Durban - What was Steve Bwenzi, our Bonamanzi Game Reserve guide, telling us?
It didn’t matter. Whatever he said, we were all ears. I’d heard a lot of it before, but not told as well as by Bwenzi - among the most engaging and enthusiastic of the hundred-odd guides I’ve encountered.
The four-thousand hectare Bonamanzi Game Reserve lies just outside Hluhluwe. I’d stayed in a self-catering tree house there decades before, but a lot has changed.
The tree houses now have aircon and en-suite bedrooms and there are a lot more widely spaced self-catering accommodation options. There is Tree Lodge consisting of three two-sleeper tree houses joined together by a boardwalk. The Game Lodge has five double en-suite bedrooms and its own swimming pool, often shared with game. Both have satellite TV.
The many campsites dotted about the sand forest are great, two being private. Even at the communal sites you have private ablutions with your own set of keys. Nice. Especially if you have goodies the monkeys may fancy.
Lalapanzi Camp is the hub, with the reception, impressive conferencing venue, restaurant, playground, pool and the Amanzi Spa. There are family combo units and we were in the luxury suites - definitely more four than their three star rating in my opinion - with all the mod cons including a fridge, a view from the stoep down a slight slope to the watering hole and the elevated viewing lounge/dining/chilling area.
And chilled it is, specially the animals. Impala and nyala are regular day and night visitors, skittish warthog families too. It’s easy to sit and dwaal away the hours under dappled shade from trees on the fringe of the sand forest, but I was itching to see the reserve and Dinizulu Camp, where I wish I could have stayed.
A wedding put paid to that. The newlyweds and friends so loved Dinizulu that they begged to stay on instead of heading to their honeymoon destination. How could manager Judy Veldman say no?
Dinizulu Camp provides private luxury for six people in three separate thatched units. The living area has a spacious lounge and dining area with a bar, modern kitchen and entertainment deck and braai area. The veranda overlooks the Dinizulu dam where fish eagles cry and circle - a great view anytime, but especially as the sun sets over the bush.
That bush is unusually accessible. You get a map at reception and are allowed to wander off on your own, with a cautionary comment about a grumpy elephant, within a designated 85 hectares.
The elephant quip should not be taken lightly - and there are also leopards, white rhinos, buffalo - everything but lions - to be mindful of. There has even been a croc in the pool, so hambe kahle is the rule of thumb.
Best, in my opinion, is to arrange a birding tour (there are over 408 recorded species, with 29 on the red data list), boat cruise on the Hluhluwe River or guided walk.
Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park is just over 20km away, Emdoneni Lodge Cheetah and Serval Project and several other attractions very close by, but on foot in the bush is way better. If you’re a scaredy cat, so are the animals, mainly. You can get closer in a game vehicle, but it doesn’t feel the same.
Our group - from South Africa, Australia and the UK - quickly discovered many delights beside game and birds - ant lions, ant colonies, trees and other flora and their uses in Zulu culture. So much so that it was all our guide could do to drag us back through the forest to camp before night closed in.
In the gloom, the sparkling eyes and flashing teeth of strangers, now bonded by a shared experience in nature and going separate, happy ways, was, for me, the icing on the Bonamanzi cake.
Call 035 562 0181 or visit www.bonamanzi.co.za.