An African safari is a dream for most travelers, a bucket list item almost everyone hopes to do some day. I’ve had safari dreams for as long as I can remember, but I always imagined it would be something I wouldn’t get to do until much later in life.
Lucky for me, the opportunity came much earlier (basically because I have an awesome dad!). The park, Zulu Nyala Safari Park, and even the region of South Africa (near Hluhluwe in KwaZulu-Natal) doesn’t have the largest wealth of information about it on the internet, so I was apprehensive that the animals would be very hard to spot or far away. Thankfully, this was not the case at all.
Our safari was, in a word, incredible! We enjoyed five days of pure safari bliss, and every single day was amazing. Without further ado, here are some of our safari highlights.
One of the coolest things about going on safari is seeing young animals. From baby giraffes running awkwardly to nursing baby zebras and protective rhino mamas, we got to see tons of adorable young animals and loving parents during our five-day safari.
If you look closely you can see that this giraffe (only about two weeks old!) still has its umbilical cord.
This isn’t the most attractive angle of this baby African buffalo, but the cool thing about seeing these huge herds of buffalo was the ability to see the young African buffalo at varying stages, ranging from juveniles to just a few days old. The smaller the horns, the younger the buffalo. My dad also managed to grab some pretty hilarious footage of a buffalo scratching a very special itch in a special way, which is in the compilation video at the end of the post!
We saw a number of mother rhinos with their young (baby rhinos stay with the mother for 2-4 years). The mother rhinos can be very protective, so it’s advisable to keep your distance. Black rhinos don’t tend to be as aggressive as white rhinos, but a mother will consider charging to protect her young, which we almost witnessed at one point! We also had the chance to see a baby rhino nursing at iSimangaliso Wetlands Park (more on that in a later post).
Overall, we most likely only saw black rhinos. We may have spotted some white rhinos on our excursion to Hluhluwe National Park and iSimangaliso Wetlands Park. The easiest way to tell is by the shape of their back, but from afar it’s still tough to tell!
I have to say, one of the things I was most looking forward to was seeing a cheetah. I didn’t have high expectations, but they were MORE than surpassed. Our first full safari day we had our first sighting. There’s a bit of a story to this photo.
This male cheetah was hanging out by this fence (yes, there are fences; they serve the purpose to separate different parks as well as to try to keep poachers out) waiting. There’s a young male in the neighboring park (Phinda) that has been arriving at the fence to challenge him. (Interesting side note: the young male is actually this male’s cheetah’s son, which Zulu Nyala sold to Phinda, but this cheetah likely doesn’t know that.)
Apparently there was even a fight at this fence where one cheetah pulled another through the fence enough to cause him to lose one of his testicles! Oh, the wild!
We never did get to see the challenging young male on the other side, but this cheetah did enjoy cooling off by lazing in the shadow of our truck while he waited.
The next day we spotted the female cheetah! Our guide was a bit sad/worried because she had a cub that no one had seen in a while. (The reason she has a collar on is that they try to keep track of her when she has a cub.) It’s not uncommon for a mother to leave her cub hidden somewhere to keep safe, but it was unusual to go as long as they had without seeing it.
When we saw this female, she looked like she was on the hunt and was annoyed that we kept following her and scaring away prey! She actually did stalk a couple antelope while we were around, but alas we didn’t get lucky enough to see a kill.
However, while we didn’t see a kill, we did get pretty lucky later that day to see a male cheetah right after a kill! When you’re on a multi-day safari, especially in a smaller park like Zulu Nyala, animal sightings are exciting but those special animal sightings — feeding, kills, mating, nursing — are what really make your experience unique. The above shot is one of my favorites from the whole safari, because he’s rolling around enjoying his full belly.
Also, as you’ll note in the background, the cheetah does an expert job of eating its kill, leaving all the organs perfectly in tact. Also, you’ll notice a lake is in the background. Fun note, there were hippos hanging out in there but no one cared because this cheetah sighting was so cool!
Hippos & Fast Food
Hippos are awesome, but they’re also tough because they tend to stay in the water, mostly submerged and not doing much. They’re most active at night, but even if you go on a night drive you won’t be able to get a great view or photos of them because it’s dark. Our sightings at Zulu Nyala weren’t overly exciting. We had better experiences with hippos at iSimangaliso and on our Zambezi river cruise in Zimbabwe.
Our guide called the impalas McDonald’s because they have an “M” on their butt and they’re “fast food.”
The other thing about multi-day safaris is that animals like giraffes and wildebeests and warthogs and zebras quickly become commonplace. After a couple drive, it’s the norm to find yourself saying, “Oh, it’s just another giraffe, let’s keep moving!” Of course, we also often marveled at the fact that we could be saying such things!
Elephants are a curious bunch, and when this one elephant came so close to our truck I had to whip out my iPhone to be able to take a picture so close up! We could have reached out and stroked her trunk. Of course, that is strongly discouraged and could have turned quite ugly! Still, she sniffed us out then backed away slowly, still not sure how she felt about us.
Bonus interesting fact: this female elephant is the oldest at Zulu Nyala and should be the dominant female, but she has a deformed tusk.
My dad had brought a GoPro with him on the trip and managed to get pretty up-close and personal with a lot of animals, especially the warthogs and nyala that wandered the grounds of the Zulu Nyala Game Lodge. (See the video at the end of the post for footage.)
And the zebras at the Heritage Lodge made for some great photos…
You may be thinking there are a couple big-deal animals missing. Where are the lions? The hyenas? Stay tuned for a post on our day trip to Hluhluwe National Park, where we were able to spot those two animals that aren’t on Zulu Nyala’s reserve. By the end of our African adventure, the only animal we didn’t see was the elusive leopard.
Stay tuned for a more in-depth post on Zulu Nyala.
Check out the video compilation below of some of my dad’s GoPro videos for some more up-close-and-personal action. (There’s also a shorter/sped up version with music, but who knows if YouTube might take it down because of the music.)