Friday, September 11, 2015

Mkuze Game Reserve – Jeremy Williamson

Lana and I felt like visiting the Mkhuze Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Zululand and its hides for a week-end. The Game Reserve is some 40,000 ha in extent. We had booked into Mantuma Camp, the principal accommodation venue in the Mkuze Game Reserve.

4 bed chalet

On the way to Mkhuze we decided to access the Game Reserve via the slightly longer route through the Village of Mkuze, primarily to fuel up. This took approximately 4 hours to Mantuma Camp from Durban, with the return trip via the really excellent, more direct dirt road section, taking us 3,5 hours.
The roads to Mkuze Game Reserve are in pretty good condition except for a horrendously potholed short tarred section where the road traverses over a steep ridge, part of the Lebombo Mountain.  Within the Mkuze Game Reserve the roads from the two gates and a ring road are tar, mostly in good condition. Some sections near Nsumo Pan, the tar is almost non existent or potholed. The network of gravel roads vary from good to fairly stony and rough, but still accessible  to a sedan car.

Check in at Mantuma camp is from 14h00. Should guests arrive after the office has closed at 16h30, names adjacent to the relevant chalet are posted on a board outside the reception. The Mantuma Camp reception at Mkuze has a curio shop as well as a grocery section, where basic food requirement could be met. I would be inclined to take all own supplies, as a full spectrum of ones requirements might not be available at the camp shop. There are frozen meats, some venison too on offer, some basic necessities along with an assortment of drinks including some wines and beers.

Gardens of the 2 bed resthuts

 If all fails there is the Mantuma Camp Rhino-dine-O which provides a range of the typically South African take-away type meals. The diner is open around breakfast, then again at lunch as well as late afternoon, closing at 18h00.

The Rhino-dine-O

Rhino-dine-O alfresco dining area, there is a covered area for when the weather is inclement.

Mantuma Camp is not fenced at this stage – except for the swimming pool – this results in a number of antelope seeking haven ? within the camp grounds.

There is the very real danger that predators such as lion could enter the area with the intention of preying on this concentration of animals. Vervet monkeys and the Chacma Baboons have also learned that easy pickings are often available. Keep the windows and doors closed when you are not there!
The grounds have a variety of trees, shrubs and plants which in turn attract a wide diversity of birds, there is even a hide near reception with water, which attracts the camp resident wildlife. The uMkhuze Game Reserve has a rich diversity of plant species.

Impala lily

Lana and I unpacked our vehicle – the kitchen had all basic utensils and appliances. A large fridge with a small ice tray, more ice available at the Mantuma Camp shop. There is a microwave, toaster and kettle along with a 3 plate electric stove and oven in the 2 bed chalets and a 4 plate in the larger units. Drinking water is provided in a large plastic container.

The tap water is suitable for bathing and cooking. On the patio at each unit there is a barbecue stand where guests need to supply their own charcoal for their braais. Charcoal available at the shop as well.

Braai for one of the adjoining 2 bed chalets

The Mkuze Game Reserve can be rather warm in summer, we visited recently at the end of August , (winter), and the day temps peaked at 31 deg. The 4 and 6 bed chalets have recently had air-conditioners installed in the lounge / dining rooms. 

Lounge of a 4 bed chalet

.. our 2 bed chalet bedroom with lounging dining area.

I might be sleeping in the lounge on my next visit which is planned for February, (summer). No plans it seems at this stage, for air-conditioning the 2 bed chalets, huts or the tented units.
There is a variety of chalet and tented accommodation at Mantuma Camp.

The 2 bed resthuts with communal bathrooms away from the rooms

2 bed Safari tent with outside kitchen

4 bed Safari tent - deck and kitchen

Safari tent

Safari tent shower and toilet en suite

The Mkuze Game Reserve’s main draw-card I would say are the excellent hides. There are two overlooking water-holes with kuMasinga Hide possibly the most popular. The animals and birdlife are attracted to these water sources, in particular during the winters, when there is very little alternative surface water about.

Burchelle's Zebra

Nyala bull

Chacma baboon and very young one

During the wet season these hides are not visited that prolifically by the general wildlife. Then there is the very large Nsumo Pan with it proliferation of bird-life, hippo and crocodile. A number of hides and a pic-nic site have been constructed on the shore-line ....

Hide on Nsumo Pan

View from one of the Nsumo Pan hides

...with a really good elephant proof toilet too.

Nsumo Pan toilet

Mkhuze Game Reserve is a Big 5 reserve and any of these high profile animals can and do visit the water-holes. The wild dog and cheetah too, making Mkhuze a “Magnificent Seven” Game Reserve. We prefer to get to the hides for that special golden light, early mornings and late afternoons, this makes for better images of the animals or birds.

African Green-Pigeon

African Harrier-Hawk

Unfortunately this does not last long and the photo opportunities so depend on what animals are there slaking their thirst. A keen photographer really needs a number of days in Mkhuze in order to prevail on the super photo opportunities presented at the hides.
The Mkuze Game Reserve is generally quite densely wooded, making general game viewing a tad more difficult when driving on the road network. Taking ones time and driving slowly should produce some excellent sightings.
Mkuze Game Reserve offers a guided walk in its Fig Tree Forest. Accessed over a swing bridge where  dense forest birdlife proliferates, certainly worthwhile. Lana and I were not able to include this on our recent brief visit, so will needs report back when we do. Open vehicle guided game drives are also on offer. These last approximately 2 hours and depart early mornings and late afternoons into the evening.
Lana and I were here to see what we could photograph at the relatively recently upgraded kuMasinga hide. So after off-loading all our katunda, we checked our camera gear and headed for the hide.

kuMasinga Hide

Down the long reed lined exclusion corridor to the silence of Kumasinga hide. This hide can probably accommodate 30 visitors at a pinch. We found a slot and readied ourselves.
As the light faded we returned to our chalet, started a fire for the braai, and dinner it was. That night I was awakened by the resonating call of lion vocalising, they were quite close to Mantuma camp, such a special sound and experience, especially when in contrast, one is used to the stressed screaming of a poor motor vehicle driven by some driver venting on the city streets.

Up before dawn and ready to depart at 06h00, the time guests are allowed to leave camp. Lana and I arrived at kuMasinga hide to find a photographic course was in progress, with most slots in the hide taken. Seems that the authorities are not aware of this early start transgression ?
We managed to squeeze into a gap and our morning hide session commenced. These hides offer incredible photographic opportunities of all the animal species found in the Game Reserve and is particularly productive during the drier winter months.

Nyala ewes

Nyala bull
 We were fortunate to have a good selection of animals and birds arriving to slake their thirst.

Blue Wildebeest
Back for breakfast and to explore more of the Mkhuze Game Reserve. We drove to another hide which has yet to be completed, the roof presently needs to be added. Then on to Nsumo Pan to see the potential there. Loads of water fowl, hippo and a few crocodile adorning the banks and shallows.

Nsumo Pan pic-nic site

Nsumo Pan hide view

Goliath Heron

The bush is in the main, fairly dense in the Mkhuze Game Reserve, but we were fortunate to see a variety of  antelope including Red duiker, zebra, giraffe and buffalo. A delightful reserve where sightings of lion, cheetah and wild dog is fairly common. One guest, who had been staying in the uMkhuze Game Reserve for a week, had had amazing viewing at the hides, of all the high profile animals and birds.

Purple-crested Turaco

For the serious photographer, one needs to spend a fair amount of time at the hides to secure a diverse array of animal sightings.Booking for accommodation at Mkuze Game Reserve as well as for all KZN Wildlife Game Reserves and resorts contact

All photographs by Jeremy and Lana Williamson