Sunday, 17 February 2013

A trip to Hluhluwe

It's early and raining slightly.  I'm not fond of getting up so early, but as they say, "the early bird catches the worm", or in this case, gets to see the birds and animals.  The car is packed with picnic provisions,  camera battery charged and binoculars near at hand.  We're on our way to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi.  The journey takes about 40 minutes, just right for me to wake up properly and get my birding eyes in!

Entrance to Hluhluwe.
Driving into Hluhluwe is always an exciting moment and the guard at the gate is enthusiastic,  wishing us good viewing.  Taking the pot-holed tar road, we leave all the stresses and strains of a working week behind and breath deeply.  The smell of the bushveld is damp and musty, we hear the gurgle of the river flowing under the bridge.  Last week it was just a trickle, but now brown water swirls and gushes underneath the bridge after the week's pouring rain.   The sun is starting to make it's appearance, casting a golden glow over the veld.  The tress glisten, with the raindrops hanging like Christmas ornaments from the tips of the branches.  Stop!  There in the top of the tree, is the white-backed vulture perched on a nest of twigs.

View from Centenary road
The haunting cry of the 'rain bird', or Burchell's Coucal, breaks the silence but he's hidden in the thick grass next to the road.  We stop at the view site to take in the rolling mountains.  I imaging King Shaka and his warriors running over these hills.  This was the King's hunting ground.  There are not many animals around this morning and storm clouds on the horizon still threaten rain in the distance.  Down in the valley, the White Umfolozi River, twists and turns as it flows onward to the sea.
Coffee and a view

 A breakfast stop at the riverside is a wonderful spot to view the river and a site where we've watched buffalo, elephant and lion.  A nice strong cup of freshly brewed coffee accompanies me birding, while Alan gets cooking.  There are a few visitors who stop to chat and view the crocodile lying at the water's edge, but we soon have the picnic spot to ourselves as we tuck into breakfast.  Food always seems to taste better out in the fresh air.  We watch the antics of the white-fronted bee eaters as they swoop and turn catching their morning insects.  In the top of the dead tree, a vulture sits preening his feathers.

Time to leave this spot, the sun is up and the day is warming to HOT!  Zululand is beautiful, but can be really warm a this time of the year.   We stop at the waterhole, coasting in quietly with the engine off so that we don't disturb the white-faced ducks.  They respond by posing for photos.  Over the top of the grass we can see waterlily flowers, still tightly in bud.  The shrill hoot of an African Jacana alerts us to it's presence and we stretch our necks to see his bright blue coloured head in the grass.

Next to the car is a spider's web, still heavy with water drops, a chance to try out some photography skills.

Golden orb web spider

We stop at the low level bridge across the Black Umfolozi and watch the swallow's aerobatics as they fly across the muddy river water rushing past. They perch daintily on the low wall of the bridge, their tiny breasts streaked in black and white and russet heads shining in the sun.  The bridge is covered in thick damp mud, evidence of the water that covered it during the night, deep tyre tracks make thick ridges and there walking along the edges is a Common Sandpiper, bobbing his tail as he walks, looking this way and that, for something to eat.  Dragon flies zoom past, iridescent on the surface of the water.

We cross the river and after admiring the breath-taking view, turn around to head for the Hluhluwe side of the park.  There is always something around the next bend in the road and the open car windows let the warm air blow into the car,  cooling us in the mid-day heat.  We have a successful day finding new birds, and seeing familiar animals.  Impala ignore us as we stop to watch their family groups   Ears twitch and they calmly chew the short grass.  Magnificent impala rams stand proudly, their horns  a testimony to their strength.  A family of warthogs run across the road, tails lifted high, stopping to dig for roots at the verge on the other side.  A lone male elephant slowly strips the leaves off a tree, long eyelashes protect his eyes and the slow flap of his ears cools his great body.  His long flexible trunk, lifts high in the air to smell us, then turns back to the important business of eating.  We enjoy the clam majesty of the elephant and the stupendous view and drive off to have a late lunch.

Each picnic site has surprises and we watch a Pied Kingfisher hover and dive into the water catching a small shiny fish.  He hits it on the tree branch before swallowing it whole, head first. Two Brown Hooded Kingfisher flash past us and sit whistling in the fever trees.  On the ground, the Black-collared barbet successfully catches a dragon fly and sits contentedly on a branch chomping it down.  We watch the golden orb webbed spider in the middle of her web and see the tiny male hovering carefully on the edges.  The thick golden strands of her web glisten in the afternoon sunlight, ready to catch unwary insects.

All to soon, it's time to head for the gate, but not before we see a white rhino, peacefully grazing on the hillside.  Occasionally he glaces myopically in our direction, but decides that we are not a threat.  He ignores us and moves slowly through the long grass, selecting choice shoots, breaking them off with his wide mouth and slowly chewing.  We could learn some lessons from watching these big creatures.  They remain focused on the task at hand, aware of their surroundings, but not distracted by it.

 The wide open spaces of Hluhluwe, the endless rolling vista of green, the unexpected beauty and the glory of its wildlife is there to see if one just takes time.  Every time we come to the park, it helps put life back in perspective and restores my spirit.  One is truly nearer God's heart in a garden.

Hluhluwe, afternoon viewing!

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree with you more - one is close to God's heart in nature! Thoroughly enjoyed sharing your outing and could feel the tranquility in descriptions and pictures!