Hazyview is generally known as a gateway town to the Kruger National Park. However, after a few days exploring the town and its other surrounding regions, we discovered that there is quite a bit more to Hazyview than meets the eye.
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Getting to know Hazyview
Hazyview is a relatively small town in Mpumalanga’s Kruger Lowveld region. It is conveniently positioned near the Paul Kruger and Phabeni gates of the Kruger National Park, which is what makes the town such an attractive stop for visitors. However, unlike other game reserve border towns such as St Lucia in KwaZulu-Natal, Hazyview is not just a tourism hub. One gets the distinct impression that there is a great deal of industry alive and well within the city limits. And while the obvious draw-card is the famous Kruger National Park, Hazyview and it's western neighbours (Sabie, Graskop and Pilgrim's Rest) are not without their own unique appeal too.
Neither Jill nor I had ever been to Hazyview before this trip, so it was quite interesting to arrive with no real preconceptions or expectations - a clean slate. We decided to try and do as many of the activities on offer as we could to see what Hazyview is like, not just as the gateway town, but as an attraction in its own right. Here's what we discovered...
Elephants never forget, and neither will you!
As one would expect, Hazyview has a number of wildlife experiences on offer. One such experience is an elephant encounter at Elephant Whispers which is home to a number of elephants that were orphaned as calves after their herds were culled.
Now, it's probably worth mentioning right off the bat that the topic of elephants in captivity is quite a contentious one and has hardened believers on both sides of the argument. I'm not entirely sure just how strong a position I can take in this debate as there are valid points from both sides. However, my feeling is that most of what is being said condemns the industry as a whole for the obvious malpractices of a few establishments and therefore bundles these shady dealers in with conservationists who genuinely care. Its the same as incriminating legitimate diamond traders who play by the rules because the industry is thwart with illegal operators who practice unscrupulous dealings. For me, it would appear that these matters need to be seen on a case-by-case basis.
With this in mind we decided to head over to Elephant Whispers and see things for ourselves.
The main mission of Elephant Whispers is to use the orphaned elephants that have been brought up in the Sandford Conservancy as a tool for environmental education. The tour starts off with a thorough briefing of the park and each of the elephants on display. Each one is accompanied by a groom who uses voice commands to instruct and direct the animal and demonstrate certain behavioral traits.
The next part of the tour gets a lot more personal as the elephants are brought nearer the viewing area. Getting up close to one of these animals is truly a life-changing experience. Generally I'm quite cautious of elephants in the wild, and with good reason. Elephants can be extremely temperamental, particularly females with their young, and attacks on vehicles are certainly not uncommon. Our experience in Mkhuze Game Reserve earlier in the trip brought that reality very close to home. But standing next to this massive creature while it was calm and accepting of our presence really was quite something.
The value of this experience for me was not the warm and fuzzy feelings of petting a wild animal, as I don't feel that this should be the point of any conservation effort. Rather, it was the chance to see things about an elephant that you just can't in the wild. Being able to view things like an elephant's trunk or tusks, and even it's skin from up close is extremely fascinating and gives you a great deal of insight into the animals characteristics and behaviour.
Take for example an elephant's trunk. Adult elephants use their trunks with extreme dexterity. A baby elephant will take up to eight months before it masters control of this important appendage. Up to that point you might even witness a calf standing on its trunk trying to pull it out because it can't understand what it is used for or why it is there, dangling off its face!
We really enjoyed our visit to Elephant Whispers and from our experience at the park I can recommend it as a great outing during your time in Hazyview.
The fastest way back down is by zip line
During our stay we discovered that Hazyview also has an irresistible adrenaline side. Skyway Trails, based on the western end of Hazyview, operates an aerial cable trail out of a nearby gorge. The idea of careering down a 1.2 km zip line course over an indigenous forest sounded too good to miss out on so Jill and I signed up immediately.
After a short demonstration and practice session at the base, our group climbed into the vehicles en route to the top of the zip line course. The further we drove the better as I knew we had to come all that way back down on the cables. In South Africa we often refer to zip lining as foofy-sliding. I'm not sure how that name came about, but it is a lot more fun to say.
We eventually arrived at our stop and the first platform of the course. This is normally the one that gets the nerves sorted out and gets you into the swing of things to come. To be honest, looking back on it, all the platforms seemed to just blur into one as we zipped our way over the canopy and back down the gorge.
Kruger National Park: This is why you came
So, while I mentioned earlier that we wanted to experience Hazyview as a town on it's own, it was inevitable that we were going to end up in the Kruger National Park at some point. It turns out that the two are inseparable.
However, rather than do the usual self-drive option, this time we decided to join a guided safari on an open-backed game viewing vehicle with Elephant Herd Safaris.
South Africans seem to have an aversion to paying someone to do something that we feel we could do ourselves - like driving through a game reserve. However, going on a guided game drive is quite a bit more than just a scenic taxi ride.
South African tour guides are among the best in the world. Having been one myself, I feel like I can say that with even more confidence than others. Guides are trained in animal tracking and behavioral management. They spend their lives in the bush and have a very keen eye for animals that most people miss, or worse, ignore.
The amount of information you can pick up from someone who knows the bush is phenomenal and it was great to be in the back seat for a change, learning and absorbing as much as we could.
Both Jill and I love being in game reserves. One of our favourite things to do is to see if we can spot something for the first time - whether it be a plant, animal or bird - and this drive did not disappoint. Towards the end of the day, and having seen some wonderful sightings already, we pulled over to the side of the road to examine a dry river bed. The hope was that we would find a leopard heading out for an evening hunt, but we ended up going one better: a first sighting.
A few minutes after pulling over a small, colourful bird flew into view and landed on a branch nearby. It was a grey-headed kingfisher. I remember thinking to myself that this was a way better find than a leopard, after all, how often do you get to see something for the very first time? I was clearly in the minority as many vehicles pulled in next to us and disappeared shortly after seeing that we were "just birding."
Heading back to Hazyview in the evening glow was a great time for us to reflect on our time in the Kruger Lowveld and to once again take stock of just where we were - the most beautiful country in the world.
Final thoughts and thanks
In all, we really enjoyed the few days that we spent in Hazyview. As well as the Kruger National Park and activities on offer in town, Hazyview is a mere 40 minutes to an hour down the road from the towns of Graskop, Sabie and Pilgrim’s Rest, making it an ideal base from which to sample all that the Kruger Lowveld has to offer. If you feel like checking out the waterfalls around Sabie, or hitting a hiking trail in Graskop and then exploring the gold rush history of Pilgrim's Rest, Hazyview is the ideal place to base yourself.
We would like to say a huge thanks again to Nomkhosi from Kruger Lowveld Tourism and the region's operators who made this leg of our trip possible:
Elephant Whispers for a truly memorable afternoon
Skyway Trails - we had great fun zipping from platform to platform
Elephant Herd Safaris, with whom we had some great sightings even though it was a "slow" day in the bush for some of the bigger animals
Gecko Lodge for hosting us during our stay in a very comfortable room with the best breakfasts and most amazing garden.
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