On Safari at Hluhluwe-Umfolozi, Silversea-style
This morning aboard Silversea’s beautiful Silver Wind was notable for two reasons. First, the sun finally made an appearance this morning, having remained hidden since we were in Port Elizabeth last Thursday. But secondly, I finally began to realize that my time here aboard Silver Wind is all-too-quickly drawing to a close, with our Friday morning arrival in Cape Town looming large on the horizon.
Perhaps that’s why I was almost reluctant to leave the comfort of the Silver Wind this morning; I could have easily grabbed a deck chair up by the pool and read one of the two books I brought with me, both of which are languishing on the table in my suite. But, we are in Richards Bay, South Africa – and the opportunity to take in a 9.5 hour game drive safari was too good to pass up.
Departing the pier at 7:50am, our motorcoach whisked us to the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi (hoo-loo-weh Um-foll-osee) Game Reserve, located roughly an hour’s drive north of Richards Bay.
Upon arrival, the ten of us on this Silversea Silver Shore excursion split up into two groups, piling into two open-air Toyota LandCruiser jeeps. Our guide, Jan, had seen a lion earlier on in the morning, and we set out to try to locate her.
Almost immediately, we ran into a group of water buffalo off to one side of the road. Eventually, the leader decided they should cross the road, and the rest of the herd dutifully did what it was told. Jan’s knowledge about these animals was immense; one lone water buffalo was walking apart from the herd. Jan said he was a member of “the old boy’s club” and that he’d been banned from the herd, but stayed close so as not to appear weak. He did admit that eventually, he would be picked off by another predator.
Speaking of predators, the reserve is littered with lethal things, like the beetle that secretes and acid-like resin that will burn your skin, or the green reeds that have a light membrane bobble atop them that will also unleash a toxin. Then, there’s the Golden Orb spiders that can suspend their webs across entire road and are so impenetrable that their webs more closely resemble the materials used in Kevlar vests.
I could wax on about my journey, but I’d rather show you some of today’s breathtaking sights:
Owing to the persistent rain that rolled in over lunch, sightings on our two-hour long game drive this afternoon were less plentiful. The reasoning is clear: animals don’t like being wet, either. But like a true adventurer, Jan was on the hunt for the elephant we’d glimpsed earlier in the morning – and he found him.
As we rounded a corner, there he was: standing in the middle of the road near the crest of a hill five hundred yards ahead of us. That he wasn’t entirely happy to see us was obvious: he was searching for a female elephant because he was in “full mast.” Which means precisely what you think it does.
Jan rolled the jeep forward a bit, and the elephant began to come down the road towards us. Jan backed the jeep down the narrow dirt road slowly and yelled at the elephant to “get out of here” in Afrikaans. The elephant walked forward a bit before veering left into the heavy bushes and trees and disappeared out of sight.
With the elephant lost in the undergrowth, Jan was hesitant to pass. Finally, he caught a glimpse of the elephant, waiting us out. Gunning the engine, the jeep raced up the hill – and the elephant came into view.
Then, he charged the jeep.
Now, when I say “charged”, I mean “charged.” I took two photographs of this: in the span of less than two seconds, the elephant had cleared the bushes entirely and was making for the road. He can run at speeds of up to 30 kilometers an hour, and when something that weighs as much as a Peterbilt comes roaring out of the underbrush, it commands a certain amount of attention. For me, I went from being fascinated to absolutely terrified in the span of about half a second – and I am not embarrassed to say that. But once again, Jan was an absolute pro, speeding us down the hill and out of harm’s way. We stopped for a moment to collect ourselves, but he’d said that as long as the elephant remained at full mast – which can last as long as three months – he would remain dangerous.
Still, I’m amazed at the amount of knowledge Jan had about all of the animals at the Game Reserve, specifically these elephants. At full mast, you can smell them: a scent he accurately described as a cheap plastic tablecloth. And he could track these elephants by scent alone.
With only six of us in the jeep, the day was an amazing, intimate, and breathtaking experience. Words absolutely fail me. I could write a thousand pages, each trying to describe this excursion in a thousand different ways and never come up with anything more substantial than “amazing” and “breathtaking.”
Other Silver Shore Excursions on offer today included an early Sunrise Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Drive; another excursion to the St. Lucia Nature Preserve; a Game Drive and Vula Zulu Cultural Show; a Shakaland Zulu Village excursion that would take guests to the set of Shaka Zulu; and a massive, 10-hour combination game drive and iSimangaliso Wetland cruise tour.
With the weather remaining unpredictable well into the evening hours (I almost got blown away trying to take a dusk shot of the Silver Wind), the scheduled Poolside BBQ was, understandably, cancelled. But on Silversea, cancelled doesn’t mean cancelled: it means replaced with something different and arguably just as special.
In place of the outdoor barbecue, The Restaurant on Deck 4 held a special Chef’s Galley dinner, complete with live music and entertainment. Guests helped themselves to a stunning array of foods, served up right from the galley aboard the Silver Wind. Not only is it a cool idea, it’s also a great replacement for the pool deck barbecue, and really made the evening for guests onboard. Entertainment was moved into the Parisian Lounge, while The Bar hosted a unique disco this evening.
The crew of the Silver Wind makes this look effortless. But I know it wasn’t: a lot of hard work went in to pulling off this evening. Certainly, it would have been easier to simply cancel the barbecue and go back to the regularly-scheduled dinner arrangements, but they took the extra time and effort to ensure this evening would be truly special.
To me, this voyage aboard Silver Wind has been one of the ultimate adventures: a true safari-cruise that lets you be as adventurous as you’d like to during the day, all the while returning to the luxury that Silversea provides onboard. And I cannot even begin to tell you how much that particular arrangement plays to my every sense.
There’s something very magical, very special about this itinerary. The fact that it is on Silversea is the icing on the cake, and I can truthfully say this now, before the voyage has even come to a close: this is the cruise I will forever remember, and the one I will always long to return to. Today wasn’t just a shore excursion; it was an education. A delightful, luxurious education.
Silver Wind, South Africa
|Day 1||Cape Town, South Africa|
|Day 2||Cruising The Indian Ocean|
|Day 3||Addo Elephant Park|
|Day 4||Day at Sea|
|Day 5||Maputo, Mozambique|
|Day 6||iSimangaliso Wetland Park|
|Day 7||On Safari|
|Day 8||Durban & Tala Private Game Reserve|
|Day 9||East London & an Inkwenkwezi Safari|
|Day 10||Day at Sea|