If you’re not a photographer, it’s still a privilege just to watch animal interactions and behaviour up close, or for birding – we saw numerous birds, including eight gorgeous purple-crested turacos, come to drink. Unluckily, both the kuMahlala and kwaMalibala hides were dried-out mud wallows when we visited in winter.
But further southeast, the Nsumo pan was stunningly beautiful, ringed by yellowy-green fever trees and playing host to hippos, pelicans, jacanas, openbill storks and many other water birds. Although the two bird hides on the pan were closed for rebuilding, we could get so close to the water in our car that it didn’t seem to matter.
At reception we saw the plans for the new bird hides – and the kuBube game hide further northwest, which was also closed – and they look amazing. Work started in August and is expected to be complete by November/December, so by next year this park will definitely be worth visiting, even by those it has disappointed in the last year or two.
Take a walk with a guide through the Sycamore fig forest at either 6am or 2pm and you’ll love the overgrown shady forest, where you have a chance to spot some of Mkhuze’s 400-odd bird species. Or drive along the 100km of road network in search of rhino, elephant, eland and other antelope. Guided night drives are also on offer.
Although the camping area at the eMshopi entrance gate can be pretty after some rain, the ablutions are shabby and grubby, so I’d recommend staying at Mantuma camp until some refurbishment is done here. You also need to know that although the campsite is near the entrance gate, the 18km of gravel to the park is so corrugated that it’s not suitable for a road caravan. Bring a 4x4 jobbie or a tent if you must camp.
Mantuma camp reminds me of what Kruger National Park’s camps used to be like 30 years ago when I was just a laaitjie. It’s unpretentious, peaceful and laid back. Choose from two-bed rondavels that share ablutions and kitchens, larger ‘cottages’ that have both, or safari tents – which could get a little hairy given that the camp is unfenced and we saw not only monkeys, impala and nyala in the camp, but an elephant passing through as well.
I was impressed with the general sense of trying hard; I reported a zebra with a snare around its neck and the receptionist immediately phoned the section ranger who asked me to fill in a form giving details of where and when, how deep the snare was, and other relevant information. Although poaching is obviously one of the ‘challenges’ this park is facing, at least this made me feel that they weren't ignoring it.
Take my advice: don’t listen to outdated comments about Mkhuze, but visit it in 2012 and make up your own mind.
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