Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Parks

Toward the end of January, the Rogers, Betsy and Floyd, and the Ackermann’s, Becky, Kurt, and Zane, departed Cape Town for Durban to enjoy a brief holiday. We spent three nights in each of the two parks described below and a final night in Durban before returning to the relative cool and dry climate of Cape Town.

Zane made friends wherever he went. Here, tired as he was, he entertained and was soothed by an Indian family during the flight. “Passing the baby” is expected and widely practiced.

At the King Shaka airport in Durban we rented a car, drove toward town to stock up on groceries and wine, and then hit the road to an area just south of Swaziland; Hluhluwe-Imfolozi reserve. We do the self-catering thing by choice as our meals are healthier and better. It also allows us to be more flexible when touring remote regions.

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park

The thatched roof cottage on the left is where we stayed for three nights at Hilltop camp in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi. Notice the game fence at the bottom left. It keeps some of the animals at bay. Vervets, baboons and bush buck among others have free reign within the camp. We’ll have more later on the animals and our adventures, bur first some background.

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park is set in the heart of Zululand. It is the oldest game reserve in Africa, a place where Zulu kings such as Dingiswayo and Shaka hunted and put in place the first conservation laws, where today the "big five" of African legend stalk the verdant savannah. Established in 1895, game viewing is the prime attraction. Viewing hides overlook waterholes enabling visitors to see animals at close range.

As the home of Operation Rhino in the 1950s and 60s, the Park became world renowned for its white rhino conservation. Other areas of focus for which Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park is famed include wilderness trails which originated in Imfolozi in the 1950s and its renowned Game Capture unit recently upgraded into the Centenary Capture Centre, a bench mark for animal capture and sustainable utilization throughout Africa. The Park covers some 96 000 ha and contains an immense diversity of fauna and flora. Hluhluwe is characterized by hilly topography, and this northern section of the park is noted for its wide variety of both bird and animal life. Apart from game-viewing drives, there are two self-guided auto trails which provide information on both the management and natural history of the reserve. Guided walks are also available, particularly rewarding in the early morning and late afternoon.

Hluhluwe Imfolozi is one of South Africa's most popular game parks affording visitors fascinating wildlife encounters. The wide range of plant life in the park gives rise to a diversity of mammals, birdlife, reptiles and amphibians. The BIG FIVE - lion, rhino (back & white) elephant, buffalo and leopard are all to be seen in the park, as well as a variety of other species, including cheetah, wild dog and giraffe. It is also one of the best places in the world to see nyala.

When uncontrolled hunting brought many game species to the brink of local extinction, Hluhluwe and Imfolozi were set aside as protected areas for game in 1895. Through good conservation practices and the world famous project "Operation Rhino", the white rhino population was brought back from extinction in this park. Numbering less than 20 animals in 1900 they now number in excess of 10 000 worldwide, though poaching is becoming a huge problem, especially in Kruger Park which shares a border with Mozambique. Rhino horn is more precious than gold. Still KZN Wildlife boasts one of the best conservation teams in the world, and enjoys international acclaim for its conservation efforts, not least in the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park.

Ithala Game Reserve

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 hosts 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 archaeologists 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.

Now that we have the history of the area out of the way, stay tuned for more on our adventures.

Betsy and Floyd

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