Day 35 – Dundee to Babanango Valley Lodge

Yesterday’s visit to the battlefields was immense and we’re still talking about it at breakfast this morning. We’ll certainly rewatch Zulu through a new lens when we return home. We awake to bright sunshine and blue skies which is a relief as today we’re back on the road again, this time it’s a short 100km drive to the Valley Lodge at Babanango Game Reserve.

But just before we leave Dundee for Babanango, we go and visit the Talana Museum which is a battlefield site turned heritage park. There are memorials, cairns and 27 historic buildings relating to the 1899 Anglo-Boer Battle of Talana. Spread across the site, there are comprehensive displays of the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer Wars, local history, Zulu beading, glasswork, a very detailed exhibition relating to the local mining industry, a section on Mahatma Gandhi located in the original court house in which he was tried and sentenced on two occasions. This fascinating exhibition focuses on Gandhi’s time in South Africa, Dundee and the context of the rest of his life. Sadly, we don’t have more time to explore the wealth of exhibits.

The drive from Dundee to Babanango takes us through the big skies of Zululand. Zulu means ‘Heaven’ and the vast rolling green landscape is befitting of the name. It’s a quite beautiful drive although sadly the townships and villages that we pass through are evidence of just how much poverty there is in South Africa. We’re stopped by the police en-route as part of a routine stop and upon discovering that we’re British the lead officer jokes about our inability to keep a Prime Minister in post for more than 6 weeks.

Throughout the drive we see a number of white stone circles. We’d seen a number during our Battlefields tour and learnt that these white formations represent the “heavenly Jerusalem”, or “Zion” for a local community of Zionist Christians. The stone circle is a meeting place for believers who don’t require or more poignantly cannot afford to build an expensive church in order to worship in. We see a couple in use with worshippers in prayer but it felt disrespectful to take photos. These enigmatic almost insignificant structures are in complete contrast to the wide open landscape of KwaZulu Natal but feel strongly at the heart of every community.

We finally reach our turnoff from the R68 and join an unmade road. We shake rattle and roll in a cloud of dust for around 10km. The hire car copes admirably and I’m keeping everything crossed that Brownie drives on the way out. I don’t fancy another stint of off-roading!! We finally reach our destination, Babanango Game Reserve. Its the first project being undertaken by African Habitat Conservancy (AHC), established by German philanthropist Hellmuth Weisser and seasoned South African conservation and safari industry veteran Jeffrey van Staden to support the conservation of African wildlife in the north-west regions of KwaZulu-Natal through investment and community development. It’s seen several private game farms and land owned by the local communities brought together to form the reserve. With a range of habitats and varied topography, the Reserve offers mammal sightings, including buffalo, giraffe, nyala, zebra and impala. The Reserve is also home to rich reptile and invertebrate life, and more than 250 species of birds. This will be our first game reserve experience having previously only visited national parks in Southern Africa so we’re very much looking forward to everything Babanango has to offer over the next 3 nights.

As we hand over the keys to the car and our luggage is whisked away to our room, we swiftly come to the conclusion that we’ve landed in game reserve paradise. We’re ushered to our table for a late lunch, order up a G&T and tuck into delicious fishcakes, salad and oriental beef stir-fry. We could get used to this! At 4pm we meet for our first game drive and are introduced to Mr X, who is we discover a fabulous guide and an absolute walking encyclopedia of wildlife, particularly birds.

We commence our drive and almost immediately spot a beautiful black rhino who is a new arrival and unusually for rhinos, quite inquisitive. She’s 3 1/2 years old so hopefully she has many happy years ahead of her at Babanango. Currently, there are 10 black and 18 white rhino on the Reserve and we keep our fingers crossed that we get to see some more of them. As we travel around the Reserve we see Impala, Blue Wildebeast, Zebras, Eland, Red Hartebeast, Giraffes, a nest of 20 Ostrich eggs and 2 Cheetahs.

The two cheetahs are brothers and have only recently been allowed to leave their boma in which they spent 2 months. A boma is traditionally known throughout Africa as an enclosure, stockade or fort used to secure and protect people’s livestock. Boma’s can also be used for wildlife introduction to settle and habituate an animal to its new home. The cheetahs seem to have acclimatised beautifully and look to be loving life on the Reserve.

The cheetah brothers are adorable and we could sit and watch them all day as they gambol around. We head back to the lodge in the dark bouncing around in the jeep after an excellent couple of hours in the bush. Dinner is a gourmet delight and one of the staff team regales us with a Babanango tradition of “Story of the Day”. He recites in sonorous tones an excerpt from Thabo Mbeki’s speech I am an African It’s a powerful, thought provoking end to a fantastic day. We retire to bed with big smiles and fantastic memories. We’ve got to be up a 5am for our morning game drive, god we’ve missed these eary starts!!


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