Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park December 2011 - Jeremy Williamson

It has been a number of years since Lana and I had visited the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park. My two daughters were keen to rekindle memories of old, Jodi wanted to introduce her two sons to the bush at an early age. Lee was out from the UK on holiday, so despite December not being my ideal time to visit we decided to spend a few nights in the park.

We visited the Umfolozi sector of the Park first, overnighting at Mpila Camp. We enjoyed fairly good sightings of most species including three independent sightings of lion and a rather dynamic herd of elephant. Such action within the herd and the younger members all wanting to make some statement at this Land Rover parked in the road. Young Michael loved them and I am sure will always remember the youngest of the “brave” who rushed up towards us, shook its head and almost fell over.

Braais in the bush, lion calling in the early morning, the whistle of a reedbuck as I opened the Chalet door at dawn to watch the sunrise – memories. I was impressed with the improvement in the equipment supplied to guests, the comfort of the beds and the pillows !! I used to have to bring my own. Did this time too but it found better use in the car when the young lads tired. The house-keeping at Mpila camp was pretty good too, general maintenance as well. It was on the tar road to Hilltop Camp from Mpila that some serious maintenance is required – the potholes were reminiscent of those we experienced on the Great North Road in Zambia many years ago. I noted that sections had recently been repaired – roads are an ongoing maintenance requirement I am sure.

As we headed north so the density of the bush increased, there is serious encroachment. Sections of the Park I remember so well when I was visiting the Park on a very regular basis were now totally overgrown with Sicle bush and other pioneer plant species. This impacted severely on the enjoyment of the northern sector with some of the sections not warranting a visit due to the lack of reasonable visibility.

As Hilltop Camp is the only camp in this Game Reserve that has a restaurant making it easier for International travelers and Tour Operators to cater, it is consequently the favored venue for our overseas guests. I despair when I hear how poor the sightings at this time of year are. For a 1 night stay it is impractical for guests to be able to visit the far more rewarding Umfolozi without some guidance or experience. This was not always the case. I needed to see for myself and the poor reports from our Tour Guiding operation and guests seem valid. A pity as the carrying capacity of this Park should really be quite high compared to some of the private venues and even Kruger Park which has less rain and more impoverished soils. I must compliment the work achieved on the reduction of the invasive plant species. An enormous amount of money has been spent on this – certainly there is visible evidence of success.

Hilltop Camp was much the same. Some pleasant surprises too. Milk, tea and coffee sachets in the units. Improved beds and pillows, sleeper couches and new utensils in the kitchens. Then for those that need, Limited DSTV in the rooms as well . The restaurant was busy and a snack menu with extended hours is a good idea – very popular. I must say the gardens at Hilltop have really grown, it’s a veritable forest there. Beautiful and well maintained.

Our early morning game drive to Seme was disastrous , possibly the worst I have ever experienced and the weather was fine. This was redeemed on our exit drive to Memorial gate where we had some reasonable white rhino sightings and a fairly large herd of buffalo. In all good to see how the Park was faring, note made not to visit during peak summer which made me despair for our clients who travel here to miss their dreadful winters.

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