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Ithala, Ndumo, Tembe, Bayette, Mkuze, Hluhkluwe and St lucia


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How to begin?


We landed in Durban and picked up our 4x4, headed for the first stop and spent the first night at our farm in Estcourt. We needed the rest as we had both been under some stress over the last few months. We decided not to rush anywhere, and take easy drives to each venue and focus on relaxing and soaking up a bit of nature.


The next day we stopped en route to pay tribute to one Winston Churchill.



the trip from Estcourt to Ithala took us through Ladysmith.



Dundee and Vryheid.. All towns rich in history of the boer and Zulu wars.


We arrived at Ithala without too much incident and looked forward to a good nights rest.



We took the option of self catered chalet and found the chalet very neat, well maintained and comfortable.



Although they had TV with the important channels, we decided to watch the rugby at the main building the next day.

So I wont say too much about the rugby, as it is still a bit sensitive.


After the rugby we went for a drive, but were disappointed with what we saw. I think we took the wrong route, as all the wildlife was in another section of the reserve where the grass had been burned a month earlier.


Ithala is best suited for conferences. The camp and accommodation is pretty good value. It seems that they are struggling to get guests, as they are a little off the tourist route, and dont offer big five. They do have elephant, but they advise you to keep well clear of them, as these elephant were saved from a cull as infants many years ago, and dont know how to behave.


There are plenty of other game, and rhinos in the park, and the habitat is not very rich, as the soil is very prone to erosion. It boasts many habitats from quite a high elevation and drops low to the Pongola river.




Anyway, so as not to disappoint, we went for a late afternoon drive and found some black rhino.




And a few birds.




In summery, our visit to Ithala was comfortable and we had some much needed rest. I would have liked to have done a few more drives in different areas, but we didnt want to hurry around.

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Ah you beat me to it Dikdik!! I will have to get on with my TR. But to be fair have only just finished uploadig my pics.

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Looks like some interesting terrain in the reserve, like the photo with the eroded earth … quite dramatic.

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A little about Ithala from the Ezemvelo website. Ezemvelo website


This magnificent reserve, tumbling from the heights of the Ngotshe Mountains a thousand meters down into a deep valley, carved over the eons by the Phongolo River revealing the world's oldest rock formations, is a game viewers paradise. Situated in the rugged, mountainous thornveld of northern KwaZulu-Natal, the reserve's multitude of habitats host a spectacular array of wildlife species. Its scenic beauty aside, Ithala's most characteristic feature is perhaps its astonishing geological diversity. Some of the oldest rock formations in the world are found here, dating back 3 000 million years. With a topographic profile varying from 400m above sea level in the north to 1 450m near Louwsberg in the south, Ithala's terrain extends over lowveld and densely vegetated riverine valleys to high-lying grassland plateaus, ridges and cliff faces. The area now proclaimed as Ithala has been occupied by man for thousands of years and there are many sites littered with stone age spear and axe heads dating back some 20,000 years. There has even been a middle stone age tool discovered by archaelogists which pushes the date back to anything up to 200,000 years. More recently, in the last few hundred years, with the advent of the Nguni people, iron smelting took place in Ithala and there are a number of smelting sites adjacent to deposits of banded ironstone which was crushed to provide the iron ore. Ithala has provided the setting for many historic events, from Shaka's reign and those of successive Zulu kings, to a number of gold mining enterprises in the early years of the 20th Century. Ithala has an excellent auto trail to facilitate visitor's game viewing, and a notated guide booklet is available in the shop at Ntshondwe, Ithala's superbly designed, multi-award winning camp.


The erosion started when the early farmers put too many cattle on the land, and it looks like it will never recover.

Edited by dikdik
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Driving between destinations may seem tedious, but we were overwhelmed by the amount of game farms and reserves we saw in this area. The route took us over the Jozini dam.





Although most of the way we were on tar, we took a dirt road shortcut, where we nearly ran over a cobra. The road to Ndumo town and the reserve is under construction. The soil was varying colours of red.




