It has almost become the norm that we will do a long trip during the December/January holiday season. Due to personal circumstances we were unable to plan and do a long trip this year.
As December was creeping nearer the crave for a trip just become more and more. At the end we decided on a shorter trip to Northern Natal visiting the Ndumo Game Reserve, Tembe Elephant Part and Kosi Mouth. The last time that we were in this area was during April 2007.
Pieter’s niece, Elize, were constantly asking over the last 3 years to do a trip with us, so we decided to invite her and her husband Tienie to join us on this trip. Our leave worked out in such a way that we could leave for Ndumo before them and they would join a few days later and staying for a few more days when we return home.
Day 1 (Tuesday – 24 December 2019)
We normally don’t drive long distances while on a trip. 350 to 450 kilometers or a 5-hour drive would be the maximum that we would do in one day. On previous trips to this area we stayed over in Pongola. Because we had to be back in Pretoria on 1 January 2020, we decided to stretch it this time and drive all the way to Ndumo in one day as to maximize the time we have available in KZN.
We left home just after 04h00 heading towards Ndumo Game Reserve. A total distance of 587km which took us almost 9 hours. We were delayed in Jozini for almost 45 minutes due to people in the street and traffic congestion on the last shopping day before Christmas.
As you turn off from the N2 onto the P447 you drive over a very steep mountain pass leading to Jozini. From the pas you have the most stunning views of the Pongolapoort dam, also known as the Jozini dam on your left. As you leave Jozini, you turn left from the P447 onto the P522 which runs over the dam wall of the Pongolapoort Dam. From the parking space on the dam wall we took some pictures of the dam which indicates the water level against the rockface to the right as well as water flowing through the open sluices into the Pongola river from where it is used further downstream for irrigation.
The road from where you turn off from the P522 (the road that link Jozini with Manguzi and going all the way up to the Kosi Bay/Ponta Do Oura Border Post) which was previously (2007) a terrible gravel road, is now tarred right up to the entrance gate of the Ndumo Game Reserve.
We arrived at Ndumo just after 13:00.
The temparature on arrival at Ndumo was 42°C. We pitch camp very slowly and spend the rest of the day in the shade of the big tree under which we were camping.
There were only one other camper in the campsite.
The campsite is as we remember it from way back in 2007. The only change is the new ablution block that was build at the entrance to the campsite. Previously you had to use the ablutions at the Reception Office which was quite a distance to walk.
One problem with the new ablution block though. It has no doors. The result is that the monkeys play in the ablution block during the early morning hours and also late afternoons. You can just imagine the mess that they create, and the smell.
Day 2 (Wednesday – 25 December 2019)
We spend the Christmas day sleeping late, be relaxed in camp, taking an afternoon nap and preparing something to eat late afternoon. It was just too hot to do anything else.
Day 3 (Thursday – 26 December 2019)
Another relaxing day in camp while waiting for Elize and Tienie to arrive from Bethlehem.
After their arrival we allow them time to pith camp and then we sat down to discuss the activities for the next few days. We decided to do a trip through Ndumo the next day.
We spend the rest of the day in camp to allow Tienie and Elize to rest after their long trip (780km) from Bethlehem.
Day 4 (Friday – 27 December 2019)
After a late wakeup we had some breakfast and then Pieter and Tienie went to Reception to ask the manager (Chris) it he could assist for permits to visit Kosi Mouth, which he agreed to do. Once the date of the visit to Kosi Mouth we could plan the rest of our days.
We then went for our drive through the Ndumo Game Reserve. Our first stop was the viewing tower close to the entrance gate. From here you have a good view of the reserve and the pans. From there we drove to Red Cliffs via the Mtikini 4×4 track.
The toilet at Red Cliffs has no door and is generally know as the “toilet with a view” as you have a beautiful view over Mozambique and the Usuthu river which forms the border between South Africa and Mozambique. Red Cliffs is the place where the Usuthu river has carved its way through a dune of red sand on its way to the sea.
After spending a couple of minutes at Red Cliffs we slowly work our way back to camp via the Mgagabuleni and Mjanshi routes.
The roads in Ndumo is in a terrible state. During previous visits the roads was in a good condition and accessible with 4×2 vehicles. Now you need a 4×4 for most of the roads.
The closure of the Diphini Hide on the banks of the Diphini river was a big disappointment. It has been closed now for so long that the path leading to the hide has been totally overgrown.
Only the Ezulweni hide at the Nyamithi pan is still accessible. The Hotwe hide a short distance further at Nyamithi is also no longer accessible due to the collapse of the bridge over the water causeway.
We arrive back at camp just after the Reception has closed. Lucky for us we met Chris on his way out about 2 kilometers before the camp gate. He informed us that our permits for Kosi Mouth would be ready for the next day and can be collected from the Kosi Bay Office of the Parks Board. He confirmed that he will arrange with the gate to let us out early morning.
