I got up at 5 a.m., showered and had everything ready to be packed into the car by 6 o’clock. I woke Earl and then went across to the house to make sure Laurie was up too. Allan was and made us all a cup of tea. At 6:45 we said our goodbyes and were on the road to Durban. It had rained on and off all through the night and now it was cold and overcast. The boys were still fast asleep in the tent when we left.
We arrived in Durban at half past nine, had breakfast at the Woolworths restaurant, which took longer than we expected. We then rushed to buy a few things at Checkers, went to the vodocom shop to buy airtime for my internet bundle and a new hands free, voice activated gadget for Earl and by the time this was done it was too late to shop at Woolworths. We raced to the airport and were just in time to meet Heather and Hazel. We then said our goodbyes to Laurie and left her to wait for her flight to Cape Town, which was due to leave at 2:30. We were just getting into the car when she called to tell us her flight was delayed by three hours so she had to spend the whole day at the airport! Poor kid – but she found a hotspot so could at least go online and chat to friends.
We were grateful for the cool overcast weather and the temperature only got up to 24. We arrived at Hluluwe at 3 and drove around till half past six. It was lovely seeing different birdlife and the highlights were little bee-eaters and a yellow-billed kite sitting in a tree. We also enjoyed watching the red-collared widow birds and their rather pretty, stripy-faced wives. There were also a number of cisticolas with which we were not familiar and still need to verify identities.
Hluluwe is the place to see rhino and we saw them several times.
It was also great to see a large herd of buffalo, a few wildebeest, zebra and impala. The lambs were particularly cute and we observed ox-peckers taking tufts of fur out of the poor creatures –obviously for nesting material. The impala let it be known that too much of that would not be tolerated!
After a long day of travelling, we decided to eat at the restaurant this evening. We were pleasantly surprised at an excellent buffet providing a variety of starters and main courses and an array of delicious deserts. We all had cauliflower soup to start and then among other things we ate dolrado, calamari rings, rollmps, smoked mackerel, pickled fish, spring rolls, prawns, mussels, turkey, pork chops and a variety of salads and vegetables. For dessert, I had fruit salad and some dreadful ice cream that tasted like bubble gum. But that was the only yucky part of the meal!
We were entertained by the kitchen staff!
Hazel, Heather and Earl enjoying dinner and entertainment.
We were back in our comfortable chalet by 9 and went straight to bed.
Last night we told Heather and Hazel to sleep in till 6:30 but Hazel set her alarm for quarter to by mistake. Earl and I were awake at quarter past 5 and were showered and ready by 5:30. We intended going for a walk. However, when we heard the others, decided to make breakfast and head off early. Heather was really put out when she found that she could have slept half an hour longer!
It was a beautiful day so we sat outdoors and enjoyed our “Early” breakfast and watched a twin-spot batis or two in the trees. We heard turruco and other birds but they did not make an appearance.
We were packed and ready to go by half past 7, went to pay for last night’s dinner and then drove around Hluluwe before leaving via Memorial Gate.
Interesting sightings were an African Harrier Hawk in a tree but at quite a distance, a barn swallow posed nicely for its portrait, Jacobin Cuckoos were also obliging. We laughed when we saw a big fat warthog trundling down the road – all covered in mud!
We stopped at a picnic site to go to the loo and were impressed with the excellent condition of all the facilities. After watching a square-tailed drongo we headed for Memorial Gate and left the park just before 10 o’clock.
We loved the scenery on the way to Ndumo and felt we were really in Africa when we drove through the villages and saw how they sold their farm produce on the side of the road, had hair salons in make-shift shelters and traded on the pavements. It was throbbing with life this morning as it is just after the Christmas weekend and back to business as usual.
We crossed the bridge of a beautiful dam and stopped in a byway to take photos. We were immediately mobbed by young black boys selling crystal rocks. We did not want them but they begged and begged so Earl gave one of them some money, which he quickly pocketed and refused to share with the others. They begged Earl for more and they looked so desperate that I gave them a box of water biscuits. Heather was horrified, as they are her favourites. I found it a really upsetting experience.
Our final stretch to Ndumo was along a very corrugated gravel road. The other road had been seriously pitted with potholes so altogether it was not a comfortable journey! We finally arrived at the entrance gate of Ndumo at 12:30. Our first exciting bird was an European bee-eater and although it was during the heat of the day we spotted a few interesting birds including white helmutshrikes, paradise fly-catchers, blue waxbills, grey-headed sparrows and a violet-backed starling.
Our bungalows are comfortable and air-conditioned but we have to use communal ablutions and kitchen. We settled in at half past one and then rested for a few hours. As I type we have no water in our bungalow but they are working on the problem.
After our rest, at 4 o’clock, we set out on a route that Earl thought might be productive. It seems, though, that Ndumo does not have as much to show us as during our 2005 visit with Barbara and Andrew. Some of the roads and hides are closed because of the drought. We took a 4×4 track which was quite ambitious for our Caravelle. We did see some interesting birds but not in great numbers. Highlights were Crested Guinea fowl, Crested Francolin, Grey-headed bush-shrike and Crowned Eagle. I spotted the latter in a tree after we’d decided not to complete the 4×4 trail and had turned around.