Ndumo is only 10 000ha a quarter the size of Ithala, and borders with Mozambique. I have read about a land invasion in the one part of the park by some Mozambicans. For the life of me I cant figure why SA just didnt send them back to where they came from, instead they have been given citizenship and part of the park has been cut out and fenced for them to farm on. Ndumo town is right near the reserve, and we were quite concerned about what we were going to get.



From the moment we entered the gate we fell in love with this park. - Small as it is, it is packed with animals. Nyala everywhere. I expected the animals to be poached out, and nervous, but nothing of the sort. We also took to the vegetation, which is thick thorny acacia bush.


Ndumo is known for its birding, and we could see why. The place was abuzz with birds. The accommodation was neat and well maintained, but we had to share the ablution facilities with 6 other chalets. They did provide a kitchen with a cook. Apparently, if you gave your food to the cook, he would do all your cooking for you. We were happier to do it ourselves.


To start with, we sat in a birding blind for sundowners. I counted 55 Nyala that come onto the water front to graze.


Sitting at the bird blind for sundowners fed the soul.

Some lovely fever trees and sycamore figs dominated some areas near the water.



We couldn't believe that there is such a healthy population of black and white rhino in this park despite being on the Mozambique border, and the invaders and how close they are to a large community.


I will leave the bird photos for the end of the trip report, but we saw a few other critters as well. - in fact just as we entered the gate we was a good python track across the road.




Our chalet.



We took advantage of the highly skilled bird guides and did a walk into the sycamore forrest to see some birds. Most notably we saw three Narina trogons in 15 minutes.


We had a little bit of excitement, when we relaxed close to the waters edge, we spooked a white rhino who had bumbled along to within about ten meters of us. I think we put his nose out of joint, as after running off, he decided that he should come back and show us that he wasn't really afraid of us.


We will definitely go back to Ndumo, and stay a bit longer. It was good value, and gave us a chance to relax a bit and we learned some new birds. I hope that the government manages to sort out the issues with the land grabbers, or this wonderful place will be lost forever.

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Good... another trip report and looks like it is going to be a good one, with only one name I beleive I know and one that sounds vaguely familiar in the title. Please keep adding the descriptions like that from the Ezemvelo website for us really ignorant ones dikdik! Thanks.

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Good idea Paul.


Ndumo Game Reserve is perhaps best known for its magnificent bird life with the highest bird count in South Africa, some 430 species.

Situated near the Tembe Elephant Park on the Mozambique border, the Usuthu River forms its northern boundary and the Pongola River flows through to its confluence with Usutu. Ndumo boasts many beautiful pans set about with yellow fever trees and extensive wetlands and reedbeds as well as acacia savannah and sand forest.


This varied habitat hosts an astonishing range of aquatic birdlife such as black egret, pygmy geese and flocks of pelicans. The prolific birdlife includes many tropical East African forms at the southern limit of their range. Special ticks for birders include Pell's fishing owl, the broadbill, and southern banded snake eagle. With game species such as nyala, bushbuck, impala, red duiker, suni, black and white rhino, hippopotamus and a very large population of crocodiles, Ndumo is a most rewarding area to view wildlife with its wetlands and pans, thick bush and savannah and extensive forests. Ndumo is of particular interest to entomologists with a very interesting array of insects including 66 recorded species of mosquito.Visitors may drive through certain areas of the reserve in their own cars, or participate in landrover tours to interesting areas in the company of a tour guide. Depending on the demand, morning and afternoon tours are conducted and arrangements to participate in these tours are made at the reception office.

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Although Tembe is a few kilometers away as the crow flies (assuming of course that the crow flies straight), we had to return through the same road under construction and onto the tar for a while.


Tembe is a combined effort between Ezemvelo and the local community, and we have been wanting to go here for some time. It is that magical size that allows to stock lions and wild dogs.


