Game watching was on top of my list during my recent maiden visit to South Africa but I never knew we would end up in Zululand Rhino Reserve. Undoubtedly, we chose the renowned Kruger National Park initially for our game viewing pleasures, like all “tourists” do. I am glad we changed our mind.
Luckily, we got an invitation from Zebra Hills and we decided to check out a private game reserve – Zululand. We were in for a surprise as it was the perfect destination with plenty of game watching and birding opportunities.
How Zululand rhino reserve amazed us
We reached Zululand Rhino Reserve on 19th April and by the next morning, we had already seen 4 out of the big 5. You can imagine how exciting it was for us , especially since I am a big time wildlife enthusiast. We had some amazing game watching experiences too and I would love to share them with my readers through anecdotes and pictures.
Here is a complete game watching report in Zululand Rhino Reserve
We saw several common game like giraffe, wildebeest, nyala, zebra, impala, warthog, kudu, vervet monkey, baboon and smaller antelopes. Apart from these lovely sightings, we had the pleasure of viewing some big game as well. Here is a day wise report –
19th April, Afternoon safari – 11 White rhinos, 2 wild buffalo, 2 Hippos, 2 Lions.
20th April, Morning safari – A Black Rhino, Tusker and a herd of elephants
20th April, Afternoon safari – White rhino, herd of wild buffaloes and an amazing array of birds
21st April, Morning safari – We went to the northern side of the reserve, which had awesome terrain and excellent birding. Did not see any big game though plenty of antelopes.
21st April, Afternoon safari – A huge herd of buffaloes (around 100) and 3 black rhinos charged at us
22nd April, Morning safari –It was an excellent day for birding with lot of lifers and the amazing Gorgeous bushshrike as well as a couple of Ground hornbills.
22nd April, Afternoon safari – Again we went up north to catch some different game and we were on the lookout for a leopard but didn’t have much luck.
23rd April, Morning safari – Extremely lucky day as we saw 4 Cheetah’s enjoying their prey and had a lioness and her cub visit the waterhole by our lodge during the day.
23rd April, Afternoon safari – Our first sighting of the Serval (African wild cat) on our way back (After sun down as it is nocturnal). Upon arrival at our lodge, we headed to the boma for some braai and drinks. Soon, we heard a lioness calling and within minutes she was back at the waterhole and we enjoyed a lovely sighting over beer and cocktails (on foot).
23rd April, Bonus Night safari – We decided to head off in the jungle at night and saw a Genet, 10 white rhinos and antelopes.
24th April, Morning & evening safari – The entire day was spent following wild dogs (few were collared so could be tracked). They made a kill and we were on their trail all day long. It was quite exciting and we went through steep mountains and dense forests. We didn’t see them, however, the thrill of the chase was enough.
25th April, Morning quickie – We tried to squeeze in a quick safari before heading out. Just saw a white rhino but several birds as we headed out at sunrise.
Game Watching in Zululand Rhino Reserve Highlights
First close encounter with lions – During our first drive into the bush, we saw 2 lionesses on the river bed below us. They were at quite some distance while we were busy chatting excitedly on our find and clicking pictures. Suddenly, they were right in front of our open vehicle. They decided to stop lazying around near the river bed and take a stroll on the road, whilst checking out the intruders (us!). Both of them came extremely close to our vehicle and started a staring contest with us. We could hear their deep breathing as they slowly walked past us giving us deadly warning stares all through. It was quite a rush.
Lions on foot – The second amazing encounter was when I was taking a nap after the morning safari. Another guest of the lodge knocked on my door and informed me there are lions at the waterhole – which was right next to our lodge – well, I had a great view of it from my room. I rushed out to first see them with my eyes as I could barely believe it. As soon as I confirmed there were indeed two lionesses right in front of me. With no electrical fence or trench to separate us (surely they have fencing but no electricity passes through them), it was a thrilling experience. I rushed back to my room to grab a camera to capture this unforgettable moment.
Three black rhinos charging at us – This was indeed one of the best episode of our visit to Zululand. Now anyone who has seen a black rhino or knows about wildlife, would know they are very aggressive. During one of our game drives, we saw a family of three black rhinos and they came charging right towards us. We stopped our jeep and turned off the ignition. This confused as well as agitated the rhinos. They would mock charge us and just as luck would have it – I was at the back seat that day – they were charging from behind. So, they were literally just a few feet away from our vehicle each time they would mock charge. I could feel the ground shaking and was pretty sure one of them would hit our safari vehicle and it will topple over (Luckily, that didn’t happen – thank god).
Night Safari – Night safari in the bush is simply an amazing experience. You head off with search lights into the thick forests and sometimes animals just spring out of nowhere. We were also lucky to see nocturnal animals like Genet and I happened to see a huge Nile crocodile by the waterhole, few feet from our vehicle, with water birds shrieking in the backdrop. Made for another great episode.
Four cheetahs – Since cheetah’s are extinct in India, I wanted to see another one badly since my visit to Kenya. I was rewarded with a sighting of four – one mother with three full grown cubs. The mom had just killed for the cubs and called them to savor their meal. We saw them as they ran towards their supper and enjoyed it to the max. We did miss the actual kill as we were busy watching the three cubs, it was still a wonderful experience.
There were many other great experiences but these five took the cake for me. I was extremely happy with the game watching and birding results in the park. Zululand rhino reserve was amazing and I would love to go back someday.
Have you ever been to Zululand, Kruger or any other wildlife reserve in South Africa ? How would you rate them and would you want to return?