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THE passenger in the car at the T-junction indicated we should stop. "There is a herd of elephants down by the river,” she said excitedly, indicating the road behind her.

We had become used to this form of bush telegraph during our day at the Hluhluwe Reserve in KwaZulu Natal – it had led us to a pair of young lions within minutes of our arrival. So we headed in the direction shown.

Within seconds, around a blind bend, driver Cyril brought our van expertly to a noiseless but hasty halt. And there,  some 20 metres ahead of us, a dozen or so elephants were blocking our path. Awe and wonderment mingled with slight apprehension: 50 metres was the closest you should approach, we had been advised, even less if, as in this case, a young elephant was present. Two bull elephants stared us down. Then, presumably content we offered no threat, the herd continued its march. Trees crashed to the ground within a few metres of my door as they cut a swathe through the bush.

This was why we had travelled thousands of miles here.We may have been no closer to these creatures than you can get at some zoos at home, but here we were in the animals' domain on their terms. And that's quite a different feeling.

It was the defining moment of a six-hour adventure which had begun with the viewing of the lions.

One teased us for a few moments by languidly heading in the direction of a warthog only to abandon the chase, his belly full from a night spent hunting.Was it wrong to be disappointed that we did not witness a kill, nature at its rawest? But the disappointment was minor as, one after another, we spotted zebra, more elephants, rhinos, impala, nyala, wildebeest, bushbucks, bushpigs, buffaloes, baboons, vervet monkeys, heron.

Even a couple of dung beetles kept us amused by working in tandem to roll a mound of dung along the road, like an insect It's A Knockout.

Only the leopard of the so-called Big Five avoided our scrutiny, reason enough, as if any were needed, for a return to be scheduled in the future.

And as if to bookend our close viewing of the elephant herd, one of our final sightings before leaving the reserve was of a solitary elephant. It was some quarter of a mile away on the plain, looking for all the world like a young schoolboy making his way home, scrumping the occasional tree and wallowing in bushes.

The animals could not know that a few days earlier our group had been the subject of similar scrutiny as we became the first diners in the Oyster Box Hotel's glass-ceilinged Wine Cellar. This colonial style hotel opened in 1947 and it nestles alongside the Indian Ocean on the Umhlanga beachfront. The event at the Wine Cellar was to celebrate the end of a two-year refurbishment which has restored the hotel to its former glory. Each of its 86 rooms is individually furnished and decorated, with paintings, murals and antique furnishings. Original hotel tiles have been put back in place after being stored during the building work.

The hotel is handy for the big kick-off. It is adjacent to the new Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban's World Cup venue. Other tourist attractions close by include the Ushaka Marine World, the Midlands and Drakensberg Mountains, game parks, historical battlefields and several golf courses.

Fairmont Zimbali Lodge, about 25 miles north of the city, was receiving close attention from several nations whose teams will be competing in the World Cup. Their football associations were enquiring about the possibility of renting out the resort section of this five-star part-residential, part-resort location. The championship golf course is designed by former Open champion Tom Weiskopf. It looks just the thing to distract the footballers during their month-long tournament. Set within a landscape of mature indigenous trees and vegetation and wetland areas with natural streams and ponds,Weiskopf has sculpted a course that will test and delight golfers of all levels. Few settings are likely to offer a more relaxed atmosphere during World Cup match preparation than Zimbali Lodge itself which sits within a coastal forest reserve on the north coast of KwaZulu Natal.

The resort has 76 rooms in individual lodges – two lodges of eight rooms each and six lodges of 10 rooms apiece – which are away from the main Lodge and in subtropical gardens.

From the balcony of my room I watched a thunderstorm of intense and savage beauty break over the Indian Ocean. It concluded a day of drama – a visit to the Hluhluwe Reserve – which provided further proof of the natural majesty which South Africa can offer its visitors.

Oyster Box Hotel

Durban,
South Africa

Published: March 27 2010

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