Summer fun in winter
You don’t have to camp less just because it’s cold – especially not if the KwaZulu-Natal bush is your destination.
The longest night and shortest day have come and gone, which means summer is on its way. But August is still more winter than summer. Ask any camper: If you want to camp in winter like it’s summer, there’s only one place in the country and that’s the KwaZulu-Natal coast. Hluhluwe lies 270 km north of Durban and 30 km inland. This small town is more famous for its pineapples than for its campsites, but if you want to avoid a busy beach resort this time of year, Hluhluwe is your answer. (By the way, the tonguetwister Zulu word, Hluhluwe, is pronounced “shloeshloewê”.) The town is next to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, and it’s difficult to believe the day’s temperature forecast: Cape Town 8–15 °C, Pretoria 7–21 °C, Bloemfontein 2–20 °C… and Hluhluwe? 16–32 °C! So with a T-shirt, shorts and slipslops we set off to Hluhluwe this month. We visited two friendly game farms, Bahati and Bonamanzi, and stayed over one night in iSimangaliso’s False Bay campsite. >
BAHATI CARAVAN PARK AND GAME FARM
Human and animal
Pineapple plantations lie stretched out to the left of the road as you officially enter Hluhluwe’s main road at the first circle. At the fourth circle on the straight stretch of road of less than 2 km, you’re leaving the town again where the road turns left to Sodwana. A dirt road also starts here, but turns off right to the railway track. Bahati is 4km further on the right side of the road. The first thing at a campsite that can cause some irritation is the bathrooms. Luckily these days you see a lot more campsites with private bathrooms – personal ablution facilities for each stand. Bahati is one of these places. For a new place like this – they opened end of last year – they hit the nail on the head from the get-go. Not only are the bathroom facilities decent but you can also choose if you want to pitch camp in your own corner of the bush or out in the open where you share the facilities. Bahati is also a game farm, and apart from the electric fence around the 180 ha piece of land, the campsite isn’t fenced off. So there is no barrier between you and the animals, and before long a duiker walks past your campsite as if you’re a part of his world. There are even two nyala bulls grazing close to the stands, and for a moment you have the opportunity to see this beautiful buck up close.
Choose from three
We arrive at Bahati without a reservation. The electric sliding gate is closed, and on the gate is the owner Annelie Ihlenfeldt’s name and telephone number. She’s gone to town she explains when we phone her, “but keep left directly past the gate and follow the road; signs show the road until you get to the stands,” she says. She opens the gate with her phone and we drive in on a nice compact sand path. The sand path runs about 200–300 m along the wire fence and then swerves to the right into the bush. Even though the dirt road is more than acceptable, it is still rocky. You can choose from three stands when you stop here: the A and B camps, both with similar stands, and the en-suite stands with private bathrooms. It doesn’t look like a single tree was destroyed with the building of the A camp’s six stands in the bush. Moreover, the entire campsite is covered with a neat lawn. (Judging from all the leaves, most trees are evergreen.) The stands are in a big circle next to each other and are numbered, but not cordoned off. It’s also spacious enough that you’re not right on top of other campers. There are three electricity boxes (with standard three-pin sockets) between the six stands, each fastened to a red pole. The few taps are painted blue with a paved section underneath them so you don’t get mud splatters if you quickly want to rinse something off. There are also a few loose-standing braais (with grids). The bathroom building is far left, and it blends in perfectly with the scenery in the background. The finishes range from raw cement to wooden poles. Men and women share the same two separate small bathrooms, each with a shower (with a glass door), ceramic basin (on a concrete slab) and toilet, as well as a mirror. The facilities can’t be neater. There is a sink for dishes in front of the bathroom and there are two separate toilets left of the building. The B camp is across the road and similar to A, except that you camp on >
sand. Three of the stands also have a canopy with a concrete floor next to it, nice if you want to use it instead of your caravan’s awning. The bathrooms are also similar to that of the A camp. The pool is a little bit further down, next to the sand path. It’s more or less as big as a house pool, and has grass around it. There’s shade cloth spun over the shallow end for the little ones, and there are a few grass-roof gazebos if you want to make sausage rolls for the kids. And if you want to braai something in the afternoon next to the pool, there are braai spots with grids. The four en-suite stands are in the bush just past the pool, and are laid out in such a way that you almost can’t see your neighbour. All the stands have two buildings with a concrete floor. Underneath the one canopy, of which two ends are enclosed, is a kitchen with a sink as well as cupboards, and a table with four chairs. The bathroom is on the one end of the other canopy. The shower is spacious and the room also has a toilet, basin and mirror. The roof of the building stretches beyond the floor and is high enough that you can pull your caravan right up to the floor. There’s a three-pin socket in the wall near the bathroom and a built-in braai with grid on the other end of the canopy.
