October 19, 2006

South AfricaWe did get up early today, at 5 am in fact, and well before 5:30 am we were en route to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve. The drive to the gate took about 50 minutes, and we signed in at Reception well before 6:30 am. After paying the park entrance of R140 and buying a park map (R26) we set out to explore the park. The map was definitely worth the price: not only did it contain parks for all of the KZN parks in the Zululand region, it also had two full pages containing pictures of common mammals and birds of those parks.

The park is in two sections, so we headed to the Imfolozi side first. It was a lot more hilly than Kruger Park, so we were going up and down hills a lot, and the bush was a lot greener than Kruger’s was. We had already seen impalas before we got to the gate, and soon afterwards we saw warthogs and zebras and wildebeest. Usually we saw the animals in groups rather than singly.

At first the road was tarred, but before long it turned to dirt, but still in good condition. We made a lot of stops trying to identify birds, but still made good time. The first bird hide, Bhejane, looked out onto a dried-up mud puddle so nothing was there. But later, beside the road with some warthogs, we came upon a Woolly-necked Stork and two Secretarybirds. Shortly after that we stopped to look at some common animals, but when we looked off to the right we found there were three white rhinoceroses sitting in plain view. And soon after that we saw another lone rhino.

The second bird hide we visited, Mphafa, was much better. Even though there was only a little bit of running water, we saw impala and nyala on the hill above it, and several birds at the waterhole itself, including Hamerkop and Little Bee-eaters and a Mocking Cliff-Chat.

By now we were both getting hungry, so we decided to head to Mpila Camp, where there was a picnic area. There were already four dusty vans there, with a lot of school children. Luckily there was still one free picnic table, so we got out our food and made lunch. Naturally the children were curious about us, but probably they could not speak much English. One of their teachers came to talk to us. We told her we came from Canada, which she knew was far away, and she asked how much it cost us to fly to South Africa. When we told her R12,000 she said “Eee! You must be millionaires!” We didn’t tell her that was R12,000 each and we didn’t admit to being millionaires, although in terms of Rands we are.

After lunch we visited the Centenary Centre, which was built in 1995 for the 100th anniversary of the park. There was a craft market there in a large round building, and we walked around it checking out the crafts. Rosemary was looking for metal sculptures like some we had seen in Swaziland, but didn’t find any. Instead we bought a tall wooden giraffe that we were hoping we would find a way to pack.

Time was getting short, as we had to be back in St. Lucia at 3:45 pm for the boat trip. So we decided to drive a short distance into the Hluhluwe section of the park, then turn around and leave by the gate where we had entered. Lucky that we did, as we got to add Cape buffalo to our list. We had already seen several rhinos, but we saw four more of them on our way out. One of them was standing in the road, so we had to wait until it moved off.

We had calculated the travel time quite precisely, so back in St. Lucia we just had time for a quick cup of tea before having to go over to the boat dock. It was to be a two-hour trip, and it was still cloudy and cool, so we put on long trousers and wind jackets in preparation.

It was windy on the boat, but yesterday it would have been very windy and rainy as well, so perhaps it was lucky for that trip was sold out. The boat cruised up the estuary and back; along the way we saw a lot of hippos and several crocodiles, and numerous birds, mostly herons. And the cloudy weather meant that we would get no sunset photographs.

After that we decided to go out for dinner, since we had been in South Africa for nearly a month without doing that. From the Hippo Hideaway we walked across the street to the Ocean Basket, which is a large South Africa-based chain of seafood restaurants. Initially we ordered kingclip and chips, because Rosemary remembered kingclip as being good from last year. But they were all out of that, so we ordered angelfish as a substitute, but once again they were all out. Finally we ended up with yellowtail, but that turned out to be very good too. We decided to have dessert as well, baklava for Paul and a delicious date tart with toffee sauce for Rosemary.

After we settled the bill we went back to the Hippo Hideaway to have tea and write our journals. Our vacation was for all practical purposes finished, as tomorrow we would drive to Johannesburg for the flight home. We had bought a lot of souvenirs, so tomorrow we would have a go at packing them all.

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