South Africa trip journal: Social media and an animal-less game drive at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park

Like I said a few posts back, game drives are all about low expectations and high anticipation. Unfortunately, sometimes those low expectations are met, which is what happened to me at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal Province.

Pronunciation tip: Hluhluwe is pronounced something like “Shluh-shloo-ee.” Let me stress: something like that. If you’re lucky enough to go, ask someone more official for a proper pronunciation. 

While I didn’t see a lot of animals that day, I did get to see our brave new media world in action.

A social media game drive?

Inside South Africa’s national parks, there is a common way to share information about animal sightings: sighting boards. The information isn’t exactly complete or in real-time, nor is it meant to be, but it gives visitors a very general idea of where an elusive animal may be found if it isn’t “OTM” – that’s “on the move” for us veteran game drivers.

Hluhluwe iMfolozi park South Africa

The good news is, heck yeah, this is 2012! Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is the first park I encountered which actively encourages the use of social media to share and monitor animal sightings. When arriving at the park, a visitor’s first stop the administration building to pay the entry fee and pick up a map. While inside the administration building, be sure to check out the list for all of the many newfangled ways to report and track animal movements within the park.

Hluhluwe iMfolozi park social media South Africa

Sure enough, the frequently-updated Twitter feed (@latestImfolozi) is a treasure trove of animal sightings. There is also a Facebook group, but you must ask to be added in advance.

Hluhluwe imFolozi park social media South Africa

Scanning the feed, it reinforces the request made in the first image, there are no postings about rhino sightings. This isn’t to limit the opportunity to see rhinos, but rather to protect them from poachers. In my short time in South Africa, I read far too many news stories about rhino poaching. The threat is very real and the impact is devastating.

An animal-less game drive

Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t take full advantage of a social media-enhanced game drive. Canada’s notoriously-high wireless rates meant getting international coverage was a budget-buster, so I just relied on my eyes and ears.

On the surface, it was a lovely day for a game drive: bright and sunny. When we got inside the park, though, Holy Hannah, the wind was something else. At home in Atlantic Canada, I’d call it a gale force wind. Whatever it was, it kept the animals in hiding.

That didn’t keep us from enjoying the park. In short, it is gorgeous.

Hluhluwe iMfolozi park South Africa

Unobstructed skies and rolling mountains. Lots of open space where animals can graze in plain view. Just not the day I visited.

Hluhluwe iMfolozi park South Africa

The first 90 minutes was completely uneventful. Lots of other hopeful vehicles, no one stopping. Luckily for me, the last stretch saw us driving along a plain where the winds had calmed considerably and were rewarded with a white rhino sighting in a nice, sunny glade.

Hluhluwe iMfolozi park white rhino South Africa

While the game drive wasn’t a resounding success, I did manage to see many of my favourites, getting close enough to this hungry giraffe to snap a passport photo of him.

Hluhluwe iMfolozi park giraffe South Africa

Hluhluwe iMfolozi park giraffe South Africa


Did the drive go as hoped? Not at all. However, we still had a lot of fun and I’ve picked up a new hobby, following animal sightings from the comfort of my couch back home.

How is social media changing how you travel? What have you done when an activity didn’t work out as planned? Fire away in the comments!




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