As I have mentioned before AZUSA is always a fun filled and happy group to take away on tour. AZUSA is an American University that do a semester in South Africa based at African Enterprise in Pietermaritzburg.
Our trip began on Friday when we collected the staff and students in Pietermaritzburg at 7:30. Two cups of coffee later and a travel mug bursting with the same delicious brown liquid saw us heading off to Imfolozi Game Reserve in Zululand. One quick stop was all we could entertain as we were pressed to be at the reserve gate to collect the open game drive vehicles by 12 pm. This we managed to do albeit under mutterings from Reg about breaking the speed limit – only slightly mind you.
The usual signing into the reserve was duly completed and our safari began in earnest at around 12:30. Midday is the worst time to be out looking for animals as they generally tend to siesta around then however the day was fairly cloudy and not too hot so a good number of general game was seen between the gate and Mpila Camp – our home for two nights. After quickly unloading our bags into the Safari tents and a chat by Matt regarding the dos and don’ts we headed out in different directions to see what we could find.
Reg, true to form, was the first to find a herd of elephants at Bhekapanis Pan. Atypically he was not charged nor encircled by these colossal animals. My group found a single bull elephant in musth but he was more interested in feeding than charging so we managed to spend a while with him. Matt’s group happened upon a gigantic Black Mamba crossing the road but it was clearly very frightened of them so soon disappeared into the bush thumping the ground as it rapidly changed direction. A lot of general game was seen that included large herds of buffalo, plenty of white rhino and lots of antelope.
A radiant sunrise welcomed us as we set off on our pre-breakfast drive but ‘evil omens’ greeted us in the form of a vervet monkey suckling a baby before we even left the camp. (Those of you who know me are aware of my dislike for these cunning thieves). This was followed by the sighting of a large carnivorous snail crossing the road which Reg vocalized later that this was ominous and didn’t bode well for game viewing that day! How right he proved to be. We did see lots of Rhino with a few babies but the wind was starting to pick up and by breakfast time all game had ‘gone to ground’.
A decision was taken that we should try Hluhluwe for the Seme tree climbing lions. Well, with the icy wind blowing at gale force it was expected that no lions would be able to hang onto any tree smaller than a baobab, and we weren’t disappointed!
A relaxed lunch was enjoyed deep in the valley in an attempt to escape the battering wind. This was cut-short when Matt said someone had seen 200 elephants in an adjoining valley. In a flurry of cooler boxed, cameras, cups and students we set off with great expectations, but sadly these were soon dashed as only two elephants were found. The person who had told Matt about these 200 elephants was from an exclusive private game reserve – so could this have been his normal tip gleaning method by adding two zeros?
Disappointed we carried on our search for lions with the wind reaching unbearable proportions as it lashed and bashed us filling our eyes continually with dust. After a quick visit to another picnic site I threw-in-the-towel and started heading back to Imfolozi only to be given a heads up on a few lions close to the Centenary Centre turnoff. These we found, surprisingly, lying in the open grassland seemingly oblivious to the howling wind. A quick radio call to Reg and Matt and they were soon on the scene. Four lionesses formed this pride and great excitement was beheld as one of them stood up and walked a few meters before flopping to the ground to rest – a huge bonus as far as lion sightings are concerned. This sighting quelled Reg’s heart rate as he stresses immensely when the students don’t see lions – the basic minimum as far as Reg is concerned.
The final night is a braai that always attracts the resident hyena – this time a pair of them. They are quite bold and are not too afraid of people so it is always nice for the students to see them close by and it confirms our introductory talk that wild animals are found in the camp.
A ‘treat’ on the last morning is breakfast at Hluhluwe’s Hilltop Camp before swopping the game drive vehicles for our Quantum’s. This time the ‘treat’ was disastrous as they had not catered for the extra 33 people in-spite of pre-booking and a reminder on the Friday. For a ‘flag-ship’ establishment they should be ashamed!
Hungry and disillusioned we headed for the exit gate where we had a glimpse of a male lion heading into thick bush and oblivion before being bid farewell by a male elephant right at the gate. Fortunately he was very close to the gate as it was while watching him that Reg’s vehicle gave its very last cough of diesel fumes before it died. Being behind him I simply but my bull-bar against his tow bar and pushed him ‘home’.
In spite of a few minor hitches and horrible wind the trip went very well and Susi, Dave and Rejoice catered, as per usual, extremely well so I believe that the staff and students all thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
Next weekend we will be back with this year’s final AZUSA group so let’s hope the glitches of the past trip are ancient history.
Nigel Anderson – Guide for African Insight
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