We also saw warthog, nyala, wildebeest, impala and just as dusk closed in around us an enormous rhino blocked our path.
Water was still not functional in our bungalow so we did all food preparation in Heather and Hazel’s. Earl braaied chops and steak which we enjoyed with sweet potatoes and salad.
It is exactly thirty years since I gave birth to my beautiful daughter, Laurie. I phoned her yesterday to wish her well on the last day of being 29! I did not think we’d get a signal here but Earl has roaming on his phone and is able to connect via Mozambique so we rang her again at 11 this morning.
This morning at 5:30 we went for a morning walk with Sonto, the same guide we had in 2004. I was hugely impressed at how well Hazel kept up and managed the rough terrain and walking across a very rickety swing-bridge. We dipped on a Pel’s Fishing Owl, the reason being that he is searching all along the river and not sticking to one place at present. However, Sonto using his ability to imitate bird calls showed us yellow-bellied apalis, golden backed tinker-barbet, broad-billed roller, forest weavers, tawny-flanked prinia, blue-mantled fly-catcher and the highlight Narina Trogon. Our fellow walkers were a keen bird-nerd family – mom, dad and two sons. The boys were good at recognising birdcalls and spotting and they took some good photographs with their identical Pentax cameras.
After our walk we swam at the pool, took washing to the laundry, which the maids did at a cost of R15 and had our breakfast of toast and tea on Heather and Hazels deck. We then rested for a few hours before venturing out again.
We all spent the morning doing our own thing including having a nap. Earl was the first to wake and hassled us to get ready to go for a drive. There was a breeze blowing and although the temperature was in the thirties it was no unbearably hot so in spite of Heather feeling it was crazy to go out in the middle of the day we persuade her that it would be okay. And thank goodness we did because we had a productive and enjoyable afternoon.
We drove to the gate and then along the fence to the tower that looks over the canopy. En route we stopped often to observe golden-breasted bunting, twin-spot batis and southern black tit. We also had some interesting experiences with raptors and observed a pair of cuckoo hawks flying over head and then a steppe buzzard conflicting with them. At the same time there was a flock of European Bee-eaters flying around.
Golden Breasted Bunting
Soon after that we spotted a brown snake eagle in a tree. While everybody was focussing on it I saw a bateleur swiftly fly through the trees but nobody else got the same glimpse as I did.
Once on the road next to the fence an obliging brown-hooded kingfisher posed beautifully for a photo-shoot.
We parked the car and then climbed up the towere and spent a while looking over the canpy which was like a green carpet of leaves covering the reserve. We had panoramic views of the places we could make our way to later. We heard the purple crested turacco but he did not grace us with his presence at the top of a tree!
As we drove back Earl spotted a violet backed starling and while we watched him a pair of paradise fly-catchers and some woodhoepoes darted in and out among the trees. We also saw forked and square-tailed drongos.
Driving on towards the turnoff to the Red Cliffs, a falcon flew straight in front of us then disappeared into the trees. We are not sure what it was.
Hearing an interesting bird call, I asked Earl to stop and looked deep into the bush to see what I could find. Nothing – but Hazel said, “Oh look down here.” And there right next to the car was a water dikkop and just a metre from him two crested francolin were having a sand bath.
We also found the rare crested guineafowl.
A crested guineafowl
Then we came to a place where the bush was not quite so dense and in the clearing a herd of giraffe appeared and it was surreal to have them so close to us. There must have been about 15 altogether – moms dads and young. These giraffe are almost golden brown in colour and very pretty. I just love these truly African creatures. They are graceful, elegant and gentle creatures. We felt truly privileged to have had such an close encounter with them.
It was quarter to five by the time we arrived at The Red Cliffs picnic site – but believe me we saw no cliffs that were red! I found the loo – a long-drop, clean enough but not that pleasant except for the fact that it had an incredible view over the river!
We saw trumpeter hornbills flying over and one actually sat in a tree and allowed us a good view of it.
It was getting late and we still wanted to go to the hide. So we drove as quickly as possible stopping only to see the most interesting things which included a green spotted dove sitting in tree and allowing me to take a good photograph,
a pair of yellow-billed kites on a carcass – we think that had been put out for vultures. We also observed a bird that at first made us think it was a brown snake eagle. But it did not have yellow eyes. A couple who we’d seen at the cuckoo hawk sighting told us it was a dark from steppe buzzard – and on consulting our bird book we had to agree.
We would have liked to spend more time at the hide but it was getting dark and we needed to be back in camp before 7 o’clock. We saw yellow weaver, masked weavers, a jacana, hippo, green-backed heron and some martins before we decided to leave.
We braaied again for supper and then packed up as much as possible as we are leaving at 6 tomorrow morning.