Umgeni Valley Reserve

Yesterday I told Damian that we would see the animals at Umgeni today so this is what we did. As any mom should realise, I should have made enquiries before promising. We arrived at reception to be asked what car I drive.
“A Renault Scenic,” I said.
“Is it very low?” the receptionist asked.
“Yes it is. Very.” I answered – a little cautiously now.
She then informed me that the route is a 4×4 road only as the roads are very bad. I could sense the disappointment rising – how would I top this outing of the day now for Damian?
“We do manage to take the Tazz up to the cottages at the 8km mark, so if you want to give it a try there is a space you can turn around at about 5km.”
Given my track record with car incidents on this trip so far, and in general, I should probably have decided against it there an then. But not one for giving up without trying, I decided to go ahead. Entry fees are R24 for adults and R12 for children with no charge for babies. I wasn’t charged for Damian. I was given a sheet with all the animals on and told there were a number of hiking routes along the way. I asked if it is safe for me to hike on my own with Damian and assured it was. I looked at the sheet and saw, among the animals listed were leopard and caracal. “Um, leopard?” I asked, to which I was told they hadn’t seen the leopard in some months, and anyway I would be safe in the daytime. I wasn’t so sure. Other animals include zebra, giraffe, monkeys, different types of buck, jakkals and more.

We set off in the direction I was shown and immediately saw how rough the roads were. Soon we saw the first picnic spot, with signposts warning that driving speed is not to exceed 40km/h. I had a good giggle as I snaked along at 6km/h on the rough road. The only animal in sight was a loan Wildebees in the distance, at least that’s what I thought it was. We continued along until what I thought was the 5km turnaround point without seeing a single animal after that. I went a little further where the road got a lot worse and I stopped, contemplating which would be worse – trying to go forward or reversing back up to the turnaround point. I decided to edge forward, and my faithful Renault eased over the bumps onto the smoother road on the other side. Just then a sounder of warthogs dashed across the road and into the longer grass on my side of the road, quickly disappearing.

Relieved that I had decided to continue, we were hopeful of seeing more animals and were rewarded almost immediately with the sighting of zebra along the electric fence which, as we had realised earlier by workmen working on it, was turned off. Some of the zebra had their heads through the fencing, grazing on the other side. Just then something caught my eye and I quickly rolled up our windows – I know the correct collective noun is ‘swarm’ but ‘cloud’ seems more appropriate for the number of bees that zoomed past. Considering that I have been chased by bees twice in the last week, and that I had just completely covered Damian in a cream made from bee pollen and propolis, I was glad we had missed the swarm by seconds.

We managed to pick up speed in some sections, reaching a max of 22km/h and soon came to the 8km point, where I realised it wouldn’t be wise to continue further. I reversed back up onto the pathway and managed to turn around, my faithful little car handling well. At this point we spotted some blesbok (I think). Going back was a little trickier as it was uphill and needed a bit of maneuvering up some parts. “Good driving Deirdré,” I congratulated myself out loud at some points – earning me dirty looks from Damian. We decided our car had earned a name: “Zebra” said Damian.” How about “Nelly?” I asked, “because it is grey and bulky like an elephant.” Damian agreed, and giggled when at one point I felt the bottom scraping on the grass and I said, “Scratching your belly on the ground are you Nelly?”

We passed the zebra again, coming to a standoff with two of them in the road staring at us before moving out of the way. We made it back in one piece without damaging our car. I definitely think that it isn’t a road for a city car like ours, but I don’t think that it requires a 4×4 vehicle – regular bakkies would manage and cars with higher axles.


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