Get ready to walk on the wild side at one of the oldest game reserves in South Africa
Go away,“ screeches the bird perched on a dry branch as I look out into the vast wilderness, looking for rhinoceroses amidst the shrubs.“We call it the go-away bird,“ explains the naturalist, “and it is now annoyed that we have disturbed it.“ The grey lourie or the kwevoel as it is called, flies away and disappears amidst the foliage.
It takes me a while to learn to pronounce the destination that am in. Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve is believed to be the oldest game reserve in South Africa, established in 1895 and supported by the state. Located in Kwa Zulu Natal, it was the land of the Zulus and was once used as a hunting ground by the royalty.Our journey by road from Durban, which is a little more than three hours takes us through lush vistas with poplar trees and savannah grasslands interspersed with verdant sugarcane fields.
THE BIG FIVE
The giraffes are the first to greet us.
Thrusting their necks, they stare at us and then get back to their meal, gnawing at the leaves. A couple of them cross the muddy road in front of us, followed by a dazzle of zebras. They dazzle us indeed, with their striped coat. But this is the land of the big five -African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros -and here we are looking for them.
My eyes scan around the treetops as I look out for the elusive leopard. “It is even easier to spot the lion but the leopards are difficult,“ explains the naturalist. A pair of Nyala or the horned striped antelopes, native to the country, dart into the bushes. As we drive through the hill, the slopes are dotted with clumps of bushes. We see a crash of rhinoceroses, looking like dark specks, crawling over the slopes.
We continue our safari in absolute silence until the naturalist stops and points to something in the undergrowth. And then I see it, amidst all the stalks of grass and the thin branches a lion sitting in the grasslands, the golden mane visible through the gaps in the trees, its eyes staring right into mine. A carcass of a newly killed prey lies close by. The lion sits still and barely moves an inch, looking right at us even as we slowly move our vehicle around to get a better view. The shutterbugs go crazy as the king of the forest sits contended after possibly a heavy meal. The raptors fly low but Simba, as we fondly christen our sighting, seems unfazed.
The light is almost fading and it is time for us to head back. We meet more giraffes and zebras on the way. The rain clouds slowly gather, creating a thick blanket and that is our cue to leave. For the last time, we go back to see Simba still sitting contentedly in the grasslands. We let him be and return to our camp as the sun sets.