Even More African Wilderness!October 15-16
Just an hour inland from St. Lucia lie the spectacular twin game reserves of Umfolozi and Hluhluwe. Here, as in Kruger National Park, visitors are free to tour the parks in their own cars. The scenery and wildlife, however, are very different from those in Kruger. The region is much more mountainous and green, with great expanses of rolling hills and small mountains and a couple of big rivers. We spent the night in a tent cabin in the Umfolozi reserve, which was great fun.
The beautiful landscape of Umfolozi
We came to Umfolozi to get one last glimpse of real African wildlife before moving farther west, where the game reserves and animals become very sparse. We also came to hopefully spot some rhinoceros, which we hadn't had the luck of spotting yet (rhinos are extinct in Botswana). Our two days in Umfolozi didn't disappoint -- during our first self-guided game drive, we came across not one, not two but five white rhino! All of them were just off the side of the road, apparently oblivious to our automobile. Our first spotting was of a female and her very young calf -- lucky us! The young one hopped around clumsily until his mom decided it was time to lumber off into the bush. We managed to snap a few good pictures before they disappeared.
The rhino mom and baby
A very common sight in the bush -- impala
Umfolozi has quite a few species that are difficult to spot elsewhere in South Africa. One of these is the nyala, a beautiful antelope which somewhat resembles a kudu, but with a darker gray coat. We saw many nyala on our drives through the park. We also saw quite a few zebra, warthog, and other types of antelope, especially impala, which are so common they're nicknamed "bush chickens" by some of the locals. The Umfolozi and Hluhluwe Reserves are so full of animals, we wish that we had spent more than one night in the park. Maybe next time...
ZULULAND AND THE BATTLEFIELDS
Historic Battle Sites in the Land of ShakaOctober 16-18
The historic region of Zululand is contained in the area south of St. Lucia and north of Durban in the state of KwaZulu-Natal. This is where the great Zulu kingdom flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries before being brought under the domination of the British colonialists. During this time, the Zululand area was often one giant battlefield. Here, in the early-to-mid 1800s, everybody fought everybody -- Boer versus British, British versus Zulu, and Zulu versus Boer.
The first white people on the scene were the Boers (the descendants of the first Dutch settlers). The Boers felt persecuted by the encroaching British in the Western Cape, so they hitched up in great wagon trains and trekked ever further east in an attempt to escape British control and to establish their own "free" country. The Boers arrived in the Zululand area to find the vast land mostly devoid of local inhabitants. They thought they had at last found their "promised land." It was all random chance, however -- the reason they found the area empty was because, in the decades just prior to the Boer arrival, the Zulu kingdom, led by the warrior Shaka, had driven through Zululand, exterminating or pushing out the original native inhabitants in a reign of cruelty and terror. Eventually, of course, the Boers ran into the Zulus and all hell broke loose, bringing about the first of many "Boer-Zulu" wars. It wouldn't be long before Britain's colonial expansion plans brought them east to Zululand as well, where they would in turn fight not only the Zulus but also the Boers for regional control. The British eventually won -- their empire was at its zenith of power at the time.
A typical Zulu Village, Isandlwana
The Zulus under Shaka went from a loose bunch of related, but unorganized tribes to one of history's greatest warrior nations in a matter of just a few years. Shaka was a ruthless milatarist who made his warriors train and fight in bare feet and use the twin elements of surprise and speed to overcome his enemies. Zulu warriors who returned from battle without enemy blood on their spears or with wounds in their backs would be summarily executed. A tough life, being a Zulu warrior in those days.
We stayed near the infamous British-Zulu battlefield of Isandlwana. Here, in 1879, a British encampment of some 1700 troops were taken by surprise and completely overwhelmed by the Zulu army, a terrifying mass of some 20,000 warriors. The Zulus swarmed down on the British from the ridge above the battlefiend, decimating all but a handful of British officers who were lucky enough to run away from the fighting with their lives intact. Our tour guide, Rob, a Brit who has lived in South Africa for many years, took us around the battlefield. Through his passionate, very dramatic descriptions, we relived that fateful day in 1879 when the world's greatest military power fell to a swift and fierce enemy armed with nothing more than shields, spears, and extremely disciplined training.
The site of the battle at Isandlwana
We had a bit of a splurge in Isandlwana. We had been on the road for several hours, driving through winding terrain from Umfolozi, when we arrived at Isandlwana. The only lodging choice near the battlefield is the spectacular Isandlwana Lodge. We decided to buck up and stay the night in one of the lodge's luxurius rooms, which had an unbelievable view over the valley and the battlefield site below. If you'd like, take a look at Isandlwana Lodge's web site.
Enjoying a sunset at Isandlwana Lodge
Spectacular, Weirdly Rugged MountainsOctober 18-20
The Drakensberg is a jagged mountain range which forms the border between South Africa and the land-locked mountain kingdom of Lesotho. The range is full of weird, craggy peaks and spires, some of which soar some 3500 meters (11,200 ft) into the sky. The Drakensberg are so interesting looking, in fact, that they inspired native South African J.R.R. Tolkein to pen The Lord of the Rings series. It's not difficult to imagine caves full of fire-breathing dragons and hobbits in this fairytale landscape.
We stayed two nights at a hotel right at the base of the Champagne Castle -- one of the 'Bergs biggest peaks. Here, we took a long hike up into the mountains, coming out on a plateau high above the valley below. We were on a trail that apparently wasn't used very often, and several times we lost our way and had to sort of shuffle off in what we thought was the right direction until we met up with the trail again. We were never in any danger (we could have just backtracked to the original trail if we needed to), but started to wonder if we would make it down to the hotel before the sky opened up. The heavens were turning dark gray and lightning bolts were striking in the distance. Luckily, we returned to our hotel just before it started raining buckets.
On our hike near Champagne Castle peak
The Drakensberg was a very different experience from Zululand and the east coast of the country. We highly recommend anybody that comes to South Africa to spend a couple of days in these beautiful mountains!
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