Back at camp we finalized our planning for the next couple of days which includes a visit to Kosi Mouth, Tembe Elephant Park and a sunset drive in Ndumo.
Day 5 (Saturday – 28 December 2019)
We left camp early morning for our visit to Kosi Mouth. The KZN Parks Board Office at Kosi Bay where we had to collect our permits is 91km’s from Ndumo. From here it is another 16.5Km’s to the parking area at Kosi Mouth.
The road from Ndumo to the border with Mozambique (the R22) is a good tar road. 6Km from Manguzi you turn off to the right on a partly gravel partly sandy road that leads you to the Parks Board Office at Kosi Bay where you pay and pick up your permits to visit Kosi Mouth. You are not allowed to enter the Mouth area without a permit. From the Parks Board Office it is another 17km to the parking area at the mouth on a very sandy track through the dunes, alternatively you can take the longer route which is back to the tar road and then onwards towards the border post with Mozambique. 800meters before the border post you turn right on a gravel road which lead you to the entrance gate for Kosi Mouth. From here it is a deep sand track through the dunes to the parking area.
We opted for the sand track from Kosi Bay for the experience of doing that. On our return we used the gravel road option.
The lake system at Kosi Mouth consist of several lakes of which Kosi Lake, now known as lake KuNhlange is the largest. Kosi Lake if fed by the Swamanzi river and from Lake Amanzamnyama which is turn is fed by the Malangeni river. From Kosi Lake the waters flow to Lake KuMpungwini, then Lake Makuawulanie, and Lake Utshwayela where it reaches the sea. As you reach the shores of lake Utshwayela, the last lake in the system before it reaches the sea, you drive over a small wooden bridge over a small stream. Lake Utshwayela is also where you will find the famous fish traps which are believed to be one of the oldest forms of conservation in Africa.
The parking area at Kosi Mouth was packed with vehicles. They allowed more vehicles to enter than what the parking space can handle. The result is that you might find yourself parked in and will only be able to get out when the cars that arrived later than you left.
That was not an option for us as we had to leave at a certain time to be back at Ndumo before the gates close. We opted for finding a quiet space next to the lake on the way out where we could stop and prepare dinner after which we slowly started our journey back.
On our way out we stopped at a viewpoint on top of one of the dunes offering a beautiful view of the lakes and the fish traps.
Day 6 (Sunday – 29 December 2019)
The day was spent in camp until 04H00 the afternoon when we went for a game drive through the reserve and visiting Nyamithi and Banzi pans.
However, the poor state of maintenance of the roads and infrastructure has limited the options of places to visit. Several places that we visited on game drives on previous occasions was now not accessible. Our guide was Bongani who are the guide at Ndumo now for 27 years. The best guide we have ever been with on a game drive. He is in no hurry to get back to camp and know the bird and wildlife very well. His imitations of bird sounds are astonishing.
The cost of a game drive is R 270.00 per person.
Day 7 (Monday – 30 December 2019)
We were up and busy preparing for our visit to Tembe Elephant Park early morning. We want to get to some of the hides in Tembe at least before the heat of the day.
Our first stop in Tembe was the hide at Zimambeni Pan. That is the pan where the Tembe Web Cam is situated.
The visit to Zimambeni was very rewarding with several elephants, a few Njyala’s and blue Wildebeest.
Further into Tembe we found another herd of elephant at the Ponweni hide. While watching them we prepared dinner and them slowly start our return towards the gate.
Our arrival at the gate spells the end of another very rewarding visit to the Tembe Elephant Park.
The cost for entering Tembe as a day visitor is R 50.00 per person and R 110.00 per vehicle.
Day 8 (Tuesday – 31 December 2019)
We spend a lazy day in camp sleeping till late, sitting and chat in the shade of a tree and taking an afternoon nap. Late afternoon we started to break camp and pack away what we won’t need for the night in order to be ready to depart for home early morning.
Day 9 (Wednesday – 1 January 2020)
We were up early to pack the last few items before leaving for home. Tienie and Elize would stay at Ndumo for a few more days before heading back to their hometown, Bethlehem.
We great each other and drive off at 6H00 as planned. After an uneventful trip we arrive back home in Pretoria at 14H00.
Positives from our trip
We really enjoy visiting known territory again. Everything looks and works like it was at the time of our previous visit 10 years ago.
Negatives from our trip
Control over the number of vehicles allowed in at Kosi Mouth is not working. There are just too many vehicles for the available space at the parking site.
You either pay the locals a ridiculous fee for looking after your vehicle or worry the whole day that everything would be intact on your return.
The neglect in maintenance at Ndumo over the last few years is clearly visible. Three of the hides has been closed as a result of no maintenance. That leaves you with only one hide that could still be visited, which negatively impact on your experience of Ndumo.
The new ablution block at the camping site is a welcome addition. However, with no doors to keep the monkeys out makes it impossible for the staff to keep it clean.
Will we visit Ndumo Again
No, or at least not soon.