Thursday April 23, 2015 (Africa, Swaziland)
We’re lucky we chose the early breakfast!
I had assumed that we’d have no trouble getting into Mkhaya this morning. It’s a game reserve like any other, right? Wrong. Turns out it’s a private game reserve. You can’t just drive up to it and pay to get in and boot around. At 8am in the morning when we were about to have breakfast, I became privy to this information courtesy of Dave. He’d just been checking out the park online and came across this critical nugget.
So now it’s 8am and we realize there are only two times available to enter Mkhaya – 10am and 4pm. But we have to be in Kruger the next day, and the 4pm option makes you stay overnight, so that one’s out. I hastily get a phone call out to Mkhaya to check on availability (fingers crossed!). And success! They have room for four people. But we have to be at the park in under two hours, and Google is estimating it’s going to take us 1.5 hours to get there. And we haven’t eaten breakfast or packed our bags up. Eep. Sandra and I skip breakfast and opt for the “buffet table muffin steal” approach. We got the team ready in record time and we were on our way!
The meeting point for the park was… interesting. There was a faded sign and we stood behind a store where people appeared to be fixing up cars. This is where Sandra is pictured. Not exactly the luxurious Jurassic Park entrance I was envisioning! However, we met our guide right on time and he let us follow him to the main reception area of the park.
Upon arrival, we were given some juice and I took a picture of a whole whack of rhino skulls they had collected. I neglected to ask why these were all there, but they certainly weren’t poached in this park. I recall the guide saying they’d only lost one rhino in 23 years? I could have mangled this fact, but suffice it to say that poaching is not nearly as rampant in this part of Swaziland as it is in South Africa. This means we have good chances for rhino spotting!
About 2 minutes into the drive we spotted a tsessebe. They’re the second-fastest land mammal after the cheetah! They look fairly innocent, and we didn’t see them run, but I trusted the guide.
Another 2 minutes in, and we encounter two rhinos wandering not 50m from our vehicle! Success! What an amazing feeling it was to see them in the wild, and now the rest of the day trip was just gravy – we’d met our goals!
The park turned out to be a complete rhino party. It felt like we couldn’t turn a corner without encountering pairs of them, solitary males, and some walking right up to our vehicle to have a sniff.
We learned that rhinos use their feces as some kind of communication centre. They poop at several waypoints along their territory, and then revisit those poop spots. They sniff around to see which other rhinos have been there. Perhaps this is the new Skype.
We also watched a hilarious display as our driver gave us a rundown of male rhino behaviour in what appeared to be a clairvoyant manner.
- Rhino is stomping “You see, the solitary male rhino stomps as he’s preparing to defecate”
- Rhino poops “After the male rhino defecates, he will often kick his own feces around to spread his scent”
- Rhino starts kicking his own feces
This guy knew his rhinos.
We got right up close to giraffes, caught some hippos in a lagoon, a crocodile, and a monitor lizard. But mostly we just saw more rhinos than I could’ve imagined! All white rhinos, too – black rhinos are much more rare.
A highlight for me was the aardvark hole, which is pictured under that big green tree. Apparently they have night holes and day holes. We didn’t get to spot an aardvark (they’re nocturnal), but we got to see his little aardvark home.
We stopped for lunch and were accosted by hordes of guinea fowl. They have amazing dot patterns on them in stark black and white. And they seem to think you’ll feed them. But I wasn’t giving away any of the ultra-cold beer I had at lunch. Man, did that go down well.
The afternoon consisted of a game drive back to reception. The sun was now hidden behind clouds, and did it ever make a difference. No rhino spottings at all on the way home! So this is your lesson: look for rhinos when it’s sunny and they want to lay around in mud puddles.
Back at the main camp there were rangers servicing their weapons. That one rhino that was lost in the park happened about a year ago. The same poachers came back to try again, but the rangers caught them. A shootout ensued and one of the poachers was killed. It’s serious business. The weapon shown is a South African R5, in case you were wondering.
Our initial plan was to head out of Swazi and back to South Africa for the night on the border of Mozambique in a town called Komatipoort. But we were feeling quite tired upon return from the game drive so we headed instead back to our place in Swazi for the night. And on the way back we picked up some gas at Hhelehhele. Try to pronounce it. You’re wrong.
To Kruger tomorrow!