The Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park, which combines two of Africa's oldest game sanctuaries, ranks among the aristocrats of the conservation world. Game- viewers overnight on extended wilderness trails, others are accommodated at the Hilltop rest camp. The park's wooded hills and grasslands are a haven for the 'Big Five' (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, buffalo), cheetah, giraffe and much else.
Mkuzi Game Reserve, part of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, is renowned for its birdlife, much of which congregates at the Nsumu Pan. Here there are ghostly fever trees, crocodiles and hippos, and a wealth of water-related birds that can be observed in comfort from a strategically sited hide. The larger animals gather at various waterholes, for visitors, there's the cosy, tented Nhlonhela bush camp. Father to the west, in the Pongolo River area, lies the equally well-endowed Itala Game Reserve.
The Itala sanctuary, upgraded and re-stocked in fairly recent times, offers splendid game-viewing along its network of roads. Some 75 different kinds of mammal inhabit its hilly grasslands and bushveld. In the far north, on the pongolo floodplain, is the exquisite little Ndumo Game Reserve, notable for the richness of its riverine life, its giant sycamore fig tree and the wealth of its wildlife. Ndumo is also home to around 420 species of bird.
The Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, which sprawls over much of KwaZulu-Natal's tropical northern spaces and was recently elevated to the status of World Heritage Site, is a complex of lake, swamp, forest, grassland, high dune and marine wilderness. Visitor amenities include lake cruises and boats for hire. Lake St Lucia itself hosts crocodiles, hippos and flocks of flamingos. Accommodation is charming little lake-side camps.
Wildlife to be seen around the lake and elsewhere includes the white pelican, the Nile crocodile, a female of which is seen here with her eggs, the lily-trotting African jacana, and the dainty little re duiker. The St Lucia marine sanctuary extends northwards from Cape Vidal to Sodwana Bay; prominent features are lofty, vegetated dunes, pristine stretches of beach and, offshore, the world's southernmost coral reefs.
Hikers explore the dunes of St Lucia's Tewate Wilderness Area. Basketware is made locally and sold along the main routes of the region. The seaboard here is a magnet for giant sea-turtles that come to lay their eggs on the beaches. These loggerhead hatchlings, and those of the leatherbacks, struggle for survival against ghost crabs and other predators on their hazardous way back to the sea. Scuba-divers explore the offshore waters; Thonga villagers fish the northern lakes in the manner of their forefathers, using fish traps.
The people of the remoter Zululand villages live their lives, to a degree, according to ancient precepts and customs. But the old ways are dying out, surviving intact, in all their colourful complexity, in only a few places – among them the tourist-orientated 'cultural village' that have been established. Music and dance are integral to rural Zulu life, inseparable from weddings and other celebrations. Musical instruments are few and simple; the beat is set by cowhide drum and the rhythmic pounding of feet. Among the region's showplace cultural village are Shakaland, Dumazulu and Simunye, whose cattle byre and guest accommodation are pictured here.
Peter Joyce. 2001. Discover South Africa. A division of New Holland Publishing (South Africa) (Pty) (Ltd). Pages 136 – 145. ISBN 1 86872 518 9
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