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.

Go! Camp & Drive - - Contents - Text and pho­tos Leon Botha

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.

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