After attending her very first Africa’s Travel Indaba in Durban last month, Portfolio Collection’s passionate and travel-addicted consultant Nicole Whitehorn embarked on an epic journey through KwaZulu-Natal. From charming B&Bs to luxury lodges and gorgeous guest houses, she not only visited a number of the Portfolio places, but she also got to experience different areas of this amazing province – come along for the ride as she journeys through KZN, next stop at the beautiful Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve.
Having spent the night in Umhlanga at the lovely Sandals Guest House, I hit the road the next morning around 9am to make the 3-hour drive to the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, a route that consists of many toll gates. I turned off towards the park and drove the next 24km slowly towards the Nyalazi gate of the park where you are required to check in at the office and present your reservation number in order to proceed to Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge. The speed limit of the park is 40km/hr and I was advised to drive very carefully, watching out for elephants or other animals that may be crossing the road. Besides seeing a group of impala, my drive was quite uneventful and before I knew it I arrived at the lodge.
I was welcomed by manager, Bryce, who immediately took my car keys to ensure my car was parked for me and that my bags were delivered to my room. He offered me a cool drink and took me out onto a deck where breath-taking views over the park await – I have to say that Rhino Ridge is very aptly named.
After briefing me with meal times, activities and general information about the lodge, I was shown to my suite only a short walk away from the main lodge. Spacious and fully equipped with fresh mineral water, soft gowns and slippers, the suite was lovely and even had a small lounge positioned in the centre. The bathroom was a delight too, complete with a rain shower overlooking my private deck, as well as a free-standing bath with sunlight pouring in above it. I was thrilled to find that I also had my own infinity plunge pool out on the deck and I couldn’t resist a dip after the long hot drive – totally heavenly!
Tea time was at 14:30 where a selection of savoury and sweet dishes was served in lieu of lunch. I dished up a plate of fresh salad, seared beef and corn bread before joining my assigned guide and group at a table on the deck. Introductions were made and I discovered I was the only South African guest – the others were all from Germany, Switzerland, Australia and the UK. Our guide, Thulani, briefed us on the game drive ahead before we all piled excitedly into the vehicle, cameras at the ready. Within minutes of driving out, we came across three white rhinos lying very close to the road, one adult male and two juveniles. I was absolutely in awe and Thulani managed to get us about three meters away from them, allowing us to capture some magnificent photos.
After the exhilarating drive, we arrived back at the lodge to freshen up before dinner. As instructed, I then called the lodge to send someone to escort me back to the main lodge, as they do not allow guests to walk around unescorted after dark for safety reasons. We all gathered around the roaring fire for some drinks and to compare sightings and stories of the day. A delicious three course dinner was then served out on the main deck with the highlight for me being the grilled kingklip that was cooked to absolute perfection. Mains were then followed by their take on an “Eton mess” with flavours of caramel and banana.
The next morning, I eagerly awoke at sunrise for a safari bush walk. I met Graeme, the walking guide, at reception, and because it was just the two of us that would be walking, I was sure the experience would be much more personal – and it was. On a bush walk you get an experience you would never get in a vehicle. You get to follow the exact path that an animal has taken just hours before you and you’re far more aware of your surroundings, having an opportunity to appreciate the smaller things. You take in the smells and closely examine the evidence of footprints, an excellent way to gain a better understanding of the behaviour of the animals you’re tracking. Graeme pointed out the plants that are used for medicinal purposes, stopping and allowing me to smell them and get a closer look for easy identification later.
We then walked past what looked to me like a little tree root but boy was I wrong! Graeme lifted up the little lid, revealing the nest of a trapdoor spider. These incredible creatures build their homes out of soil, perfectly carving out a little tunnel complete with a trapdoor that closes it for protection. He then coaxed the spider out for us to see before putting him gently back into his home. The excitement did not stop there: we were lucky enough to come within metres of a lone white rhino resting in the mud – it was so thrilling to be standing within such a short distance of this magnificent animal. After that we came across three giraffe grazing right in front of us as well as a couple of zebras in the road on the way back.
After walking almost 5kms in total in the bush, it was time to meet the others for breakfast, as by this time we had worked up quite an appetite! Breakfast was a delicious spread of fresh fruits and yoghurt, muffins, cold meats and cheeses, followed by a hot breakfast and some freshly brewed coffee.
Unfortunately it was now time for me to leave this beautiful place. My car was brought to reception for me, my bags loaded up, and off I went ready for part two of my Isibindi adventure, this time in Kosi Bay at Kosi Forest Lodge.
All images by Nicole Whitehorn or from stock