Of the 4 lions introduced in 2002, there are now 40, and they have had to cull a few along the way. Its a good indication of how quickly lion numbers can recover if given a chance.


We only allowed for one night at Tembe. Maybe it was a mistake. It was good to be pampered and guided as they do in such reserves. I was impressed with our guide and his knowledge on birds. He was also quite entertaining.

Many of the people who work there are actually of the Tembe tribe who have decided to commit to this venture.



The camp was full of Nyala. Nyala get so tame and pay little attention to people walking around. It almost brought a tear to my tears to realize that these beautiful animals are just fast food for the lions and wild dogs in this reserve. It is somewhat easier to swallow the idea of plentiful impala being gobbled up by predators. At the watering hole, we saw Nyala coming in and out like ants.


And during our first game drive we com across this nice big elephant bull



But the highlight was the second day, after we had checked out of the lodge, we went to the same blind and chilled out for a while where the big bulls came in.





Although we didn't see the lions or wild dogs, we did see a few rhino, and got what we came for and that was the big elephant bulls.

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This remote park, deep in an area of sand forests, pans and wetlands in northern Tongaland, lies on the border between KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique. The diversity of birdlife is spectacular. The park is situated within the sand veld ecological zone and consists mainly of closed woodland and secondary thicket formation. The zone falls within a transition area between tropical and sub-tropical forms and therefore is home to a great diversity of vegetation.


With this diversity of habitats Tembe is home to a spectacular variety of animals and birds. Tembe is a special place with very basic day visitor facilities and a road system consistant with the wilderness management of the area.


Only ten vehicles are allowed into the park on a daily basis and these must be 4X4s to negotiate the sand tracks that form the road network.

Not far from Tembe Safaris tented camp on the tourist route is Mahlasela Hide, and overlooking a pan in the Muzi Swamp is Ponweni Hide. Also on the tourist route is the picnic area at Manungu, a walking trail closed off from large animals by an electric fence and a viewing tower on Gowanini which offers a panoramic view over the reserve.


A handcraft stall managed by the community is near the parking area. Accommodation is run by a concessionaire and consists of a tented safari camp with 21 beds. The tariff is fully inclusive and bookings can be made by telephoning(031) 2029090. or visit their website www.tembe.co.za.


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Bayete Zulu



Bayete Zulu, is oposite the road to TuluTula, and has opened its fences to neighboring lodges to become a big five resort. The total extent of the land is 28 000ha and two male lions have been introduced from Phinda with the females to follow soon.


This is a testament to the success of Ian Players principles of game ownership and the onset of private reserves. I must say that my heart was warming to the whole area, as huge tracts of land are being changed back from stock farms to game. Some big good news stories in that area.

Bayete is more upmarket than we are used to and Jen took advantage of the massage service offered.


And their accommodation is very decent.


We missed the first evening game drive, and in the two days we were there, we decided to participate in only two drives - opting for some relaxing rather.

We did see some elephants, and Jen got out of the car to greet them.


I was a little unsure, and hid behind the car


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Awesome shot!


More places to put on my list. Sigh... any millionaires reading this and needing an escort on their safaris?

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Bayete Continued.


Bayete do have some wild elephants, but these elephants come from Hwange after a cull 35 years ago - some were saved and become habituated to people. Though a number of change of ownerships they have ended up here. The elephants roam wild, and are followed every day by two handlers - who were a few hundred meters away when we stopped to greet the ellies. Meeting these huge beasts was the highlight of our trip. I was completely humbled by this experience and pretty emotional. To be that close to these huge beasts who walked up to us and greeted us was at first quite scary. I am not articulate enough to describe the feeling of having a 4 and a half ton animal walk up to you and brush past you. All I could do was put my hand on his tusk in case he accidentally trampled on me.


The elephant interaction is offered by Bayete, and shared by neighboring reserves. Believe it or not, the elephants need this interaction, as they have become so accustomed to humans touching them, that they need it. At 10am they give a presentation and tell visitors all about these elephant, and other interesting information. This is not a normal herd, as a dominant bull should separate from the cow after she calves, and will have no interest in the calf, but in this case the big bull, is clearly fond of the calf.


