Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Where we were

I am going to try and describe the place we stayed. We were in Kwa Zulu Natal province, five hours drive east of Johannesburg, and about an hour and a half's drive from the Indian Ocean* coast. We could see mountains which are in Swaziland from our reserve.

The reserve itself was 32,000 acres. For those like me to whom that means nothing, whilst we were there we went out on 8 drives of at least four hours each - and every time we went into new areas. Next to The Kruger which is the size of Wales it is pretty small, but given that the 17 of us had the place to ourselves apart from the people who worked there - 30 at our lodge, and 40 at another one the other side of the reserve - it seemed plenty big enough!

From images of Africa I had seen I thought the area would be flat, arid and fairly short on trees and bushes but as these photos show, I didn't get that quite right.

In the reserve live many elephants, lions, leopards, cheetahs, crocodiles, hippos, rhinos, buffalo, giraffes, zebra, wildebeest, warthogs, jackals, umpteen varieties of antelope, and very many smaller mammals, reptiles and insects. They have recorded 420 different bird classifications within the reserve. The spring flowers were starting to emerge, and the scents are incredible - the wild honeysuckle I smelt there was the most beautiful perfume I have ever encountered. Mind you, being down wind when an elephant farted wasn't quite such a pleasant experience, though equally unforgettable!

The animals are wild. That sounds obvious, but what it means is that every sighting is a privilege, and one never knows when, or even if, one will happen. One morning we had been out for nearly four hours, up in the mountains, and were returning to our lodge for brunch. We had seen breath taking scenery, but it was mainly dense vegetation which made seeing animals difficult. We came upon a clearing and there in the middle of it was a beautiful female cheetah. It was one of those moments which made one gasp out loud with sheer delight. And then it got better. We saw another one sitting behind us, bolt upright just like any old domestic cat, and so our ranger turned the truck round so we could get a better view, and that was when we saw that there were four cheetahs altogether. A mother and her three young ones (about 18 months old). It was such a moving experience to suddenly encounter this family that I had tears in my eyes.

They were waiting very patiently for dinner to arrive, and entirely untroubled by our presence, sat and watched the undergrowth. Apparently the mother would not yet trust her young 'uns to get the grub, so the kill when it came would be down to her. It was a strange feeling watching them. Part of me wanted to see her shoot off at speed to secure what had to be secured, but a bigger part of me wished very hard not to actually witness any kill. In the event our own hunger overtook the desire to watch her deal with her hunger, and we came away before we were faced with nature in the very raw.

I am sorry the quality of this photo is not better - hopefully I will get a better one from one of my friends soon, but in the meantime I hope you can get an impression of these beautiful animals from the one here. Double click on it for a bigger image.

* Corrected from earlier stupid mistake - I blame lack of sleep!



badgerdaddy said...


Yorkshire Pudding said...

Frustratingly I can't see your pics - just little boxes with red squares in. The meeting with the cheetahs sounds like something you will always remember. By the way - I don't wish to be pedantic but it is the Indian Ocean that washes the south east coast of Africa - not the Pacific. Didn't you like Geography at school?

J.J said...

It was Badger Daddy.

YP - am I allowed to swear? Both at the disappearing photos and at my ridiculous geographical faux pas. I do blame lack of sleep over the past week. I'm supposed to be good at geography too.