ROYAL NATAL NATIONAL PARK

The second half of our recent sojourn in KwaZulu-Natal was spent at Mahai Camp nestled in the foothills of the Royal Natal National Park in the Drakensberg. Although we pitched our tent in the drizzle as the gathering darkness sank into the valley, we were pleased to see the sun making a brave show of shining through the heavy layers of cloud on the first morning – it even managed to cast faint shadows by the late afternoon! Fortunately, the weather cleared up and we experienced wonderful sunshine and a spectacular array of stars at night for the rest of our stay.

Royal Natal National Park

What a lovely camping area it is too: fringed by tall pine trees, covered with a lush kikuyu lawn and the constant tinkling of the cascading river nearby. Numerous paths lead from the camping area towards the forests, the grasslands and to the massive peaks towering above the landscape.

Royal Natal National Park

The path following the stream towards the Cascades is a wonderful example of making some of the natural beauty of the area accessible for wheelchairs too. I loved the sweet smell of damp vegetation, the moss-covered rocks, and seeing tree ferns again.

Tree Fern

I enjoyed observing birds such as the Grey Waxbills, Groundscraper Thrushes, Cape Wagtails and Redbilled Woodhoopoes as they combed the area for food.

Cape wagtail

Redbilled Woodhoopoe

A flock of Helmeted Guineafowl picked its way through the camping area at sunrise every morning and again during the latter part of the afternoon. There were some chicks among them – all competing with the Redeyed Doves for whatever they could find to eat in the grass.  The sunrises were worth getting up for and enjoying with a warm drink in hand – along with the chorus from the Cape Crows that gurgled and chortled from the tree tops every morning.

Helmeted Guineafowl

Redeyed Dove

I thoroughly enjoyed walking through the grassland and glimpsing the majestic vista of Drakensberg peaks as I ventured ever further from and higher than the camping area.

Royal Natal National Park

The grass was taller than me in many places and I often had to be careful not to trip in the tangle of grass at ankle height along the well signposted paths.

Royal Natal National Park

The ‘Berg water is crystal clear and sweet to the taste – so much better than any bottled water one can buy! As I walked I breathed in the smell of the grass, Buddleia, Natal Bottlebrush (Greyia sutherlandii), proteas, yellow woods and the damp soil adjacent to the streams that cross the winding path – all carrying a rush of memories of weekends spent hiking in the Drakensberg when we lived in Pietermaritzburg.

Berg Stream

A Gymnogene appeared for two days in a row, swooping low over the camping area before settling in one of the tall pines. One can forgive the presence of the stately pines planted decades before the appreciation of indigenous vegetation came to the fore. All over the camping area young indigenous trees have been planted – some enclosed with wire mesh to protect them from being nibbled by the resident Bushbuck that happily wander in between the tents during the early mornings and evenings.

Bushbuck

My bird list:

Arrowmarked Babbler
Blackcollared Barbet
Black Sunbird
Blackeyed Bulbul
Cape Crow
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Crested barbet
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Grey Waxbill
Groundscraper Thrush
Gymnogene
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
Hoopoe
Jackal Buzzard
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Paradise Flycatcher
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Speckled Mousebird
Stone Chat
Whiterumped Swift

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