The long term plan is that the calf have limited contact with humans, and eventually they will join the wild herd.



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At this stage our guide and friend joined us at Bayete. He was able to join us for the elephant interaction. It must have been pretty weird for him, as he leads trails and steers well clear of elephants while in the park. Sabelo works as a guide for Hluhluwe Imfolozi, and had arranged that he lead our trail while we were at Hluhluwe, but this was in his spare time, and he was going to be our personal bird guide while at Mkuze.




At a first glance the accommodation at Mkuze looks pretty good, but it is a little run down and poorly maintained. Mkuze is having huge problems with poaching in parts of the park, but is well known as a birding destination. If you are lucky you may come across the wild dog or cheetah in the park. The weather had been holding out, and we explored the park a bit. It was still very dry, as the rains had not come yet.


the highlight of Mkuze was the fig forest bird trail.



As promised, I will add the bird photos from the trip later, but I just love forests and trees as well as seeing so many new birds. We saw quite a few "special" birds.


As far as wildlife was concerned, we had seen rhino at each destination including this one, so I will add o few photos of the less raved about animals.



And sadly evidence of poaching.




I will return to Mkuze sometime for more birding.

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more info on Mkuze.

A place of great beauty and high contrasts, Mkhuze is renowned as a mecca for bird lovers , with more than 420 bird species on record.

The reserve has an astonishing diversity of natural habitats, from the eastern slopes of the Lebombo mountains along its eastern boundary, to broad stretches of acacia savannah, swamps and a variety of woodlands and riverine forest.


A rare type of sand forest also occurs in the reserve. Two beautiful pans, Nhlonhlela and Nsumo , lie in the north and east respectively, home to communities of hippo, crocodile, pinkbacked and white pelicans, as well as a diversity of ducks and geese which gather in spring. Situated in northern Zululand, this 40 000 hectare reserve was proclaimed a protected area in 1912.


Mkhuze Game Reserve constitutes the north western spur of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park a recently declared World Heritage Site. The Mkhuze River curves along the reserve's northern and eastern borders with a fine stretch of fig forest along its banks. Fish eagles swoop over the pans, snatching prey spotted from their perches in the fever trees. Other animals to be found in the reserve include black and white rhinoceros, elephant, giraffe, leopard, buffalo, nyala, blue wildebeest, warthog, impala, kudu and other smaller antelope. Rare species occurring are cheetah, hyaena and suni.


Visitors enjoy excellent animal and bird sightings from the three hides in the reserve. A Zulu cultural village in the reserve offers a glimpse of the traditional lifestyle and crafts of the KwaJobe community.

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Once again this place didnt disappoint. I may not know that much about Kruger, but from the experience I have had in Kruger, I would rate this park higher.


Almost as soon as we entered the park, we saw our first Rhino, and buffalo. We also got some good bird sightings, as the birds here seemed a little less skittish than outside the park. A little further on we saw Elephant, and a pride of lion, but they were about 200m from the road, and doing what lions do best (sleeping).




The tented camp we stayed in for the first night was pretty decent and better maintained.



After unpacking, we went for a quick drive where we came across another pack of lions.


After the previous night in Mkuze, we had a Nyala share the braai with us, the guests at that nights braai were Hyaena and later we had a sounder of bushpigs march through the camp like the forward pack of Samoan rugby players.


The following day, before we had to meet at the trail camp, we took a drive to see that the lions were still where we saw them the day before, but still not decent photos offering. According to people who were there ten minutes earlier, they saw a leopard walk out the bush and take a drink and walk back, in clear view of the lions.

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this was our home for the next three nights. The base camp for bush trails.



