Catching up with the Kokstad Clan – Tala Private Game Reserve

Today dawned sunny and warm. Allan had a golf game planned and Lauren, Shannon, Simon, Grandpa and Granny decided to take a 2 hour trip to Tala Private Game Reserve.  Although the weather was completely different on the other side of the mountain – drizzly and cool – it was a good decision.  I have not been to a game reserve since July last year and was beginning to suffer withdrawal symptoms.

We packed a snack pack and grabbed a quick breakfast of cereal or toast and coffee and set off at 8:30.   Our first encounter was still on the Karg Post road – unusual for this area, our National Bird – The Blue Crane

Blue Cran on the local farmlands

Blue Crane on the local farmlands

Grandpa does not like mist but unfortunately we had a few patches on our journey and this coupled with potholes and stray cattle can be daunting.   It slowed our journey a bit but we still yelled for him to stop when we spotted Ground Hornbill on the side of the busy highway!   He couldn’t because of traffic on his tail but a km later he found a place to turn around and headed back for a poor photo opportunity.   There was a mom, dad and baby but I just managed one, half-decent picture.

The bird that thrilled us all

The bird that thrilled us all

Not even in the park and the adrenalin was pumping.   Of course now we had to turn around again and finally found a farm road to turn into.  The double-cab skidded and slipped uncharacteristically so Earl checked the tires but all was well.  It was probably due to fresh wetness on the road after no rain for a while.

Tala Private Game Reserve is a 3000 hectare wildlife sanctuary hidden in the hills of a quiet farming area not far from Durban and Pietermaritzburg.  It has a habitat of acacia trees, grassland and some wetland which attracts a variety of birdlife and is home to many mammal species too.  What I love about it is that in spite of it being a private game reserve you can self-drive.  Entrance to the park is R60 for the vehicle and then R50 per person.   They have a wonderful restaurant and the food is excellent.  They do not accept cash at all.   You must be prepared to pay with a credit card.  Excellent idea I think!

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Tala Entrance

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Our first stop was the dam just through the entrance.  There were hundreds of Egyptian Geese as well as many other water birds which kept us enthralled for a while.

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Egyptian Geese

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Yellow-billed duck

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Lots of Egyptians about

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This one is having a stretch

 The pond was full of hippos too.

 A Pod of Hippo

A Pod of Hippo

The weather was not the greatest for photography or birdwatching but we still managed to find more than expected.   The wetland areas of course produced lovely opportunities to observe waterbirds.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill

Hamerkop - near a puddle

Hamerkop – near a small roadside pond

Black Crake in pond just vacated by Hamerkop

Black Crake in pond just vacated by Hamerkop

Black-necked heron all puffed up

Black-necked heron all puffed up

There were a few birds of prey, mostly yellow-billed kites flying overhead but it was great to find this little black shouldered kite posing obligingly.

BSK

Black Shouldered Kite

We saw all of the above within the first half hour of arriving in the park. Having only indulged in a very light breakfast we were peckish and decided to have an early lunch before continuing our safari.  As we arrived at the restaurant we saw this wet bird in a tree – and realised it was a yellow-throated longclaw – a lovely sighting for us as we don’t see them often.

Poor photograph of the Yellow-throated Longclaw

Poor photograph of the Yellow-throated Longclaw

The restaurant is really lovely.  We were early so were served promptly and the menu offered a full lunch menu, sandwiches and a good choice for children.   Simon and Shannon had chicken nuggets and chips. Earl enjoyed slivers of beef on Ciabatta, Lauren Chicken and Feta and I had chicken and bacon with a cranberry sauce on Ciabatta.   These sandwiches were around R45 to R55 each.  Served with French Fries they were more than a meal!

Tropical Garden of the Restaurant

The restaurant is nestled in a lush tropical garden

A huge fire created a warm atmosphere on a chilly day

A huge fire created a warm atmosphere on a chilly day

Traditional Meals are on offer

Traditional Meals are on offer and the ambience is definitely African

A good South African Braai is also on the menu

A good South African Braai is also on the menu

After lunch we headed out again determined to find giraffe and Rhino!    It was an adventurous trip as we chose some roads that made us grateful we were in a 4×4.  The kids shrieked half in excitement half in fear when we descended a particularly steep, stony and slippery hill.  We also managed to lose the map somewhere in the car and had to depend on instinct to get us back on track.  Of course Grandpa pretended that we might have to spend the night in the dark searching for a way out which got the kids going again!   While on our meanderings to find the way out of the maze of roads we found kudu, nyala, eland, reedbuck and zebra.   We dipped on the rhino but did get to giraffe but right across the valley and too far for a photograph.   The antelope were also hiding in the bush making photography rather difficult.

