We did something very similar, in July last year, to what you plan. My
husband and I hired a car from Avis at Johannesburg Airport, then drove to
Umfolozi/Hluluwhe National Park (in KwaZulu Natal), which is in the region
of Itala Game Reserve, if I remember correctly.
We had never been to Africa before (let alone South Africa), and were
somewhat nervous about our plans after all the warnings we received....
However, we had only positive experiences, and I have no qualms about
returning there and doing the same thing again.
We were cautious - always
driving with the doors locked;
locking the vehicle when we left it;
keeping our luggage out of sight in the boot;
carrying money, etc on our person all the time;
keeping camera, video camera, and binoculars out of sight as much as
We were OK when driving with the front windows open (back windows closed),
and had no problems stopping in the bigger towns to buy lunch, etc.
We were advised to only go where other white people were, and to avoid the
ghettos and shanty towns. The shanty towns are obvious, and offer little
for the tourist. However, we felt that if we needed help (eg vehicle
breakdown), the shanty town locals would probably have helped us. They
seemed like people just going about their lives like we do. We would have
been less comfortable about this at night however, and avoided being out
after dark. There is more crime in the bigger towns and cities (especially
Jo'burg), I understand.
Just excercise due caution, be streetwise, and be aware of your
surroundings and what's going on around you is the best advice I can give.
To only travel in daylight hours is good advice.
Incidentally, we continued on from Umfolozi in our hire car for another two
weeks, occasionally stopping at roadside craft stalls run by local "black"
people, and generally looking around, visiting nature reserves, etc. The
locals were interested in us, but we didn't feel threatened.
It took about seven hours to drive to Umfolozi. The roads were excellent -
wide, and bitumen. Leaving Jo'burg was scary however. Straight from Avis
centre, the roads were numbered freeways, well marked, but FAST. We got a
mud-map of the exact route out of Jo'burg showing the numbers of the
freeways we had to take. Because the traffic flow was fast, forcing us to
go faster than we wanted to, the signs seemed to sneak up on us. However,
we made it (I'm a good navigator), if somewhat unnerved by the experience.
Once we were on the highway, we could follow the road map we took with us.
Birding tips: you'll probably see few birds outside nature
reserves/national parks. Large areas of South Africa are cultivated, with
few trees except in the reserves. There are several good field guides,
such as the SASOL guide, but as we're renovating the house right now, I
can't get at the books to give you details. However, you can buy them at
Jo'burg Airport, and some at tourist shops in some nature reserves/National
Parks. If I can get at the books, I'll send you some details.
Hope your trip goes well. Would be interested in hearing what birds you
see while you're there.
Incidentally, have you booked your extended accommodation at the Game
Reserve? These places are extremely popular, and often booked out months
> From: Neville Pamment <>
> Subject: birding-aus South Africa RFI
> Date: Thursday, July 22, 1999 09:11
> I will be going to a conference in August being held at Itala Game
> in northern Kwazulu-Natal and will spend a few days birding afterwards
> (Secretary Bird, Bald Ibis etc).
> I plan to drive there (in daylight hours) from Johannesburg airport - it
> said to be a five hour trip.
> The conference organisers have said that driving there is not recommended
> for foreign visitors, presumably for safety reasons.
> Does anyone have experience of this area? Any birding tips would also be
> most welcome.
> Neville Pamment
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