shots, that it wouldn't make much sense to mention particular images. Regarding the accommodation where we stayed when we visited Royal Natal National Park in 2015, it wasn't The Berghouse & Cottages, but Orion Mont-Aux-Sources Resort. As you have written, must have been fairly close, since the view of the Amphitheatre was kind of similar.

P. S. Merry Christmas to you, Zvezda and your loved ones!

Edited by FlyTraveler
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finally catching up! still greatly enjoying the TR, and yes, what a beautiful spot that royal natal NP is!

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Design & copyright by Tanja

Edited by xelas
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Dave Williams

Great trip report writing as ever Alex.The wildlife you see is interesting but what I like to know is what to expect when it comes to the logistics of where to stay, how to get there etc and you supply information by the bucket load. Much appreciated!!

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