Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Mkuze Game Reserve - Zululand

The Mkuze Game Reserve in northern Zululand has been undergoing an impressive upgrading.
Mkhuze Game Reserve is a marriage between the Isimangaliso Wetland Park who manage the land, whilst Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife are responsible for the management of the wildlife and the camp infrastructure.

Isimangoliso set the ball rolling with upgrading of the road system, which included the resurfacing of the primary tarred loop and entrance roads. This followed by the hides being reconstructed and then the two entrance gates to the Park upgraded and rebuilt. The craft stores for the local community that have been built at the two gates have yet to be commissioned.
The standard of this refurbishment is excellent. The three main hides now have in the main, secure access from the car parks as well as a secure outer enclosure with a modern chemical toilet. The path is concreted with a smooth well-made finish, then into the gated tunnel which also has a concreted surface suitable for wheeled access. The largest and most popular hide, KuMasinga (Masinga) has two toilets and even a safe enclosed picnic area. 

The Nsumo Pan picnic site has a relatively new flush toilet with handbasins and a concreted pathway to the water's edge. All suitable for wheelchair access.

I have reservations with regards to the distance here between the carpark and the pan, through dense riparian forest. Mkuze Game Reserve now has the 'big five' including cheetah and wild dog which could pose a security risk, with in particular children. The two hides on Nsumo Pan have shorter more open access but visitors are still vulnerable in my opinion.

Mantuma has become a work in progress as from mid 2019. A reliable thatching contractor has to date rethatched all the chalets beautifully,

on my visit early November, they were in the throes of completing the main office complex. The resthuts will follow being thatched after that.

After a seeming dearth of maintenance funding, the chalets all have refurbished floors, some painted, new ¾ beds and linen,

new large Defy fridges and plug in 3 plate stoves with ovens. New microwave ovens and our chalet had a new kettle and toaster, this along with new utensils too.

New mosquito screens have been installed on the doors and windows in most units, here I have concerns that the sliding framework is too flimsy. On arrival one frame on a window in our chalet was distorted and not able to close properly and they are brand new. They need to be slid in order to open the windows. The windows need to be closed when leaving the chalets due to possible incursion from baboons and or monkeys, so lots of sliding going on.

There is still a lot of general maintenance to be done, but for the chalets it is more like retaining door catches and odd fittings that have been damaged over time that need fixing. The staff seem to have a new enthusiasm and pride in their work now that these repairs have been accomplished and they don't have to bear the brunt of criticism for the lack of maintenance from guest, which was in any event  totally out of their hands.
The tented camp suffered extensive damage last month when a very severe windstorm came trough, ripping tents, blowing trees over and causing mayhem in general. Friends of mine were visiting whilst we were there, their tent and fittings were all in good condition, theirs could be the exception though, as Camp Management advised that the damage was fairly extensive amongst the tents.

Our visit was primarily to see birds and secure some general wildlife photographs from the hides. Despite there being some surface water about from recent rains which tends to disperse the animals, Kumasinga hide was relatively productive.

It was lovely to see Nsumo Pan full and the Mkuze River with a bit of a flow, with the vegetation wearing its best shades of spring. Severe fires in September had devastated large tracts of the Park which are now firmly on the mend.

I see that since our visit on 5 – 8 November the Park has had an additional 20 mm of rain. That should make the other two hides worth visiting as they were virtually dry and don't have water pumped to them as does KuMasinga.
I visited eMshophi camp site at the entrance gate finding it neat and the ablutions clean and way better than expected.

The adjacent swimming pool was clean with a jungle gym and swings for children there. There were only few campers on site, but all were connected to the camp electrics which the Honorary Officer Corps had recently repaired.

Back to Mantuma and a visit to the swimming pool there. Bright and sparkly with some residue of wind blown sand on the steps etc. Grass cover around the pool and in general in the camp is fairly sparse.

All in all a huge improvement in facilities since our previous visit two years ago. With the reception and office in chaos with the thatching, their shop only had a few fridges and freezers running, just with cooldrinks, water and ice available. I am not sure what it will be like when back properly operational later this month. Best not to rely on stocks there.

The Rhino-dine-O was operational and did not seem to close as per their break schedule and was open all day whilst we were there. There were some meetings going on with a largish group, so that could have been the reason.

The best photographic opportunities we had was from the hides.

I decided to exit to the east at the Ophansi gate, but unless you are going on to Sodwana or that way I feel the road onto the N2 out the eMshophi gate to be a lot better. Besides a badly potholed tar section from Ophansi, then the corrugated dirt road section, once on the main tar road to Hluhluwe, the go slow humps are very aggressive, best at 10 KPH over those and they are numerous. I look forward to some feedback as this lovely game reserve heads towards having acceptable accommodation, hopefully with ongoing maintenance.
All photographs by Jeremy and Lana Williamson