By Garth Johnstone
A fine, festive dinner the night before (and a few glasses of red) was never going to put me off the opportunity to get in a guided walk at ZuluWaters reserve.
Oh, and in the early hours of that morning a gusting wind blasted through from the hills, clattering against the sturdy construction of the ZuluWaters lodge, ensuring a most comfortable but fitful night’s sleep.
No worries, myself and a couple other hardy souls were ready to go at 7.30am, met by our smiling, unflappable field guide, Cyril Mngadi, and host Bettina Tetzlaff.
The wind had died somewhat and was now merely gusting through every now and then, and we set off from the lodge in search of game and our nature fix.
ZuluWaters is a unique conservation effort in the Estcourt area that was set up by linking a number of properties and forming one large reserve of thousands of hectares. What’s different is that the game reserve is joined by a business entity where surplus animals are humanely killed and processed in the butchery on a remote part of the property. Sustainability for people and animals, while keeping the land wild and methodically removing alien invasive species is part of the programme, but we’re not going to give the whole “game” away, as all that will appear and be explained in a blog to follow soon.
What I will say is, to run and maintain a project like this take an enormous amount of energy and passion, and this is a special place well worth a visit.
During our walk of about an hour and 20 minutes, we meandered gently downhill before taking on a series of pretty steep climbs. It wasn’t long before Cyril was serving up his magic, pointing out spoor and animal skat – at times we had to really study the dusty track to see what he was trying to show us. An amazing skill.
It was quite apparent that there is no shortage of animals at ZuluWaters. We were regularly halting and studying the sand trying to do a Cyril impersonation as we recognised the spoor of rhinos, zebra, ostrich (eventually) and even oribi. In all we saw oribi, secretary birds, wildebeest, rhinos, vultures, ostrich, blesbok, red hartebeest, springbuck, reedbuck, warthogs and impala. We also saw the spoor and/or faeces of some of these, plus porcupine, jackals, buffalo and aardvark.
Keeping up with Cyril and his infectious smile, we also had a chance to update our knowledge of the bush.
A couple highlights were running into a pair of secretary birds on a few occasions… they always made sure to step just out of our reach (and they can walk at pace when they want to), but we got a great sighting of them, including one flying off in the loopy way they have. Another was seeing a family unit of white rhino browsing… mommy, daddy and junior (about a year old). We used the wind to our advantage but kept a reasonable distance, not wanting to risk disturbing these behemoths of the bush.
Bettina told us that in the previous two weeks they had welcomed a new arrival – a baby rhino – to much excitement.
Another moment was when we walked down a steep hill, turned a corner and came upon a group of heavy deposits of buffalo droppings. Nothing like being on foot and knowing that buffalo are close by to get the pulses racing. And did I mention the springbuck… boy, can they run!
Suitably fatigued, very happy with what we had seen and, remarkably, ready to eat again, we headed back for a hearty breakfast. Cyril led us to a section of road where Bettina’s husband Michael picked us up and took us back to the lodge.
Another inspirational bush experience to add to the memories, and one I won’t forget.