How do I begin to describe the rugged beauty of the African wilderness. Tropical rich greens that are so different from home. Leaves in Africa vary from long and spiky to broad and massive. The shades of green seem to have more of a yellow hue, that gives a warmth to their vibrancy. In fact, they exuded a warm rich glow as the sunlight begins to intensify the day.
The air in the mountains is fresh and inspiring, (especially coming out of the city), with big winds that blew at night. We were staying in a camp located at the uppermost hilltop of the game reserve, hence the name "Hilltop". The views were spectacular. Occasionally we saw huge birds of prey in the air. The one bird we were able to identify was the White Headed Vulture. Not our stereo-typical type of vulture with a long neck, but more like an enormous eagle, soaring with a mighty wingspan.
The game reserve was called Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park. It is KwaZulu-Natal's most magnificent game park, and is situated in the heart of KwaZulu Natal, some 250 km north of Durban. It is one of the biggest in South Africa covering 96,000 hectares of stunningly beautiful landscape, a rich compound of misty forests, grass covered hills, dense thickets, expansive and diverse woodlands and watering holes that attract big game.
We took two guided tours, one at night from 5:00 pm until 8:00 pm. This one was really unusual because as it became darker and darker and harder to see, (remember it is winter here, and their daylight hours are short), I was wondering how on earth we were ever going to see any game. Then the tour guide handed Loren a huge spotlight and gave him the job of highlighting bushes, trees, grassy clearings and dense thickets for game, as he guided the safari jeep, down the unlit road. The best chance of seeing a lion or a leopard is at night, because the big cats are nocturnal. Luck was ours, because as we were making our way back to the camp, we found, less than one metre off the road, a pair of male lions. They were very relaxed and thankfully looked well fed. That would definitely, not be a road that I would like to go running along. It would be so easy, to not be able to see them, because they wait so patiently. Their tawny coats and golden mane made a scary blend with the grass along the side of the road as they waited quietly! Fortunately, we sit quite high up in the jeep (higher than the roof of a truck), well above the height of the road, because it is an open air vehicle, with only a tarp coving the roof. The morning guided tour, 5:45 am until 9:00 am allowed us to see more animals, with more detail and obviously, more scenery. All in all we saw Rhino, Lions, Elephant, Wildebeest, Buffalo, Hyena, Warthog, Bush Pig, Giraffe, Zebra, Antelope, Baboons and Monkeys. It was so amazingly remarkable that I am at a loss for how to describe the impact upon my mind/spirit. In Canada, we think that we are beside a big animal when we stand near a horse. The reality of animals in the wilderness setting of Africa, is so far beyond/above the comprehension that comes from reading books, or seeing a show. To turn a phrase from the sixties, "It was mind blowing!" and definitely redefined within the context of my mind, that we as humans are insignificant by comparison. So feeling much like a wee small ant, in the natural order of things, we continued our Safari and headed off to St. Lucia.
St Lucia is a small town on the eastern coast of South Africa and is home to the first ever African Estuary Reserve that was the first World Heritage Site in South Africa. This part of our adventure brought us up close to Birds, Hippo and Crocodile. Did you know that Hippos kill more people every year than any other of the Big Five? St. Lucia is also know for the huge Leopard population in the area, but unfortunately we didn't see a leopard.
The "Big Five" that everyone tries/ hopes to see are Lion, Leopard, Hippo, Rhino and Elephant. Winter is a good time to do a Safari because the animals come into the watering holes. Some of the holes were already drying up, with muddy exposed bottoms being the norm, but many still had water. All in all, we saw four of the Big Five, each of which was more amazing than I had ever imagined! Highlights of the safari, were the way the Rhino ate, marked it's territory and rubbed and climbed against a massive boulder to scratch itself, (we spent a good forty minutes watching one, because he circled around our jeep and and was doing all his antics right at the side of the dirt track which didn't leave enough room for us to even begin to attempt to go past. Discovering that not all zebra are black and white and that no two zebra have the same stripe pattern. There is also a variety of zebra that have a tan colouring between the black stripes through most of their body. They are particularly beautiful and remind me of a cross between a zebra and a buckskin horse. My favourite of all the animals however, was the giraffe! They were far more cautious, just a little curious, and quick to lope out of sight. Their only defense is their ability to run away quickly, and to place a well aimed kick at a Lion. The length of their stride, the grace of their movements and their very intelligent eyes won my heart.