There is nothing quite like that first breath of game reserve. Touched by dust, warmed by the African sun and partnered by the call of some distant, nameless bird, it burrows deep into your soul. If your imagery is shattered by an impatient shout from an anxious child, don’t panic just yet. Not only does the sun caress with its healing touch, it has an almost magical effect on short people (or tall depending on how fast your kids are growing).
Some of South Africa’s big five game reserves are within easy driving distance when you use the cosmopolitan city of Durban as your home base. Durban, renowned for its great beaches, warm climate and Jazz, offers plenty for children of all ages, so perhaps spend a few days exploring the city before heading off to the reserves. Hluhluwe Hilltop Camp is the perfect place for your family to stay during their game viewing adventure. Hluhluwe/iMfolozi is Zululand’s 237,000 acre wildlife treasure. Run by award-winning conservation company Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, and it is a three hour drive from Durban along good roads and you enter the park on the south side, or iMfolozi.
The Big Five
Lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant (the Big Five) are the crown jewels of the reserve and locating them is a priority to most game viewers—these are only some of the species that inhabit the park, however. Purchase a reserve map and
brochure upon entry as this gives colorful detail of a wide variety of animals and birds and provides endless entertainment for the kids as they try to match pictures to the real thing.
Encourage your children to use different senses while in the park—they can search for game by listening, seeing and smelling. When you exit the car at picnic sites or to walk into the bird-hides—rustic wooden structures overlooking waterholes—let them feel the different grasses and tree barks. Encouraging the use of senses is a new experience for most of us and of great educational value for children. Just sitting in silence listening out for a bird or animal call is renewing in itself.
Look out for other interesting creatures
Look out for smaller creatures on the sides of the road (tortoises and snakes cross regularly) and pull up to let the little ones have a good look. Tortoises have shockingly poor road sense, so be sure to warn other drivers of their presence—it’s your good deed for the day!
Dung beetles are a hoot to play with and, hanging out the windows, the kids will enjoy watching them maneuver their over-sized balls of dung, desperately clinging on when they roll uncontrollably over rough terrain. If you are lucky enough to find more than one, (and if it is safe to do so) putting a second dung beetle on top of the first results in a true “battle of the nerds”. It’s great comic interaction for the whole family! These seemingly insignificant creatures add to the entire experience, teaching children that every life force has significance in the greater scheme of things.
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, once two separate reserves, is joined by a corridor, which visitors cross freely. The north (Hluhluwe) is hilly with more dense-vegetation, the south (iMfolozi), has open grasslands and wider spaces. In Hluhluwe (pronounced shloo-shloo-wee) you are more likely to see large elephant herds and lions lazing about soaking up their vitamin D. North, look out for the elusive leopards. Both have their own distinct animals and birds, so seeing both will make your trip complete.
Michele Wright is a freelance travel writer and a native of South Africa. With family spread across the globe and a deep appreciation for new sights and sounds, travel is in her blood. Michele is mother to two “angelic” boys and blames her hubby for their mischievous genes. You can follow her on Twitter @michcarawright