Tent Travels: Babes on Safari

Buffalo make their way up a hill after a morning bathe in the river.

HERE are some interesting facts about Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park, considered by many as the premier game reserve in the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife stable.

According to the map and information brochure visitors receive when they enter the park, Hluhluwe is named after the thorny climber Dalbergia armata found in the reserve’s forests.

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Hluhluwe and iMfolozi game reserves and Lake St Lucia were proclaimed as protected areas as far back as 1895. In 1989, the corridor between Hluhluwe and iMfolozi was proclaimed, joining the twins and creating the 96 000ha Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.

The park is perhaps best known for its pioneering work on rhino conservation, game capture and translocation, with its ‘Operation Rhino’ resulting in more that 3 500 white rhinos being moved to other parks, zoos and game reserves.

What isn’t in the information brochure is the fact that the park, particularly its Hluhluwe side, is incredibly child-friendly.

Ellies head for the river.

We had to discover this for ourselves when our younger son, his wife and their two children, 10-month-old Charlie and three-year-old Flynn, came to visit us from Australia.

They were anxious to introduce Flynn to the African bush and to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, a park they both love, so we decided to turn a short visit to Zululand into a family expedition. Our elder son and daughter-in-law, plus two-year-old Callum and five-year-old Angelica, would join us, spending two days in the park and another two days in Richards Bay.

The thought of taking four children under six years on safari was a little daunting but every exciting. Bill and I were so looking forward to spending time in the bush with our brood of grandchildren and sharing our love of nature with all of them. Although we normally camp when we stay in game reserves, there are no camping facilities in the park and, anyway, staying in hutted accommodation was much a much more practical option with tinies and toddlers on board.

Samango monkey visitor to Hilltop camp.

Bill and I love the wilder feel of the iMfolozi side of the park and usually stay at idyllic Mpila Rest Camp, which can be a bit on the wild side with all sorts of creatures large and small sometimes wandering around camp. Last time we stayed there we had a buffalo on our lawn, not to mention the odd hyena coming round to check out our braai fire.

Having stayed at much tamer Hilltop as well, we felt it would be a better option for young children. The award-winning Hilltop is more upmarket resort than a simple rest camp and has an attractive shop and a good restaurant and bar, plus a stunning outdoor area with an amazing Out-of-Africa view of the Hluhluwe hills.

Bill and I opted to stay in one of the reasonably priced and charming rondavels.

Guests staying there have access to well-appointed communal kitchen and ablution block that are always kept spotlessly clean and are well maintained.

Our sons and their families each stayed in a chalet, with its own kitchen and bathroom, roomy living area and balcony with gorgeous views.

The chalets proved perfect accommodation for a young family. There was also a safe kiddies’ playground, a pool and an extensive lawned area where the children loved to run around and play after extended car-bound periods.

The camp had its share of winged and small, four footed visitors including bushbuck, red duiker and both vervet and samango monkeys. The children were delighted to meet them.

Callum and Angelica on Safari.

To get to the park, Bill and I left our home on the South Coast before dawn and reached the Nyalazi Gate into the iMfolozi at about 9am.

This gave us a whole day to explore a bit of the iMfolozi side and then to take a slow drive up to Hilltop, stopping at the lovely picnic sites along the way. With young children to see to, the rest of our family took it easy, leaving much later and meeting up with us at Hilltop after a pleasant drive from the top Memorial Gate into Hluhluwe that afternoon .

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Bill and I are always up early when we are camping so we were out into the park soon after the gates opened. We did one of our favourite Hluhluwe drives, the shortish Nzimane River loop then back along the main road southward to the Siwe Samakhosikazi picnic site for coffee and rusks – and some birding. The park’s lovely picnic sites are always good birding spots.

Game was a little thin of the ground but it our route was so pretty we didn’t mind at all. We often spend the whole morning out in a park, making breakfast mid-morning at one of the picnic sites, but we broke with tradition, returning to camp early to have delicious breakfast at the restaurant with our family. We could get used to breakfasting in style!

Hluhluwe sunset.

The rest of our family had also done small early morning drives but were looking forward to trying out the scenic main road back to Memorial Gate then exploring some of the gravel road loops in that area.

It is easy to forget just how beautiful the park is and every time we do this route we are astounded all over again by the incredible scenery. Winter had arrived but the park was still amazingly green and lush after good summer rains – following a fearsome drought – and abundant late rain in May.

Game was plentiful along this route, with some big buffalo herds and other members of the big five providing interest.

We missed out on cats and wild dogs but were more than compensated by being able to spend about an hour watching a big breeding herd, including lots of babies, playing and splashing in a river.

We all did our own thing but met up at Maphumulo picnic site – perhaps the prettiest picnic area in the park – for lunch. Both sets of parents were amazed at how well their little travellers had coped with a fairly long morning in the car.

Flynn, Callum and Angelica, were ecstatic. Their clever parents had managed to find them lions to see. Their parents were pretty impressed, too. They had enjoyed a pretty close encounter with two handsome males. Baby Charlie had slept through all the excitement.

Here’s looking at you

Our extended lunch hour at the picnic site was a hit with the younger travellers, too. Charlie had a good wriggle around on the picnic rug and the three older children enjoyed some quality grandparent time, exploring the great outdoors with us, looking at all sorts of interesting stuff like crocodiles in the nearby river and helping their Nana tick off birds.

Children love being in touch with nature. Contrary to what many people think, they really do enjoy a game reserve holiday. You just have to tailor it to suit their needs, limiting car time and planning route with pleasant stops.

Of course, a family game reserve holiday has to include time around a braai fire and the children loved helping their grandfather do the cooking that evening. After their busy day they were in bed soon after the braai – and so were we.

View from the top – Hluhluwe is beautiful.

With a longish drive to Richards Bay ahead of us the next day, we didn’t do any early morning drives but we enjoyed a family breakfast before setting off on a slow, game-viewing drive to Memorial Gate.

Angelica and Callum opted for a ride in our Kombi to the gate, making our last couple of hours in the park rather special. There is nothing like seeing the world through the eyes of a child to refresh your view of it. How lovely to find everything you see so exciting.

We took a longish break at the picnic area at the gate, letting the children expend a bit of energy before they were confined in vehicles for the drive to Richard’s Bay.

You can see for ever and ever.

Heading out of the park, Bill and I were delighted about how well our small, family-style safari had been. It just goes to show – you are never too young to learn to love our beautiful wild places.


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Judi Davis

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