After a short nights sleep, I was up before the alarm. We stumbled about the room putting on clothes and making sure we had binoculars, water, hats, snacks, cameras and various other equipment needed for a game drive. We walked toward the main reception building from our chalet, and just yards form our door saw a pair of bushbuck in the trees. Waiting near reception were about 20-25 people, all blinking in the early morning light, trying to wake themselves up. All except a German contingent, who were singing. I said a silent prayer that we wouldn’t be in the same vehicle as them.
The guides turned up with 3 vehicles. The guides are all working game rangers, with years of experience in the bush, and they divided us up into groups (fortunately we were spared the singing Germans), and we climbed into our respective vans. They were quite high, open on the sides, and seated 10 people plus the ranger. We had 8 people in our van, and headed out of the gates at 0500. Our camp is called Hilltop, and as we drove out our guide stopped, got out some binoculars, and scanned the area before setting off in his chosen direction.
About 5-10 minutes out of camp, we encountered our first, and one of our most exciting of the whole trip, animals. A lone hyena was walking up the tarred (I use the term “tarred” very loosely) road. She stopped for a drink from a puddle, looked at us with disdain, and carried on walking for a bit while we reversed alongside her, and then she turned and walked into the bush. Very good start to the day
Our guide was very informative, and we saw a lot of different animals and birds on the drive. Sat so high up, we got a better chance of spotting animals while driving, but the ranger was so experienced he managed to spot most of the sightings while driving and watching both sides of the road. We also stopped for a hot drink and some rusk biscuits along the way, and were back in the camp at about 0815, where we had some lovely breakfast.
After eating, we loaded up our car ready for a day of driving and exploring, and headed off towards the south of the park. We had heard from our guide about an area that offered the best chance of seeing a big cat, and we were keen to maximise our opportunities. We spent about 8 hours driving, and had a really wonderful day, finding all kinds of animals.
At one spot, on a twisty sand road with a drop of about 8-10 metres down to the river on one side, we encountered some buffalo. We had been warned that they can be dangerous, and I knew from years of experience in game parks to be wary of buffalo. A large herd were making their way to the river to drink, but our road was on their path. We had to stop and wait for about 10-15 minutes for them to pass, but Lena had quite a panic and convinced herself that the buffalo were going to eat us, destroy civilisation as we know it, and introduce a new strain of incurable disease to mankind. The large bulls stopped one by one to check us out (we were about 15 or 20 metres back from where they were), and Lena was sure that they were just calculating the distance to see if they would catch us unawares by suddenly charging. Needless to say, they all crossed calmly, and after giving them a couple of minutes to clear the road, we headed onward.
The highlight of the day (in fact of the whole trip to Hluhluwe) occurred late in the afternoon, around 4pm. We had stopped at a river viewpoint, and watched 3 elephants on the other side, then taken a sand road loop towards the area where we had been told to look for cats. Not 2 minutes down this road, and we approach a corner when 4 or 5 impala came hurtling down the road towards us. They were all mature, but lagging behind was a very young one. They saw us at the point of the corner, and ran straight on into the bush. About 3 seconds later, a female lioness came running in the same direction that the buck had come from, and seemed startled to see us. She got disoriented for a second, and lost sight of the impala. she came so close to the car that we could have touched her, while she sniffed the air and looked for signs of the fleeing impala.
The lioness walked a few paces beyond the car, then heard the buck in the bushes, and quickly headed after them. She stalked slowly closer, and the last we saw was her accelerating rapidly to try and grab one, but the whole show disappeared into the bush, and we never saw the outcome, nor any further site of the hunter or prey. It was so exciting.
We saw some really good sightings of other animals, from a bunch of mongooses (mongeese?) to a close up elephant. Back at the camp we had a nice evening meal and a bottle of wine, and went to bed very tired, but very happy. We had booked another game drive for the next morning, so we were keen for an early night.