A bush escape from Durban to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Park
When you’re in Durban and need a getaway, going ‘wild’ — and to a bush camp — is an easy option.
Story and pictures by Wanda Hennig
Logically, one should pack binoculars and a flashlight for a bush escape. But somehow the three pairs of binocs floating around the apartment in Durban don’t get a look-in. Neither do the three new load-shedding rechargeable lights that could have been a good idea.
What does find their way into my “getaway” stash along with two cameras are Prince Albert “Karoo blend” olive oil, a package of frozen ostrich fillet that’s been sitting in the deep freeze for a couple of months, a tin of Polish sprats that have been waiting to be devoured since I bought them, in Poland, and brought them back eight months ago, a bottle of Haute Cabriere unwooded pinot noir and a couple of other decent vinos.
Then there are few assorted cans (sardines, tuna and a tomato and herb “blend”) and a packet of angel hair pasta from the kitchen cupboard.
Oh yes, and a coffee grinder, Columbian beans, filter paper for single-cup pourings, Pro Vita, Joko tea, French butter, double cream yoghurt and eggs.
There comes a time every so often when you just gotta get away. And fast.
Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park — the 96,000 hectare park encompassing two of Africa’s oldest reserves (Hluhluwe and Imfolozi) is around three hours by car north of Durban. I e-mail the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife offices on the Monday and get a three-night booking in a self-catering unit at Hilltop camp, Hluhluwe, for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights of the same week. It’s not school holidays but I don’t get the Saturday as it’s along weekend.
I will find a well-stocked shop at Hilltop from which I will only need to buy fresh milk and a bottle of water because I’m told while I can drink from the tap, the taste is not the greatest.
I drive in via the entrance closest to the rural metropolis of Mtubatuba. My friend Carole has said she doesn’t like Hilltop camp at Hluhluwe as it is touristy. She laments I couldn’t get into Mpila camp in Imfolozi.
It’s been five years since my last overnight in the reserve and I have time, so I head first to Mpila on the Imfolozi side, to check it out. That camp is smaller. There is no lodge with dining room and bar, no store, no swimming pool, all of which they have at Hilltop.
The camp does feel remote. I can see why it speaks to her. She likes to self-cater to the extreme. Probably would find a way to make her acclaimed sour-dough bread while there. Would definitely want to prepare three designer camping meals, including a special breakfasts.
Both Mpila and Hilltop have the flat-topped thorn trees. Big sky, deep and endlessly blue. Candy-floss clouds, huge and puffy white.
Turns out I am happy at Hilltop and would choose it again. I like that I hear assorted languages and people with accents. It makes me feel I’m far away and somewhere remote, exotic and international. And my self-catering unit fee includes breakfast in the dining room. This works for me after a dawn game drive. (You can book and go with a camp vehicle but as I was there to escape and enjoy the freedom of the place, I drove myself.)
The restaurant offers buffet dinners and an a la carte lunch menu for committed non-self-caterers, day-trippers and those who just feel inclined to dine there.
Proving that life can be an adventure, if one lets it, on my second night, someone opts to drive me to where there’s been a lion kill rather than give me directions via the map. He also offers to share the fire he’s making for himself and a documentary filmmaker friend of his who is out from New York. They eat flat chicken bought from the camp store and cooked over the fire (they didn’t know their booking was self-catering so didn’t come prepared). I eat my ostrich. Highly recommended, doused in a little olive oil and sprinkled with Himalayan sea salt (from my stash).
During my stay I purchase a telephone wire basket to use as a receptacle for cutlery from the Vulamehlo Craft Market about 10 minutes from the Nyalazi Gate park entrance (from Matubatuba), near the Centenary Center.
That’s on the first day when I also see giraffe, a couple of elephant, lots of assorted buck, white rhino, warthog and wildebeest — and enjoy the space, the quite, the solitude, my little old car skipping merrily over the potholed roads, some places tar, others gravel and mainly rough and in places pitted dirt.
On days one, two and three, I see more rhino. Quite a few. Usually in pairs. I see members of the anti-poaching rhino unit patrolling deep in the reserve. Someone in the cottage next to me arrives in camp with a smashed windscreen, a broken light and a squashed car hood. It turns out an angry elephant tried to stand on his vehicle.
I go early the second morning in my own little vehicle to the lion kill I saw the afternoon before. My car trundles along the “suggested for four-wheel drive vehicles only” road like it was made for it.
When I get there three lionesses are devouring what’s left of the carcass for breakfast. I get a spot less than 10 yards from them and watch them, in the dry riverbed where they nailed their buffalo, through my passenger window. The two lion in the pride have presumably sated themselves first — and I am sure several times — as the kill is now 24 hours old.
Also memorable was the commotion caused when a vervet monkey steals a hamburger from the plate of a guest eating lunch on the Hilltop terrace. Also, doing a pedicure at a deserted time of day outside my rondavel with a bushbuck, guinea fowl and a troop of Somango monkeys for company.
The daily rate at Hilltop in the self catering unit for one person, bed and breakfast, is R570 a night (as of August 2015). (Add about R250 per night for two people.)
The park conservation levy is R145 per night for international visitors and half of that if you can provide a South African ID. The kitchen has six stoves and washing facilities. Very well set up. The communal bath and loos were clean and never crowded. There are many chalets and other options for larger groups or for those who don’t want to engage in this sharing.
What impressed me a lot was that whether sitting outside enjoying a braai and conversation or inside my thatched rondavel, I never heard any loud human noises (like raised voices).
Lots of bird noises, yes, and someone pointed out hyena noises and at the lion kill, there were crunching noises, and up above, more stars than I remember ever seeing in a night sky before…
The binocs would have been useful as a herd of buffalo from far off can look like a herd of cows. Although the little solar flashlight I took was quite adequate to get me about at night.
It won’t take me five years to head there for another escape.