Enter a world that in some ways is remarkably untouched by modernity, where the bush still lives and echoes through the calls of the animals. Through both the city and rural areas, South Africa's beauty and spirit can be found all around the rainbow nation. It can be found in the people, whose vibrancy and joy reverberates all around through song, dance and bright colours, accentuated by smiles. It can be found in the sunsets. Golden and pink, hugging the nation protectively, and it can be found in the animals and the game reserves that so many people go to Africa to see. One of these majestic game reserves is Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve, situated in the heartland of KwaZulu Natal, near Howick. Here, as in the Kruger National Park and Timbavati Reserve, you can escape the strangled smog of the cities and immerse yourself in nature.
Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve is home to a variety of birds, and antelope, such as the bontebok, and also giraffe and zebra. A useful source when making your way around Umgeni or any other game park would be a field guide to antelope, birds and other animals of Southern Africa, of which there are a variety to be found at the game reserve shops and pay centres. They help you identify markings, scat and tracks of various animals so you can try your own hand at tracking a lion, impala or elephant that can be found at the many game reserves around South Africa. The sounds of Africa can be heard even in the remotest of places: the animals, the majestic singing. All combine to create a unique experience for each visit and visitor.
The day I went to Umgeni a couple of years ago, it was rather warm so not many animals were out – the best time of year to go to any game reserve is probably winter, and usually in the morning and evenings rather than the middle of the day. The few zebra and bontebok we were able to see were absolutely amazing. One zebra was so close to the side of the road without any fear – as there were no fences in that area: it was so close it felt as though one could almost reach out and touch them. Even as the car approached the zebra, it showed no signs of being disturbed or distressed by our presence, which was amazing. It was so calm, just nibbling on the grass beside the red dirt road. More zebra beside the little hut which served as a shop stood, not far from the car park.
Even so, it was a lovely experience. There are no fences between the dirt road and the majority of the valley and reserve, so animals such as zebra come right up to the edge of the reserve to eat, ignorant of cars and people. It was one of the wonders of Africa, a continent that never ceases to surprise.