In northern Zululand, uMkhuze Game Reserve’s ongoing war against poaching has been long and hard, but against all odds it has found new life
Words and Pictures Anita de Villiers
Here is just a taste of this wild and magical place, along with a gallery of some of Anita’s best snaps of uMkhuze…
This is the language of trees,” said our game ranger, pointing to a giant sycamore fig that had grown branches and roots to support its vertically challenged Natal mahogany neighbour. “They talk to each other, they help each other.” Poetic words at the start of an early morning walk in uMkhuze Game Reserve’s Fig Forest.
uMkhuze Game Reserve is part of KwaZulu-Natal’s iSimangaliso Wetland Park (previously known as the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park), which was listed in 1999 as South Africa’s first World Heritage Site. This came after President Mandela and his Cabinet’s visionary decision in 1996 to ban mining in the area in favour of conservation and eco-tourism. In the ensuing years, iSimangaliso joined Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife in managing the uMkhuze and ten other destinations that welcome visitors to this magnificent region.
Proclaimed a game reserve in 1912, uMkhuze (also spelled Mkhuze or Mkuze) was named after the river that runs along its northern border. It’s the Zulu name for the lavender tree (Heteropyxis natalensis), which is one of the many tree species in this arresting landscape, and releases a lavender aroma when the leaves are crushed.
It was with some trepidation that we turned onto the gravel road, heading eastwards from the N2 through the foothills of the Lebombo Mountains. In the past, uMkhuze had been labelled the embattled game reserve in Zululand, with a history of poaching and other problems. Reports from friends and colleagues who had visited the park in recent years also painted a picture of neglect and poor service.