The Limpopo river flowing past the campsite

On my birthday, Marcel and I headed out to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve, about 40-min drive from Leopard Walk Lodge where we were staying.

We arrived nice and early as the gates opened, and after signing in, we were rewarded with a lovely sighting of warthogs right at the gates. What a fab start to the game drive! The sun was shining and the wildlife obliging.

The office manager had shown us various routes we could take, so with map-in-hand, we headed out, eagerly taking in the helpful spotting tips and great overview of the animals we might catch a glimpse of.

The first things that impressed us were the hills and rolling valleys. We’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Kruger National Park, which is much larger than Hluhluwe and much flatter. Sure, there are mountainous/hilly areas in Kruger too, but they’re spread out, far and wide and not immediately accessible.

The second biggest delight was finding a snake warming itself on the road in the early morning sun. We’ve been visiting wildlife reserves for many, many years and the only snakes we’ve seen were the unfortunate ones crushed under speeding wheels. And then, that our video camera was readily available to capture the sighting … priceless.

We headed up towards Hilltop Camp and enjoyed a leisurely brunch with a breathtaking view. Forget about shopping and other typical “girly things”, what more could this girl want for her birthday?

A picnic spot gave us a fab sighting of a baby zebra snoozing on the lawn. Its mother contentedly nibbled green grass before it turned brown in the harsh noon sun.

There were a couple of Dutch tourists in an open game-drive vehicle. Their wooden clogs gave them away, as well as that aura of confidence that one could misconstrue for arrogance.

During spotting, you need to regularly check in front, left to right and of course, in your rear-view mirrors. Fortunately, we were driving real slow when we spotted this pachyderm silently padding its way across the road.

I was able to film the Ellie in the side mirror and then turned the camera around to see it disappearing into the bushes. It’s incredible how such a large beast can be so silent and vanish into thin air. Awesome.

Game-driving at lunchtime is really quite stupid. The mercury got hotter and hotter as the day wore on. Most animals are sensibly lazing in the shade under some bush, which during summer makes it almost impossible to spot anything other than a thick maze of branches, twigs and leaves.

The ideal time is early morning and late afternoon. Then the animals come out again to forage.

Actually, the best time for game viewing is during winter. Not only do animals congregate around the watering holes, because with the summer rainfalls it’s normally dry in winter, but the bush is much thinner and the grass much shorter, so you have more chance of spotting wild animals.

Also if you look for the “small things” (what people regard as less important) like insects, birds, trees it will make your game drive far more interesting.

The best sightings are normally when an animal crosses the road in front of you, but the most rewarding sightings are the ones that you’ve spotted yourself. A glimpse of an ear, a sudden movement, listening to the alarm calls of birds, baboons and impalas.

Heightening your instinct to see if you can spot a predator nearby … We ended our game drive with a visit to the Centenary Centre, which commemorates more than 100 years of rhino conservation.

They offer handcrafted beadwork, weaving, hand-carved statues and much more. Compared to the North of Kruger (Punda Maria being the cheapest for curios in our experience) Hluhluwe’s prices were expensive.

We supported them anyway, knowing that this region suffers from a huge unemployment problem, and came home with a gorgeous mask and a couple of wooden bracelets.

Although it was incredibly hot and we didn’t “see much” regarding wildlife, it’s just so amazing being in a wildlife reserve. With nature doing its thing as it was intended and wild animals roaming around free, surviving in a very harsh, unsafe environment.

Have you been to the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve? What was your experience like?