Wildebeest were easy to see

Wildebeest were easy to see

Blesbok were around every corner

Blesbok were around every corner

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You find them everywhere but Impala are really beautiful

You find them everywhere but Impala are really beautiful

These stripy chaps were happy to see us.

These stripy chaps were happy to see us.

 

Mom and Dad Ostrich were hiding chicks who evaded a photograph

Mom and Dad Ostrich took up residence outside one of the lodges. They were hiding chicks but we couldn’t get their portrait.

 

We were lucky to find a whole family of Eland

We were lucky to find a whole family of Eland

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For a day trip, we were well pleased with what we found.  But Earl and I stayed at Tala in October 2005 and I have copied my diary entry of that trip below for the interest of those who might consider a similar trip in the future.  Remember prices mentioned are from 8 years ago.

October 2005

 

At Tala Private Game Lodge we stayed at Paperbark Lodge and our room had panoramic views of the grass plains surrounding us.   The lodge is not fenced from the park and the animals are free to come right up close.   The Lodge manageress warned us to be careful if we walked around after dark as hippos come to graze on the lawns and rhino choose to sleep the night in close proximity to humans!    Usually in game parks we search long and hard to find these magnificent creatures but here we could have stepped out and touched 5 that were right outside our window!

Game in the park is plentiful but there are no cats or fierce predators.   There were herds of blesbok, impala, kudu, nyala and eland as well as zebra, giraffe and rhino.   Lauren brought the kids on Sunday morning and we had an exciting game drive with them.  When they arrived Shannon said, “I need to see the animals!.”  Well her “need” was well satisfied.   Hippos were swimming in the dam, we saw a cormorant struggle with an enormous bass before swallowing it whole and turtles were out sunning themselves on a log.   Shannon said she wanted to see a hamerkop and sure enough one obligingly showed itself next to the turtles before flying off into the reeds.

There were lots of zebra about but Shannon wanted to see the long-necked giraffe.  We encouraged her to call them – come on Gerry, Where are you Josephine and believe it or not it worked!   Five minutes after we started the game we came across a small herd of 8 or 9 browsing on the succulent leaves of some tall trees.

At lunch time we went to the main restaurant for a buffet meal.  We only ordered the starters – a variety of soups, salads, smoked salmon, mussels, oysters, pâtés, breads and rolls – but could have as much as we liked.   Together with one bottle of wine it cost R400 for 3 adults!

After lunch the kids left to meet Allan and go back to Kokstad and we had a short nap before going on a game walk with the ranger.   This was a special experience.  The well trained young ranger had a zoology degree and his special interest was birds.   He started birding when he was 10 years old.  Chris came to Tala from Mala Mala in Mpumelanga six months ago and said he was not yet totally familiar with all the KZN birds.  He could have fooled us!  He identified many just by their calls.   It is always interesting to go on guided walks because the rangers give you little titbits of information about many of the things you see.   Chris was no exception and as Earl and I were the only two on the walk we got his undivided attention.

Birds we saw on the weekend were:

Diedrick’s cuckoo

Jacobin Cuckoo

Spoonbill

White-breasted cormorant

Hamerkop

Egyptian Goose

Grey Heron

Darter

Hadeda

Glossy Ibis

Yellow-billed Kite

Fantailed Cisticola

Nedicky

Spotted Prinia

Pied Wagtail

Cape Wagtail

Yellow-throated Longclaw

Red-naped lark

Fiscal Flycatcher

Plum Collared Starling

White-bellied Sunbird

Cape White-eye

Grey-headed Sparrow

Red-shouldered Widow

We did not have supper in the dining room after our extravagant lunch.  Instead the lodge chef prepared us a “snack plate” and served it to us in our room.  Some snack!   It included mushroom and spinach filled filo pockets, sausage rolls, sticky chicken wings, vegetable bread, game biltong and cheese and biscuits!

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