Go for a ride
Annelie comes round later that day to hear if everything is in order. She says you can drive on your own on the farm to see the animals. “You won’t get lost, because all the paths lead to the middle to the dam,” she explains while she draws a square with lines running to the middle in the sand with her forefinger. “You also won’t get stuck. From here, drive further along the sand path to right next to the fence – the wildlife section starts here.” There are 12 types of buck on Bahati, of which we saw seven in an hour – from zebras and black impalas to giraffes and waterbuck.
BONAMANZI GAME RESERVE
On a bigger scale
Bonamanzi is 1.5 km on from Bahati on the dirt road – to a certain extent it’s a bigger version of Bahati. Bonamanzi’s campsite also has both the usual stands as well as those with private bathrooms, but where Bahati is 180 ha, Bonamanzi is closer to 4000 ha. There is a bigger variety of wildlife and you can clearly see that when you stop in front of the gate: A warning sign shows pictures of amongst others a hippo, buffalo, elephant, and rhino. So four of the Big Five walk around here, and just like at Bahati, the stands aren’t cordoned off. A wide sand road runs a bit more than 2 km into the bush to the office, and a neat grass-roof building reminds you of an exclusive lodge. There is a big circle where you can park and turn the caravan around, because the campsite is a kilometre or three away. The office building is decidedly upmarket – as you go through the office door it’s like walking into the foyer of a five-star hotel. A big white marble counter top is on the opposite side of the shiny-tiled room, and to the left a giant buffalo trophy is mounted on the wall. A more modest Zulu shield hangs on the back wall. On the counter 20–30 keys lie in a row as the staff gets ready to welcome visitors. We again arrive without a reservation, and luck is slightly on our side: tonight there are stands available but tomorrow is Friday and Bonamanzi’s campsite is fully booked for the weekend. It’s a week before the winter school holidays start, and judging from the number of campers who support Bonamanzi, it’s a popular place. The receptionist gives us a photocopied map of the reserve and marks the path to the campsite with a felt-tip pen. The map also indicates the paths that you can drive on your own to look for game – mostly in the section around the campsite. So the biggest section of the reserve you can’t explore in your own vehicle. Luckily they offer game drives, and it’s highly recommended that you book. The drive starts from the office, costs R340 p.p., and there must be a minimum of two people. It takes an hour and a half but for R60 more the drive is twice as long. >
Make a U-turn
The campsite is half a kilometre back on the track where the road forks and you keep left; the sand path also gets narrower here. It is, however, still possible for a standard sedan to tow a caravan without getting stuck. Where Bahati has three different campsites, Bonamanzi has four, with a total of 18 stands in the bush. The first four stands are 1.8 km from the fork and it’s also where the pool is. The second two types of stands are half a kilometre further and are laid out next to each other, with the last group of two private stands a bit further. We find a spot in the third group – the Oval camp. These six stands are laid out in a circle around a rectangular facebrick building with their backs against the thickets. All the stands have their own bathroom in the building, but it’s more than just a place to wash: It’s two rooms with the door opening up on to a kitchen. Again, you can see from the quality of the tiles that the owners didn’t scimp. On the kitchen side is a sink and work surface, and the toilet, basin and shower cubicle is next door. The shower curtain does look a bit shabby compared to the rest of the finishes, but you can’t complain about the space. All the stands have a patch of ground but the campsite is mostly covered with grass and has ample shade. The stands also have their own built-in braai and you can see that Bonamanzi cleans these stands daily. The grids are stainless steel and spotless.
SET THE STANDARD. Bahati sets a good example with their neat and well-equipped bathrooms. Some of the facilities are shared and some stands have their own.
EVERYTHING SHINES! Judging from everything at Bonamanzi’s – from the fancy office to the spotless braai grids – you’ll be camping like a king. Most stands have shade with grass and the bathrooms are close.
LOOK AND LISTEN. The private bathrooms are simple yet stylish, and you couldn’t ask for more room. Even though Bonamanzi has four of the Big Five, there’s even more to this place because you learn so much about nature when you go on a game drive.