Travelling to South Africa is a true mission.  The Atlanta-Johannesberg flight is around 15-16 hours, so even when you sleep a solid 7 hours on that flight, you might wake up with 8 more hours left to go…I muscled through that leg (LAX-ATL-JNB) then took the short flight to Durban and arrived at my hotel at 11pm.  Too bad, because I was leaving the hotel at 3:30am so I could drive up to the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Reserve in time for the gate to open at 6am.  Best $60 I ever spent for 4 hours of sleep (what is that, like $15/hour of sleep?).  But it’s always worth it to get somewhere as early as possible when shooting wildlife photos.  Animals are out and active in the early mornings, and sometimes you can catch the nocturnal ones still cruising around from the night before.

Here’s what the gate looked like…nothing like the crowded areas of Kruger where 90+ cars line up at the gate before opening.

I cruised that Hyundai on the left for my 4 day trip…

entrance to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi reserve

This reserve isn’t as gated as other reserves per say. There’s an entrance gate for the road, but it isn’t fenced in, so animals are free to come and go as they please. There’s road signs leading up that tell you to slow down. I travelled with a friend, Nick, who lives in Durban and visits frequently. He said about 2 months prior a guy driving an ambulance (not to a scene, just driving it) was speeding along the road and hit 3 lions crossing. Obviously it’s pretty frowned upon to kill lions, so he panicked and tried loading them in the back of the ambulance so he could hide them. Someone drove by and saw what he was doing and reported him. Sketchy business out there in South Africa sometimes.
While we missed out on seeing lions (or any predators for that matter), there was still some really cool stuff to see in the reserve.

Zebra at Hluhluwe-imfolozi reserve

Cape Buffalo with Red-billed Oxpecker- this Oxpecker flew right into this Buffalo’s ear and dissappeared.
Water Buffalo with Red-billed Oxpecker at Hluhluwe-imfolozi Reserve

Elephants in the park are pretty numerous, we saw about 10 or so. This one very close to the road
African Elephant at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Reserve

African Elephant at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Reserve

Vultures are a true “African” looking bird if you ask me. You know you’re somewhere awesome when you see them. This is a family of White-Backed Vultures, the juvenile is in the back, dark plumage
African White-Backed Vulture (Gyps africanus)

This female Impala is about to get groomed by the Red-billed Oxpecker
Female Impala and Red-billed Oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorhynchus)

Red-billed Oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorhynchus)

You’ve got a serious problem with yourself if you don’t like giraffes. They’re super common all over South Africa, but I never get tired of them.
Giraffe at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi reserve

Giraffe at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi reserve

I’m a bird nerd at heart…Purple-crested Lourie
Purple-crested Lourie (Tauraco porphyreolophus)

Rhino are pretty amazing to see out in the wild. This park is credited with repopulating the entire species of White Rhino. Back in about 1895, there were only about 100 white rhino left in the world, most of them in this area. The reserve was created to help them survive and fast forward to now, the park has about 2500+ white rhino and the total population is about 18,000. An awesome comeback story.
White Rhino at Hluhlue-Imfolozi   Reserve

White Rhino at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Reserve

White Rhino at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Reserve

My main mission to go to this area of South Africa wasn’t for the big game though. It was the large diversity of snake species and abundance of cobras as well as other cool yet a bit dangerous snakes…in the next post.