This post shows some of the images taken on a recent trip down to the Mkuze River in KwaZulu Natal. The Mkuze river meanders across the southern Maputaland, eventually flowing into the St Lucia wetlands. The Mkuze River cuts through the Ubombo Mountains before serving as a boundary for Zululand’s famous Mkuzi Game Reserve. Helen and I stayed at Amakhosi Game Reserve located on the northern bank of the Mkuze river, about 60 kilometres south west of Pongola.
There is a wide variety of game and the birdlife is superb for which this area is well known. The bush is very thick in large parts of the reserve and it is very mountainous which makes for great vista photography but also makes game and bird photography quite tricky because of difficult backgrounds.
There are a number of borehole fed waterholes away from the river. At one such waterhole we came across seven Giraffe drinking. This next image is of four of the female Giraffe turning away after having just drunk. A bull Elephant came crashing through the bush next to the waterhole just as they had finished drinking and got their attention. The bull Elephant did not stop for a drink , he just crashed passed. All Giraffe have two knob-like horns called ossicones on top of their head. These horns are ossified cartilage which has formed into bone. The males have large ossicones which are usually bald on top from fighting while the females ossicones are smaller and have hair on top.
The Amakhosi Safari Lodge is located along the Mkuze river . The next image was taken from one of the mountains facing the lodge looking east. There is good river frontage with a great viewing deck from which you can watch Elephant, Nyala and even Lion on occasions and of course a variety of birds.
As you can see the Lodge is very well appointed, elegant without being over stated which is just how we like it. We first came to Amakhosi on honeymoon and were so impressed that this was our third stay.
Depending on the temperature, breakfast and dinner are usually served on the deck outside to take advantage of the cool breeze and magnificent views.
The viewing deck gives you a vista onto the Mkuze river and the massive fig trees on the other side of the river. The river flows all year round.
The Lodge is immediately surrounded by beautiful lawns and cycads around the pool. The rooms are spread out through the Tambotie forest alongside the river., which as you can imagine attracts a wide variety of birds from White Helmeted Shrikes, to Puff backs, Paradise Flycatchers, Drongos, Black Headed Orioles and a variety of Sunbirds and Barbets.
As any of you who have been to northern KwaZulu Natal in summer will know it can get fiendishly hot so a pool is a welcome addition.
The Amakhosi Game Reserve has the big five – Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino ( white) and Buffalo for the ‘tourismos’ but for wildlife enthusiasts it offers much more in the form of birdlife, smaller mammals and a huge variety of flora and varied scenery. In the next image this female Buffalo was watching us intently. Buffalo seem to always look at you as if you owe them money, especially the bulls.
One of the little gems on this trip was finding Weeping Boer-bean trees in flower. These trees flower from August to October. It is part of the flamboyant family and has conspicuous sprays of red flowers. These red flower drip nectar which attracts a variety of birds from Sunbirds to Orioles, White-eyes and Weavers. I have never come across a tree that has attracted five types of Sunbirds all at once. The Sunbirds varied from Amethyst to Collared, Scarlet Chested, White-belled and Marico. The next image of a female Collared Sunbird, it is only the male which has the blue and purple collar
I also saw a magnificent male Scarlet-Chested Sunbird. I tried desperately to get this chap in full sun but the Weeping Boer-bean has thick foliage. The scarlet chest is evident but the emerald-green throat and cap are not as evident but are just as gorgeous.
The next image shows the collar of the male Collared Sunbird. The collars are iridescent in the sunlight. When all the various Sunbirds are in the Weeping Boer-bean at the same time it is noticeable how much smaller the Collared Sunbird is compared with the Scarlet-chested and Amethyst Sunbirds,
There were numerous White-belled Sunbirds feeding from the flowers of the Weeping Boer-bean. The White-bellied vastly outnumbered the other Sunbirds. The male has a bright iridescent blue-green head, mantle and throat with a purple and blue-collar and white belly.
There were many trees bearing fruit at this time of the year. In the midst of breakfast one morning , three Black-collared Barbets flew into the tree in front of us. Needless to say I sprung up to take the shot. Not good table manners but necessary!!!!
Being very obliging, one of the three Black-collared Barbets flew into an adjacent tree overlooking the river which produced a much better background.
The colours on these Sunbirds are breathtakingly beautiful and disguises their fierce territorial imperative.
When a Sunbird, and this applied not only to White-bellied Sunbirds, could not access the flowers from a perch they would hover like a hummingbird to get at the nectar.
On a number of mornings we crossed the Mkuze river around 6h50. The sun was just coming up. What a glorious time of the day to be up. It is fresh, the bush is filled with fragrances. The sun is just starting to pep over the hills and we are full of expectation.
At this time of the year, the Wild Wisteria is in bloom. We did not see big Wisteria trees but the small ones were in full blossom and as you can see were beautiful.
Three were three large male Lions in the reserve. This was the coalition leader who would patrol the one fence line when he could hear the Lion in the next door reserve roaring. These three were introduced from Hoedspruit, near Kruger. This coalition hunted for themselves rather than relying on the Lionesses to hunt for them. It is quite remarkable how much they can move at night patrolling their territory.
This coalition leader lay next to the reserve fence. He must have heard the next door reserve male roaring, we could not but something really got his attention.
The temperature was very variable in the five days we stayed at Amakhosi ranging from summertime heat in the mid-thirties to just above zero some mornings. One morning, crossing the Mkuze river it was particularly cold and mist was rising from the river making for an evocative scene.
On the last morning, the clouds were brewing and it looked like it was building for a thunderstorm. The dark sky always makes a more dramatic backdrop. The next image is of a group of knob-thorn trees. The one in the centre of the image had already started to produce green leaves having finished its flowering. The flowers are a beautiful creamy colour which start turning brown as they finish, creating quite a show.
There were five types of Guarri trees in the reserve, groves of fever trees , and Money Oranges, Bushwillows and Tamboti forests. there are Jackal berries and fig trees along the river. In the more hilly areas we found Tree Euphorias, Red Ivory, Buffalo thorns and Sickle bushes to name just a few.
The bush was thick and needed nature’s bush clearing machines to do their work, which they did. In my book, Elephant are nature’s heavy-duty bush clearing machines. we had heard from one of the rangers that a herd of Elephant were rushing south toward the Mkuze river. They had been feeding in the northern part of the reserve when a few young bulls started to cause grief. With much noise, this group hurtled through the bush along game paths toward the river. The next image shows the last of the herd rushing down the river bank, Interestingly, as soon as these Elephant got into the water they immediately calmed down, drama over.
The northern KwaZulu game reserves are about five and a half hour drive from the ‘big smoke’ Joies, about the same travelling time as the Northern Limpopo reserves. There is great variety down this neck of the woods. We will be coming to this part of the world much more often, though less so in mid-summer.