South Africa, Chapter 3: It’s A Wild, Wild Life

My one regret from our 17 days in South Africa is that none of us properly filmed the experience of driving along the N2 – which has appeared on at least a few ‘world’s deadliest roads’ lists – through KwaZulu-Natal. I rather enjoyed my time at the wheel – reminiscent as it was to my days as an EMT/Firefighter, just without the lights and sirens and authority to drive like a maniac – although my traveling companions might disagree vociferously.

Ok, I also regret that we never got to see and hear a lion orgy whilst on safari, but that was always a bit of a long shot anyway.

Burchell's Zebra
Zebra penis is cool, but it’s no substitute for a lion orgy or crazy N2 driving vid.

During our time in Cape Town (blog here) we got around quite easily via Uber, taxi, bus, private driver (like everything in South Africa, very affordable), and of course walking, correctly calculating that renting a car – and navigating an unfamiliar city – wouldn’t be worth the hassle. But now we’ve flown to Durban and have a rental car arranged for the remainder of our time in the country, definitely needing our own wheels to get up the road to our accommodation and into the surrounding parks for exploration.

And what accommodation it is! Toad Tree Cottage – which ends up being our unanimous choice for favourite place to stay – is a colonial style farmhouse located just outside the coastal town of Mtunzini, about an hour and a half drive from Durban. More specifically, the house and surrounding buildings are nested in a copse of trees about 1km off the R102, in the middle of acre upon acre of sugarcane fields. Included in the price are 3 guard dogs specially trained to keep marauding monkeys and malicious mambas at bay. It’s paradise I tell ya!

Chill time at the house is certainly a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city, but we’ve not come all this way to just sit around the pool and pet the dogs. We want wildlife!

And by god is it easy to find! Self-drive safaris through Umlalazi Nature Reserve, iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park (several trips over several days) prove immediately and continuously fruitful for wildlife viewing. Stepping out of the protective shell of our SUV to go for a walk certainly leaves one feeling refreshingly vulnerable and on high alert, and I have no shame in calculating that I’m likely the fastest sprinter in the group (although the wife definitely has more running endurance). However, when facing down rhinos or elephants blocking the road ahead you realise that the aforementioned ‘protective shell’ is more psychological than physical.

Go on, watch a few YouTube videos on the subject. I’ll wait…..

Kudu Combat
Kudu’s sparring in the fading light.

We’ve also booked ourselves onto 3 guided safaris – full-day, night and boat – with Heritage Tours & Safaris, all of which end up being excellent and well worth the money. Being a big nature geek (and sometimes guide myself), I really appreciate the local knowledge and insight that a professional guide can provide. That and they fed us twice on the full-day tour, and I do love me some food!

06:41 and we’re watching giraffes from the back of a Toyota Land Cruiser. If only every day could be like this!

The night tour in particular is quite…memorable. We’d read stories about hippos wandering the streets of St. Lucia by night, and sure enough we spot one almost immediately, just hanging out under a streetlight beside the road. Tourists are warned to be very careful when out at night as attacks (fatal even) can and do occur. In fact, the ugly-cute vegetarian hippopotamus kills more humans every year on the African continent than any other wild beast.

We spot tons of other wildlife once into the park, but the weather ends up stealing the show.

Lightening raged across the sky the whole time we were out, intermittently illuminating the landscape and causing spontaneous sphincter contractions amongst some on the tour. And I gladly would have stayed out in the storm all night, soaking in all that primal energy from both the atmosphere and the surrounding wildlife, until, finally, my latent mutant powers are finally unleashed and I fly off and begin my quest for global dominance.

That of course never happened, but we had an awesome meal out in St. Lucia after the tour, so it’s cool.

Eventually, predictably and sadly, it would be time for us to depart South Africa. We returned the rental car to Durban (yes, more N2 driving!), flying from there to Johannesburg (Durbs to Jo-burg in the local parlance), then on to London and Aberdeen.

But, as I pontificated upon in the first post of this series, this was not the trip of a lifetime. It was everything and more than I expected, it just won’t be the last time I stand in stunned silence at what I’m seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling and experiencing.

Actually, I stand in stunned silence every time I linger naked in front of a full length mirror, but I’m speaking more about travel and adventure here, you know.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – Nelson Mandela

Don’t forget to check out the blog of our globe trotting travel companions, Wild Air & Hops!

See you soon from somewhere!

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