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ONE NIGHT IN HLUHLUWE

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One of the things I love most about living in Durban is the easy access this coastal city has to the bush. And if you’re short on time, a quick overnight trip to Hluhluwe in the heart of Zululand, is all you need to get that ‘get away from it all’ feeling the bush affords.

Hluhluwe is just a quick three-hour drive north of Durban up South Africa’s lush eastern coastline. We set off around 9am and were making good progress until, about three quarters of the way, we got stuck in a traffic jam. A big one. In fact I think every car in Zululand was stuck in that jam so I checked online to see what the holdup was. It was a giant sinkhole on the road between Empangeni and Richards Bay so everyone was using the highway. With rolling eyeballs and gesticulating wildly at taxis driving inconsiderately on the shoulder, we crawled along at an earthworm’s pace until finally we were free of that traffic snarl. Less than an hour later we cruised into the Anew Hotel Hluhluwe & Safaris, and our home for the night.

A rhino spotted in thick vegetation

The recently launched hotel has received several soft refurbishments since being taken over by hotel group, Anew Hotels. In addition to its 81 spacious rooms, the hotel also offers two four-bed self-catering rondavels and a signature five-star, self-catering thatched Safari Lodge for six people. The Lodge, set amongst the property’s beautiful fever trees and indigenous vegetation, will allow families and groups to enjoy a true bush experience.

Besides its proximity to the bush, Hluhluwe is a springboard to many of Zululand’s other exciting activities including the nearby Emdoneni Cheetah Project, whale-watching or fishing at St Lucia Estuary and world class diving at Sodwana Bay. False Bay, on the western shores of Lake St Lucia, offers excellent birding and hiking trails and is just 12km away.

Buffalo grazing near the water

The bush was what we were there for so we grabbed a delicious bite to eat from the buffet and headed for the hotel’s game vehicles for a drive through the nearby Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. The park is Africa’s oldest game reserve and combined with the iMfolozi Game Reserve, it offers 96 000 pristine hectares of wilderness. Within its boundaries can be found the magnificent big five as well as an immense diversity of fauna and flora. Once you’re in there; the city, the roads, the towns and the traffic just fade away. In their place are rolling hills, thick bush and a generous African sky. In the dying light of day there are no lights to be seen save the subdued glow from the park’s bush lodges and tented camps. Elephant, buffalo and rhino sightings are common and we were lucky to see these in quick succession quite soon after driving through the memorial gate. We also spotted a giraffe eating something strange from the ground rather than from a tree. On closer inspection, our enthusiastic game ranger, Liberty, informed us that giraffe sometimes eat the bones of dead animals to get calcium into their bodies. Whatever the reason, there was an herbivorous giraffe with a bone in its mouth.

A lion catches the attention of drivers

While enjoying drinks and snacks at the Maphumulo view site, one of the rangers received a call to say lions had been spotted on the main road not far from where we were enjoying the sunset. Wine glasses and snacks were abandoned as our enthusiastic group made a break for the game vehicles. We rattled along the dirt roads until we came across a cluster of cars surrounding the three Kalahari lions which have recently been introduced to the reserve. And there they were; splendid, regal and poised kings of beasts. One flopped down into the road for a nap. Another stalked off into the bush clearly starting his nightly prowl for food. We just sat and watched as the lions, unperturbed by their audience, stalked off.

Energised by our sighting we completed our game drive and headed back to the memorial gate. A quick 15-minute drive later and we were back at the Anew Hotel Hluhluwe & Safaris for a quick pre-dinner drink at the brand new five-star lodge. After a quick shower we assembled under an inky sky for a boma dinner. Listening to the cool vibes of local band, Sondela (meaning come closer in Zulu), we relaxed and let the bush magic take over the night. A few wines later it was time for an interactive Zulu dance experience. Illuminated by the flames of an enormous bonfire, those young warriors stamped their feet and danced to the throbbing beat of a drum. As the dust and smoke filled the air I could sense what the bush must’ve been like all those years ago; wild but pure, exciting but simple. It’s amazing what just one night in Hluhluwe can do…

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