Mkhuse Game Reserve - South Africa Pt. 2

We left the Nsumo Pan exhilarated by the hippo sightings. If we saw nothing else, we would have been satisfied with our time in Mkhuse. We chose a route to the Enxwala Vista Point for a picnic lunch. The park has great views of the Lebombo Mountains in the distance. The area in which we traveled was a grassy veld with enough trees to provide shade for weary animals. Unfortunately, the road was so rough, we had to turn back about half way there. We were high-centering on rocks and worried about damaging the rental car beyond insurance limits … or repair within the park. We slowly made our way back and tried another loop road with the same results. We retraced our track back to the main park road and tried yet another gravel track heading towards the kuMasinga Hide. landscape at mkhuse game reserve

We had a very late picnic lunch of bread, cheese and smoked chicken before heading into the hide. There were several cars there and no one seemed to be leaving. That was a good sign. If we were excited about seeing hippos, we were ecstatic with the number and variety of animals at the waterhole here.

waterhole at mkhuse game reserve

We watched as a giraffe family … mom, dad and baby … made their way tentatively to the muddy water's edge for a drink. Despite their size, the giraffes were very skittish.  They sensed we were watching and looked directly at us from time to time.

giraffes looking right at us at mkhuse game reserve

When they felt safe enough, they'd splay their legs precariously and stick out their long tongues to sip a quick drink, then abruptly turn away.

giraffe drinking at mkhuse game reserve

Rhinos walked the edge, too, looking for a good place to wallow. We watched a zebra approach tentatively and then jump back when a rhino snuffed at him impatiently.

rhinos and zebras at mkhuse game reserve

Then a wildebeest made his way from the forest's edge and tromped into the thick, viscous mud right up to his knees. He had no reservations whatsoever. He was hot and needed a drink and cool-down.

wildebeest at mkhuse game reserve

A fat old warthog, obviously ill-tempered based on the wide berth he was given, approached as well. He found a good wallowing spot immediately and luxuriated in the cool mud with grunts of appreciation.

warthog wallowing in mkhuse game reserve

Every once in awhile, something would spook the animals and they'd all gallop off to a safe distance, returning, slowly cautious, when they deemed the coast was clear again.

spooked animals at mkhuse game reserve

We could have stayed watching and observing forever, but we needed to be out of the park before dark and negotiating the rough roads back to the highway loomed in our minds. We reluctantly drove back to the gate, checked out of the park and headed back to the highway. The Shayamoya Lodge was less than an hour's drive to the north, just shy of the Swaziland border.

shayamoya lodge south africa

The drive in was comparable to some of the rough gravel roads in the park, so we weren't sure what to expect. Oh, my … were we ever surprised. Talk about good luck. Our “chalet” was a beautiful thatch-roofed, secluded hut.

the hut at shayamoya lodge

The interior was rustic, but elegantly charming as befits an African lodge. Wooden furniture, mosquito-netted beds (twins, unfortunately), a large bathroom with tub and an outside, hot-water shower. It was positively splendid.

mosquito net beds at shayamoya lodge

We were invited to a braai (BBQ) in the lapa, an outside patio area and enjoyed our dinner under the stars. We returned along a dimly lighted, stone path to our chalet. We could hear frogs and insects and the night sounds of small animals nearby. All in all, a lovely, unexpectedly fine evening. As we concluded Day 2 of our inland travel, we sighed in satisfaction and anticipated what lay ahead.

Mkhuse Game Reserve - South Africa Pt. 1

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. traffic collage mkhuse

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.

stone zulu hut mkhuse

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.

watch out for tortoise mkhuze game reserve

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.

mkhuze park map

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.

impalas at imkhuse game reserve

And then we spotted zebra … and wildebeest … and a baboon in a tree ... and a handsome nyala.

a handsome nyala at mkhuse game reserve

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.

beware of wild animals at mkhuse game reserve

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.

pan view mkhuse game reserve

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!

hippos at mkhuse game reserve

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.

hippo yawning at mkhuse game reserve

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.