Monday, February 28, 2011

February 25th – On Safari from Richards Bay

There's not much to the town of Richards Bay, (other than the dubious distinction of being the largest coal terminal in the world), but the reason for coming here is that it's so close to some of KwaZulu Natal's biggest and best game reserves. On our first day here, I took a safari to the fabulous Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park (for the correct pronunciation, imagine that Sean Connery is saying it).

We climbed into our jeep and set off into the open landscapes of the park – quickly passing a family of warthogs and a water buffalo wallowing in a waterhole, although animal sightings thinned out after that. Our driver had an amazing ability to see the animals in the distance in spite of their good camouflage, and we'd zoom off to get close up views.

The park is most famous for saving the white rhino from extinction (from just 11 left in the park in the 1930s, to now well over 2,000 of them), so we saw a family of rhinos being hassled by a male who wanted some action with the mother.

The best sighting was a close encounter with a 12 feet tall bull elephant, who was happily demolishing a tree when we chanced upon him. He seemed unconcerned with our presence until he suddenly looked up straight at us, and marched in our direction. Seeing as we were only 20 metres away and he weighed about 7 tons and we only weighed 2.5 tons, it was a little alarming. So alarming that a couple of the passengers started to frantically shout "get us out of here!", which apparently is the wrong thing to do, as the noise can only anger him more; but our driver remained calm and just took off the handbrake and we silently rolled out of his path – it seemed that all he wanted to do was just cross the road and we had been in his way.

Other sightings were of zebras crossing the road in front of us, baboons, deer, giraffes, a camera shy hippo, and countless colourful birds. So, we only saw 3 of the Big Five, and the animal sightings were quite spaced out, but that did make the sightings we did get a bit more exciting, and of course, the landscapes were majestic.