Today it’s time to set course for Ndumo Game Reserve. Watch out for cows and goats wandering onto the P522. Day visitors pay R60 per adult; half-price for children; free if you stay over in the park. Ndumo has buffalo and rhino, but you’re not here for the big guys; you’re here to see birds and there are an astonishing 430 species on record.
Joseph Gumede has worked as a guide at Ndumo for 24 years, and he says the park’s location is the reason why the birds (and the birdwatchers) flock here. The combination of sand forest, floodplains and pans is the perfect convergence point for perennial streams of birdsong. When you arrive, head to reception and book a guided walk with Joseph for the following morning (R150 per person, including the services of an armed ranger). If you’re in a two-wheel-drive vehicle, take the Balemhlanga route along the park boundary. But if you’re in a 4×4, then pack some boerewors and charcoal and drive to the Red Cliffs viewpoint overlooking the Usutu River separating South Africa from Mozambique. There are braai facilities, picnic tables and a loo with a top-notch view.
On your way back, stop at the viewing tower at the entrance gate for a panoramic view of the Lebombo Mountains in Swaziland and the plains of Mozambique. Another 5 km further, back towards the campsite, turn left to the Ezulweni Bird Hide, fine-tune your binoculars and start working your way through your Roberts guide.
At 6 am the following day, Joseph will drive you to the banks of the Phongolo River and you’ll wander through forests of fever trees that flutter with turacos, flycatchers, shrikes and woodpeckers. During our walk Joseph saw a rare Pel’s fishing-owl, but I did not. Which begs the question: If a Pel’s fishing-owl is spotted in a forest and no one is around to point out that it was your guide who saw it and not you, can you add it to your list? Unfortunately, I think the answer is no.
NDUMO REST CAMP – Ndumo’s main camp is basic but comfortable, shaded by lots of trees. There are self-catering, twin-sleeper chalets and a campsite with electricity. The chalets and campsite share ablution facilities and a pool. You can buy basic supplies at the reception shop. Drinking water costs R11 for 1,5 l or bring your own.