We were incredibly lucky that no other people were joining us for the trail, so we opted to stay at the trail camp fully catered, and do some short walks each day. But there was a small group who shared the camp with us on the first night before departing on the primitive trail. The primitive trail requires that you pack all your own food and sleep out in the bush under the stars for two nights before returning to the trail camp to clean up. For a while, we were tempted to join this group, but were not too excited whe we saw the mattress they carried with and the fact that the weather looked pretty ominous.



When the heavens opened that evening and thundershowers came down in torrents overnight, we were pretty comfortable that we had made the right decision. Some more rain fell during the next day as well.




In the morning when we woke up, we took a look at our surroundings, and noticed that there were some lions either side of the camp lying in the river bed. Three males on one side about 800 meters away, and another six 5 males and one female about 500m on the other side of the river bed. I was getting quite pushy asking the guide if we could take a walk across there to get some photos. The guides are a little weary of the lions, as they can be unpredictable, but agreed that we can take a walk to get closer. Anyway, as the story goes, we managed to sneak up to less than 100m from the lions, but to our surprise, the lion that saw is was not impressed and woke up from its slumber and came straight for us. To my surprise our guide who was looking after our tail, had already made it into the tree line and continued to run. I was left collapsing the tripod and grabbing the camera to follow. Fortunately there lion had to get through the brushes and up a river bank to get to us, and by that time we had backed up quite substantially. It seems that we didn't notice that these lions were full of testosterone from trying to mate with the single female, and didn't take very well to our presence.


For the three mornings, the same lions remained 500m from our camp in that river bed. So we opted to take our walks in the other direction.


On the final day we took a drive to the Mpila and came across some wild dog hunting.



Trotting along the tar road right outside the entrance to Mpila camp, being closely followed by a hyena.


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Great Trip report Dikdik! If you do go back let me know again an I would definitely be interested in joining you. :D

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Great TR and photos Dikdik.


Thats an amazing photo of Jen approaching those 2 eles, and they have a young one with them!


Interesting to read your comments on Mkuze. Is it possible to leave Hluhluwe and spend a day in Mkuze (and do the Fig tree walk) before heading to St Lucia for the night. Seems like Hluhluwe could be a better bet for 2 nights than Mkuze - what do you think?



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Although most of the way we were on tar, we took a dirt road shortcut, where we nearly ran over a cobra. The road to Ndumo town and the reserve is under construction. The soil was varying colours of red.




Dikdik..... that cobra is MASSIVE!! you should have a word with the Guinness guys

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We didn't find game viewing at Ithala very dense either, during our 2004 visit, but we really enjoyed the park hugely for it's beauty and peace and quiet. However, it was some time after our trip that I read about their push to market the main camp as a conference venue, and that is no doubt going to change the feel of it. The erosion does seem to be a worry, we didn't notice it as a problem during our trip (late May/ early June, can't recall exact date).


We loved Ndumo as a park, great for birds and just beautiful sycamore and fig trees, reflecting into the waters. We were in private camp run by Wilderness Safaris but closed down not long after, there was some issue with the concession rights I think. The guide, James Tembe, was fantastic, from the local area, infact he was going on leave after our visit so we dropped him to his home, met his family and children. I don't know whether he stayed with Wilderness and worked farther afield from home or is currently at Ndumo or Tembe parks.


I agree that Hluwhluwe Imfolozi give a great variety of landscape and excellent game viewing. We stayed self-catering in Imfolozi and went for Ubizane, just outside Hluhluwe as Hilltop was a bit expensive. Loved our time there.

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Dikdik..... that cobra is MASSIVE!! you should have a word with the Guinness guys


Enjoyed that one. I should read through the reports before posting.

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We didn't find game viewing at Ithala very dense either, during our 2004 visit, but we really enjoyed the park hugely for it's beauty and peace and quiet. However, it was some time after our trip that I read about their push to market the main camp as a conference venue, and that is no doubt going to change the feel of it. The erosion does seem to be a worry, we didn't notice it as a problem during our trip (late May/ early June, can't recall exact date).


