Iv spent a great majority of my life within nature reserves, lodges, game parks, and game reserves. I’m incredibly lucky to have lived and worked on game lodges and reserves as well.
The latter a 4000 hectare property with one border fence. We had a Forrest Cobra living in our fireplace. The Striped Back Mongoose would often try an raid our outside trash can, if they didn’t succeed the Vervet Monkeys would.
We’d build bonfires and braai on the weekends, keeping close watch that our Genet Cat didn’t steal the food off the grill, that there were no Chameleons in the branches above us and to keep out ears peeled for the Elephants. As they often liked to walk past our house.
And of course after 23h00 we’d make sure the kitchen, lounge door and my bedroom window were tightly shut, so that our local Leopard didn’t get curious!
On the odd chance we all got off on the same day or the reserve was quite, we’d back a cooler box and go drive into the plains, watch the Rhino or go out into the river, filled with Hippo and Crocodile.
To say it was an experience, is merely but an understatement of the highest order.
On the rare occasion I’m not working or trying to build a future, I get to escape up North to visit family and we too spend a good amount of time in Hluhluwe Imfolozi.
So when I heard that on our Umhlathuze Educational #WeDoTourism Tour, we were going to Thula Thula Game Reserve I got very excited.
Id never been to the reserve, but I had heard of legend Lawernce Anthony’s Saved Elephants. If you’re curious about the emotional, heroic, tragic and unbelievable feat of both man and animal, go read The Elephant Whispher.
The night before we’d attended The Lilizela Tourism Awards so our eyes and ears were peeled on service providers and product owners.
The drive to Thula Thula was quite the adventurous one as the road we travelled on was under going construction. By the looks of things, the access ways will bring the trip from town to the reserve and surrounding areas much closer together, once complete.
It felt a little like we were in a Tolkien book, I could hear Gimilis words echo in the back “if we cannot go over it, let’s us go through the mountain, let’s us go through the mines”.
When we did arrive we all unloaded, stretched our legs, signed our indemnity forms, and then of course, like the media and tourists we were, took a gazillion photos. #WeOnSafari.
Our official photographer Denver from SnapOutPhotography honestly did and amazing job of capturing our experiences for the day! You can go see his awesome photos on the Snapout Photography Facebook Page and on the Tourism KZN page.
There’s a feeling, a state of excitement when you’re exploring a new area, a new activity, meeting new people.
Within 5 minutes of embarking on our drive we spotted our first Elephant. Our rangers Damon and Khaya had briefed the group on how to conduct themselves at a sighting:
- NO loud noise (no noise at all if possible).
- No camera flashes
- No standing up in the vehicle
- No arms outside of the vehicle
- No getting out of the vehicle
The first giant acknowledged our presence and then continued on his way to find water. It was quite the banger of a day, the sun was blaring down on us and so I totally understood how he felt!
It was time for a midday swim….
After that we moved onto one of the watering holes, where we had one of the best, close, personal encounters I have ever had with these animals.
Iv had the slight bump on a vehicle and the closeness, but this family, this tribe of Elephants are majestic in their grace.
Moving in single file as they came down to drink, not much minding our vehicle. In fact at one point we had an Elephant on our left side, it’s butt in our faces, as it washed itself, several of us were sprayed from its activities.
It was amazing, I even heard Vashti saying with much glee, “Iv got Elephant mud on me”.
The Rhino just wanted a nice cool drink as well, but unfortunately the Ellies were having none of that! Did I mention that the size of these Elephants were absolutely enormous?
When the 3rd largest Ellie walked past our vehicle even I got a small tingle down my spine. A quick reminder how human we are, bones, cells, cartilge, all completely non threatening to the quick and light tap of an Elephants trunk. Respect.
It was hilarious watching the smaller Elephants try and goad the Rhino into moving, or quite frankly showing any signs of being slightly interested in their presence. Trunks were going, then they tried surrounding the Rhino, Belle the smaller Ellie tried a display of sand throwing, but these Rhino weren’t having any of it.
We left Belle to live her best life and moved on to the Rehabilitation Center.
As we arrived we were welcomed by one of the Volunteers at the center and her trusty dog. Quickly we learnt that the dog was in fact a rescue. Specifically a dog fighting candidate rescue. He was used as a fluffer, thrown into the ring to get mauled by other dogs pre fight to make them aggressive.
The thought makes me want to vomit. It’s simply that disgusting. I saw a lot of animal mistreatment when I was younger, so let me warn you. It’s one thing I don’t have time for. If you purposely hurt or are cruel to an animal, you and I are going to have conversations.
Having been rescued he now has the most beautiful nature, allowing all of us to give him a pat and followed us around as we were taught about the Rehabilitation facilities. The Bomas are were animals are nursed back to health and we were told about the hours and care that goes into protecting and living our Wildlife in Africa.
The ice tea was incredibly refreshing, my only warning I have is the floor at the lodge. Several of us slipped on it and I actually bruised my left arm in the bathroom when I slipped and caught myself.
Refreshed, with a new respect for The Giants a new humorous tale of the Rhino and an forever love of the height and grace of Giraffe, we headed back to our vehicles.
We had a Sunset Cruise on the Tuzi Gaza Waterfront to explore…....
One of the BIGGEST lessons we learned on this trip and travelling through the area, is that we as South Africans are not taking advantage of these beautiful activities and opportunities we have on our door steps!
Our guides were explaining to us that the people on the borders and banks of the reserve have in majority, NEVER been inside the reserve. Have never learnt about the birds, big 5 or small 5.
It’s our NEIGHBORS we need to be educating, teaching, exposing to the wonderful and unique offering that South Africa has to showcase!
It starts AT HOME. That is why #WeDoTourism #IDoTourism and #YouDoTourism
Keep your eyes peeled for that post later today!
And As Always……