It’s always sad going back to a place and discovering that it has become an awful tourist trap and a rip-off. Unfortunately, that was my over-riding impression of Hluhluwe Game Reserve.
My family has a connection with Hluhluwe because my grandfather was camp warden there and my father a game ranger. So I feel an affinity for it, and Zululand in general.
The actual park is beautiful – golden sunlight dappling on grassy hills – but I would not recommend the place for any South African tourist. In fact, it embarrasses me that many overseas tourists will leave our country thinking Hluhluwe is the best we can offer.
The cheapest accommodation at Hluhluwe is R640 a night in one of their rondavels … literally a small room with two beds, a basin, a table, a fridge and cutlery/crockery. My wife, as beloved by bugs as by me, was quick to point out that the “mosquito netting” in the windows actually had gaps that were a good centimetre wide – only the most gluttonous, overfed mosquito would fail to fit through there!
Staying at the rondavels also means you have to use the communal bathroom and kitchen facilities, which is fine, but surely one shouldn’t have to pay R640 a night for that!
Anyway, the worst experience was the restaurant.
I’d promised my long-suffering, not overly camping-keen wife that we could eat at the restaurant the night we stayed in Hluhluwe. It was a Friday night so the only option they offered was a braai buffet … at R175 a head!
I reluctantly agreed to pay, expecting the sort of buffets you get in hotels … plenty of choices, great food.
In fact, the braai was a disgrace. I’ve had better braais at a drunk mate’s house in my student days.
The salads were three bowls of boring looking lettuce, beetroot chopped to smithereens and coleslaw. The putu was cold.
On the menu, it promised beef fillet, lamb chops and chicken … Instead, all they offered when we arrived, at 7.30pm for the 6.30-8.30pm buffet, was a scraggy piece of chicken fillet and boerewors. Apart complaint, they also offered us beef kebabs. The chops were as old as the ancient hills around Hluhluwe and as tough as the goats wandering around outside.
Borland being Borland, I decided on an act of civil disobedience in protest and brought my own bottle of Windhoek Lager into the restaurant. Only to discover, to my horror, that they were only serving Windhoek in cans … and my bottle would stand out somewhat …
So I had to hide the bottle – after I had poured its most-beneficial contents into my glass, of course – in the pocket of my jacket, which I had hung over my chair.
Of course, during the course of the evening, the bottle falls out of the pocket and bounces – not once, not twice, but three times on the hard floor and miraculously did not break!
Of course I then had to recover the bottle with the eyes of the restaurant on me … and my wife disowning me!
Anyway, it was lovely going for a couple of drives around the park and the highlights in terms of sightings were a Brownthroated Weaver well-spotted by Lauren, Woollynecked Stork (also Lauren), Orangebreasted Bush Shrike, Blackcrowned Tchagra and a posing Striped Kingfisher.
There were friendly Bushbuck, Red Duiker and Natal Robin in the camp, while we had lovely sightings of a Square-Lipped Rhinonoceros and her calf, as well as a lone Elephant on a hill on our drives.
One of my goals on this Zululand trip was to spot Black Coucal or find suitable habitat for it, and the area around the Memorial Gate in the north, on the Gontshi Loop, certainly looks promising.
Emeraldspotted Wood Dove
Orangebreasted Bush Shrike
African Pied Wagtail
Cape Turtle Dove