After a restful night and a full breakfast at the Hlulala Guest House, we were on the road to Mkhuse (Mick-hoo-see) Wildlife Sanctuary. It was a short distance on the N2 North Coast Highway to the cut-off, but once off the highway, it seemed to take forever to get to the park. The gravel road was rutted and rough, but stopping for the cows was the primary reason for such slow-going. Cows were everywhere. They are not fenced in, but rather roam aimlessly, perhaps looking for the perfect grass … or not. They spend a good portion of their day walking on the roads, stopping what little traffic there is. They do not respond to horn-honking. They move at their own pace. Once we got closer to villages, the cow traffic not only increased, but goats, donkeys and kids were added to the mix.
Driving through Zulu villages was interesting. Friendly, smiling people waved as we passed. The round, thatch-roofed huts were a traditional rondavel style. Sometimes there were small rectangular houses as well, always tiny and we wondered how many people could possibly live in them.
There was obviously no running water in some areas, as we watched women washing clothes in a large waterhole that was shared by animals and bathing kids.
After much bone-jostling, we arrived at the Mkhuse gate, paid our entry fees (R131) and began our careful watch for animals. A sign on a fencepost at the gate warned us to be on the look-out for tortoises. David stopped suddenly about 300' (100m) inside the gate… a tiny tortoise was crossing the road … just as advertised.
We were a bit disappointed as the first hide we wanted to visit was temporarily closed for repairs. Ah, well. We moved on to the Mantuma reception center. Pre-booked accommodation was available here, but none had been available for the time of our visit. We visited the info center and small gift shop and got our bearings in the park. We'd purchased a guidebook of Zululand reserves at iMfolozi and it included Mkhuze.
Unfortunately, we found out that the Zulu Cultural Center was closed, too, as well as several roads and other hides. We were feeling a bit gypped as we headed back onto the park roads, but not for long. There were so many impala laying in the road and all around us, it was hard to be miffed for very long.
And then we spotted zebra … and wildebeest … and a baboon in a tree ... and a handsome nyala.
A highlight of the park was the Nsumo Pan, a large, shallow lake and part of the larger iSimangaliso wetland system. We were surprised that there were no cars at all in the car park. We noted the sign as we left the car and headed down the path to the hide.
The pan was large and beautiful. We could see egrets and ibis in the trees on the opposite side and with the help of the telephoto lens, we could barely pick out warthogs and ducks.
As we settled quietly onto the benches in the darkened hide, we could hear loud, grunting, pig-like sounds. They sounded close, but we weren't sure what they were. Big bumps appeared in the water on the opposite side of the pan. The sounds continued and then a head emerged. Hippos!
This was our first sighting of hippos in the wild and we were thrilled. Hippos are not one of the Big Five, but are reputedly responsible for more fatalities than any other African animal. They're temperamental and tip over or swamp boats, drowning the occupants or providing fodder for the crocs that live in the same habitat. We kept our distance from the hippos and from the shore, where numerous signs warned about crocs. Patience is a virtue when photographing animals. David waited for nearly an hour to catch this picture of a hippo yawning.
In the middle of our pan experience, we received a cell phone call from Timboti Ridge, our lodging for the evening. Considering we were in the middle of nowhere, we were pretty surprised when the phone rang. We had been “upgraded” to a sister location at Shayamoya Lodge. They provided no explanation as to why, just a confirmation and directions to the lodge. We had no idea what to expect. The small disappointments at the beginning of the day faded away and were far outnumbered by the surprises that occur later. Stay tuned for the rest of the adventure tomorrow.