St. Lucia to Hluhluwe / iMfolozi Big 5 Safari – Day 2
When you have only 4 days to squeeze in all there is to see on a Big 5 safari such as this, there isn’t too much time to waste. After a quick, but delicious breakfast at the lodge we check out and head to the jetty down on the estuary. Here we hop onto a flat bottomed viewing boat run by Advantage Tours, and begin a 2 hour cruise of the St. Lucia estuary and lake system. The boat heads north, up into the Eastern and Western Shores Reserve section, basically travelling parallel to where we drove yesterday. The iSimangaliso is know for its prolific bird life, with over 500 confirmed species recorded. Along with this, we get to view animals on the banks as we go, but of course we are here for what’s in the water.
Some 800 Hippo and 1500 crocodile call the lake system their home. Hippo congregate in family groups called pods. The hippo pods close to town, who use the grass banks and lawns around town to graze in the evenings, are especially habituated to humans and of course the boats that come past daily. Their calm demeanor because of this makes St. Lucia probably the best place in the world to observe hippo.
Big 5 Safari time, onward to Hluhluwe:
We now head inland, approximately an hour drive, to the Big 5 Hluhluwe – iMfolozi Game Reserve. This reserve is the oldest proclaimed conservation area in Africa, once the royal hunting grounds of Zulu kings. The reserves were at one stage separated, but have since been joined to facilitate the migration of animals, in particular the 600 elephant population. It now covers an area of 96 000ha in total and is home to the Big 5, cheetah, wild dog, hyena and a host of other mammal species.
We enter the park and head for our camp for the night, Hilltop in the Hluhluwe section. Immediately you are struck by the stunning vastness of the savanna, wide open spaces, hills and valleys, as far as you can see. Just on the short 40min drive to camp we are lucky to see, white rhino, zebra and buffalo to name a few.
After check in we freshen up and get ready for our afternoon game drive. Early mornings and late afternoons (sunrise and sunset) are the best times to go in search of wildlife. In particular the predators are more likely to use these cooler times to move around and hunt, so increases your chances of getting lucky. However, the cooler weather is also great for you the explorer and the golden light illuminating the surrounding wilderness just adds something special to the scene.
We had a fantastic drive, seeing 4 of the Big 5, only the leopard alluded us. However, this is not uncommon. Leopard, are largely nocturnal and by nature extremely secretive, a sighting is very special, so we will continue to keep our fingers crossed. In addition to all the other common game we also have some great giraffe sightings, right next to the road. These enormously tall, graceful animals are always a favourite to sit and watch in silence.
Night time in the wilderness brings a completely different experience. A plethora of nocturnal species emerge, as the sun seeps away and the darkness awakens your senses. The call of the bushbaby, the roar of the lion or the ‘whoop’ of a nearby hyena fire the imagination. For us the crackle of our firewood, under the starry sky reminds us that we are in Africa. We settle down for a traditional Braai (BBQ) dinner and reflect on the last couple days. Things are good in the bush!