Bad planning and great rewards – Itala Game Reserve
My trip to Itala was more a result of bad planning, not paying attention and well just being me, turns out it was a good plan which wasn’t actually a plan.
Any self respecting travelers nightmare came to pass with the start of school holidays on a long weekend had me scrambling for a place to stay, my first choice up on the Jozini Dam was full, so much so i was laughed at when i phoned on the thursday morning asking if they had a campsite for me.
Itala, on the list of places to visit, was about 100kms up the road … so without booking (Everytime i try to book somewhere its full, when i show up i always seem to find a place) i headed up to the park and had a few nervous seconds as the gate confirmed if there was space or not. The drive into the park is pretty cool, winding mountain passes thread through a landscape that is half savannah and half mountainous valleys in all directions.
The campsite is situated in western side of the park, nestled in a valley between two ranges, with a river bending round it ( Swimming allowed ). It is unfenced, unpowered and gets no cellphone reception. Heaven right?! Pretty close.
The next few days where spent between, trying to sleep off a giant fever i was running and driving the landscape. I have been to plenty parks with diversity in the landscape but none like Itala, It’s almost like a 3D model, you arrive at panoramic viewpoints that tower over valleys and single track roads that then dive into these troughs for a detailed view.
The viewpoint over the Ponogola River is mesmerizing. The road to the picnic site on its banks is spectacular and amongst all these incredible ranges and plains are elephant ( Signs but no sightings ), rhino, giraffe, wildebeest, and all manner of plains game, and a leopard sighting that was both unexpected and hard to miss, as it lay next to its kill and fed for two days.
Thankfully the weekend came to an end and the park emptied and i was left to a peaceful campsite after having being woken up at 4:30 the previous morning by some woefully under prepared Germans who thought it would be ok to wake me up and ask if they could borrow my gas bottle to boil some water. Funnily enough i didn’t tell them to get lost in a most un-polite manner and shared a coffee and some advice with them.
The quiet was kind of scary, you can hear every sound from the thorns on the trees clicking in the wind, the shy impalas and waterbuck surreptitiously sneaking past your tent at all hours and the sounds of the river bubbling by.
Itala, i guess falls into the lessor traded parks, especially when it comes to camping and this my friends is why you should visit, no traffic jams at sightings, sounds of the bush over sounds of the humans and a landscape that feels like heaven’s waiting room.
Side-note : The Interwebs says Ithala, the brochures say Itala … anyone got an idea which one it is?