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Bevan and I had never visited Ndumo Game Reserve before. I think this has a lot to do with its location on the South Africa-Mozambique border; if we were that far north in KwaZulu-Natal, it would be because we were en route to Mozambique’s beaches. Given our personal bias to the sea, I can’t say that Ndumo will replace Mozambique as our destination the next time we head north. Our experience there though has made a very strong case for adding a few extra days of leave and visiting both!
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Engulfed by Nature
Because this is a relatively small game reserve (just over 10 000 ha) we didn’t have the same expectations for our visit as one would from a more prestigious Big 5 game reserve like Hluhluwe-iMfolozi. We were blown away by Ndumo though. From the second we arrived and set up camp we were engulfed by Nature. From a Spotted eagle owl nesting in a low tree just outside the camp Reception, to a small herd of nyala that casually browsed around our tent at least twice a day and spiders carrying an entire brood of babies on their backs, Ndumo was alive and we were 100 % a part of it!
Ndumo Game Reserve is managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. The northern boundary of this game reserve is the Usuthu River, and its opposite bank is Mozambique. Under normal rainfall conditions this is a large river with a wide sandy bed. Like many other areas of the province though, the current drought conditions meant that this river was almost dry. It didn’t stop us from enjoying the view over the river from the vantage point of the Red Cliffs picnic site. From the edge of these red-coloured cliffs we could see a large herd of giraffe browsing along the river’s edge, were startled by a large leguaan (water monitor) making its slithery escape through the bush near our feet, and watched a Gymnogene (African harrier hawk) skirt the trees along the river bank and settle in the thorny canopy just down the way from us.
On foot in the bush
Unlike the nearby Tembe Elephant Park, Ndumo Game Reserve doesn’t have any elephants. This means that visitors can be a little bit more relaxed when driving around the reserve. It is however home to buffalo, rhino and leopard and visitors can only get out on foot when accompanied by a game guard. We decided to do just that and join a birding walk to Nyamiti Pan early one morning. Ndumo has a number of fever tree-lined pans in the reserve but Nyamiti Pan is at present the only one that still has water in it.
Being out in the bush on foot is always a lovely experience that more than makes up for the early start! After meeting our game ranger guide and joining the rest of the group, we set out for the pan and spent the next three hours slowly making our way around the water’s edge. Ndumo Game Reserve is well-known as a birding spot and has the highest bird count in all of South Africa – some 430 species. Amongst plenty of waders and other water birds we also spotted a pair of Scarlet-chested sunbirds, a Broad-billed roller and a couple of Blue-mantled crested flycatchers flitting about in the forest surrounding the pan.
My personal highlight of our time in Ndumo Game Reserve was our daily nyala camp visitors. I am a firm believer that wild animals should not be allowed to become habituated to humans – somehow the animals ultimately always come out on the losing end of that relationship. That aside though, there is something so wonderful about the trust that a wary animal places in you when they decide to take those few tentative steps closer, despite their natural instincts. This interaction had nothing to do with our animal whispering abilities. Every day flowers dropped from the tree that we were camping under and these proved to be delectable to the antelope! Every day a small herd of nyala would visit our camp to feed on these flowers, passing close by us as we sat quietly observing.
Our four day stay absolutely flew by but I have a sneaking suspicion that we will be back to Ndumo! From here we are on to another one of KZN’s inland reserves - Ithala Game Reserve near Louwsburg. This is another new stop for both Bevan and I and we are looking forward to exploring more of our incredible province.
A huge thank you to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife for hosting us in Ndumo Game Reserve. It has become one of our favorite reserves!