We loved Ndumo as a park, great for birds and just beautiful sycamore and fig trees, reflecting into the waters. We were in private camp run by Wilderness Safaris but closed down not long after, there was some issue with the concession rights I think. The guide, James Tembe, was fantastic, from the local area, infact he was going on leave after our visit so we dropped him to his home, met his family and children. I don't know whether he stayed with Wilderness and worked farther afield from home or is currently at Ndumo or Tembe parks.


I agree that Hluwhluwe Imfolozi give a great variety of landscape and excellent game viewing. We stayed self-catering in Imfolozi and went for Ubizane, just outside Hluhluwe as Hilltop was a bit expensive. Loved our time there.


Fair comment about Ithala. I had a feeling that they were very conservative about their animal numbers because of the erosion. I also understand that they located some cheetah there once, but removed them and claimed that they ate too much. I concluded that they do quite a bit of capture and relocations from Ithala, and this income was obviously better than the attraction of having cheetah in the park.


James Tembe! - he was the guide at Zulu Nyala last year; his brother guided us at Tembe park, and was very entertaining.

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Oh, that's lovely to know about James... do you have a photo? Would love to see if it's same guy, probably is...

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St Lucia and iSimangaliso wetland park


The last days of our trip, we had left open, and ideas as to what to do started to materialize only on the day we left Hluhluwe. Unfortunately we only had one day and night to kill. We wanted to see the palm nut vultures in Mandini, but opted for St Lucia rather, and what a pleasant surprise. We found a decent B&B called Kingfisher and booked in. It was pretty decent.



The town is small, and very touristy. It seems that this is the central spot for all resorts in the area.



We did the tourist thing and booked for a sunset boat ride. It was fun, and we saw plenty of hippo and crocodiles as well as many water birds.






We also took a walk from our B&B - which is right on the Gwala Gwala bird walk and saw plenty of birds and some small animals.




We missed our bird guide, and were also sorry that we had such a short time here. iSimangaliso is incredibly promising, and heart warming to see how they are rehabilitating 332 000 hectares of the most beautiful area into a wildlife park.



Fast Facts on the iSimangaliso Wetland Park


Lake St Lucia is Africa’s largest estuary

The greatest congregation of hippo and crocodiles in South Africa

The last significant breeding ground for the giant leatherback and loggerhead turtles

8 interlinking ecosystems

3 major lake systems

350 kms of water surface

220 kms of coastline and beaches

190 kms of marine reserve

100 species of coral

1 200 species of fish

25 000 year old coastal dunes

700 years of traditional fish traps

36 snake species

80 dragonfly species

110 butterfly species

526 bird species


Not to mention that it is said to have the highest concentration of leopard in South Africa, and the highest concentration of bush-babies in the world.

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We took a drive into the park on our last morning. Its a pity that we had to watch the clock, as we wanted to visit the croc farm, as they say that there are some palm nut vultures that frequent it during feeding time. But we will be back. There is a lookout point where you could see the lake and the flood plain with animals grazing it on one side and on the other, you can see the sea.




We will have to return here for more birding and photos.


When we travel to other further destinations we have asked ourselves time and again, why we had go through the trauma of traveling on torturous roads to reach far flung destinations for our wildlife experience. Visits to all neighboring countries have been interesting and great fun, but at the end of the day we have returned tired and battered from the driving. Its just so much easier and cheeper to visit good old Local destinations and the experience is quite similar, and we can return feeling relaxed. I think we may have made an about turn, as we will definitely be visiting Northern Natal more often.


What is remarkable, is the amount of land coming under protection, and the amount of land that is being protected by private farms, or communal initiatives or even just protected by national parks, and to see that our KZN National parks are still in fair shape. So despite all the stories of doom and gloom, we saw plenty of rhinos, living well in protected areas, lots of good old trees and masses of birds, and were heartened by the introduction of lions on new found reserves and the success of wildlife conservation South Africa style. Now back to the office where we can quibble about the imminent demise of wildlife elsewhere in africa.

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