Looking for the Big Five in South Africa

Big Five in South Africa.jpg

Landing in South Africa

We left Madagascar behind and finally reached South Africa on our amazing cruise adventure. Our first big game adventure had been in Kenya, Africa. On this day trip in Richards Bay looked for the Big Five in South Africa. We saw Cape buffalo and African elephants on our first stop. The tour description suggested we would add African lions and rhinos to our game list. We really wanted to see African leopards but we did not hold out much hope!

We got our first taste of animal excitement for the day while we were having lunch on the ship. People were at the windows pointing. We were entertained as the dolphins played in the harbour.

Landing in Richards Bay - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

Dolphins in Richards Bay - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

South African Countryside Drive

It was a 90 minute trip through the South African countryside to get to the Hluhluwe Game Reserve. Along the way our bus guide provided a running commentary. We learned much about the lumber industry harvesting eucalyptus trees.

Eucalyptus Trees - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

Eucalyptus Trees - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

We passed an ostrich farm along the way. This would tempt David to try ostrich carpaccio when we visited Durban the next day.

Ostrich Farm - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

The tour guide talked a lot about the long drought that South Africa was experiencing. The trees and fields we passed were very green and it was hard to believe that this was drought conditions. We saw real drought in the deserts of Israel and then again in Egypt. There was much more evidence of the drought in the dried up waterholes in the game park.

Drought River - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

Along the way we saw many small villages and Zulu daily life. The traditional domed buildings, both original and modern, dotted the landscape.

Traditional Zulu Domed Buildings - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

Traditional Zulu Domed Buildings - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

Arriving At The Game Park

The tour left the ship for an afternoon game drive. We hoped that the day would cool down enough to bring the animals out! When the bus arrived at the Hluhluwe Game Reserve, we transferred to small 4×4 safari vehicles and set off into the park.

Hluhluwe Game Reserve - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

There was no congo line of vehicles. It seemed that each guide was out on their own searching for the Big Five in South Africa! But when someone spotted something, the radio crackled as the sighting was passed on.

Hluhluwe Game Reserve - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

Looking for the Big Five in South Africa

We drove around the game park over bumpy roads for about 2.5 hours. We needed to be very lucky to see the Big Five in South Africa at this park!

This game park was renowned for its success at building up the White Rhino population. While they were called “white”, they really were just a lighter colour than the Black Rhinos. These were not the albinos I had expected. Several times we saw them out in the field.

White Rhinos - Hluhluwe Game Reserve - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

White Rhinos - Hluhluwe Game Reserve - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

One time the driver stopped the jeep and pointed. We did not immediately see what had caught his attention. But off in the distance he saw the rhinos playing in the mud.

White Rhinos - Hluhluwe Game Reserve - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

Once we waited at a known road crossing point. When the White Rhinos came across the road close by our vehicles, we got so excited. They milled about, unconcerned about the increasing number of visitors that converged on the area.

White Rhinos - Hluhluwe Game Reserve - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

White Rhinos - Hluhluwe Game Reserve - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

White Rhinos - Hluhluwe Game Reserve - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

White Rhinos - Hluhluwe Game Reserve - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

We saw a few elephants far out in the field. We never did see them close up as we had on our game drive in Kenya. Only with a great zoom lens could you get a much better view!

African Elephants - Hluhluwe Game Reserve - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

African Elephants - Hluhluwe Game Reserve - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

Our Determination Paid Off

At one point, we got excited when we saw a number of vehicles stopped on the road. People peered intently far out into the field at a copse of trees. Someone saw lions! We waited for a bit but the lions had settled in under the shade.

Not to be deterred, our guide headed back to the same spot as we finished up our tour. We wanted to add a lion to the list of sightings of the Big Five in South Africa. This time we got lucky! We saw two lionesses wander out of the trees to the water hole. Even at a distance it was exciting.

African Lions - Hluhluwe Game Reserve - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

But then the lionesses started to head our way. When they crossed right behind us, we held our breath and were quiet. It was an amazing sight!

African Lions - Hluhluwe Game Reserve - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

African Lions - Hluhluwe Game Reserve - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

African Lions - Hluhluwe Game Reserve - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

One group actually saw a male lion close up. We did not see any. That thrill would come later when we visited the game park outside of Cape Town.

Other Sightings in the Park

The early sighting of Cape Buffalo were out in the distant fields and of little interest. Most of us had seen Cape Buffalo up close when we visited the game park in Kenya. When there were a few a little closer, we wondered who was watching who?

Cape Buffalo - Hluhluwe Game Reserve - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

Cape Buffalo - Hluhluwe Game Reserve - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

Our group got excited by a group of Impalas out in the field but our guide was intent on only chasing down the Big Five in South Africa. Our guide did stop when he spotted zebras out under the trees in the distance. Only those who had good zoom lenses really saw much more than a blur in the distance. David managed to capture close up pictures of zebra butt!

Zebras - Hluhluwe Game Reserve - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

We were disappointed to not see the zebras up close. But when we visited the game reserve outside of Cape Town, we would be stopped in the midst of a whole herd of zebras!

Our guide got more agitated as we yelled at him to stop for something. We were already over the allotted time. He finally hit the gas and followed the others back for the gate. Our time was up on this trip to find the Big Five in South Africa!

Hluhluwe Game Reserve - Big Five in South Africa.jpg

Seeing Animals In the Wild

Our second game excursion looking for the Big Five in South Africa was a success. We had now seen 4 of the 5. All were in close encounters as they walked close to us. We had one more chance on our final game drive from Cape Town.

The safari day trips from a cruise ship were not a perfect way to see big game. The time in the park was short and often not at the best time of day. But they were a great way to whet your appetite for a longer safari adventure! It would be great to see the animals at sunrise and sunset. And to see much larger roaming herds.

After all this excitement we had a quiet day planned for our next stop. We would enjoy the beach in Durban!

Have you go looking for the Big Five in South Africa? Did you see all five? What was your favourite game park experience?

About TravelAtWill 324 Articles
Travel blogger and photographer! Scuba diving, luxury cruising, chocoholic, sea and sunshine addicts, camera attached and just generally curious! Join us on our adventures!

2 Comments

    • Marilyn, I hope you consider a game trip when you are in South Africa. Both the one we went to in Richard’s Bay and outside of Cape Town provided us with lots to animal sightings. We were very lucky to get to see many up close. I hope you have a great trip to South Africa. Look forward to hearing all about it. Linda

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