Trip Report- Weenen Nature Reserve
By Gerald O’Brien
I had a few days off with nowhere to go just before the Christmas Season began, and all the friends from Gauteng would come flooding into Pennington.
Mkuze and Ithala game reserves on the north coast have been my favourite short term destination’s for many years now. With the recent drought situation and reports from others, I decided that Marsha and I needed to find an alternate place to stay.
The Weenen Nature reserve just outside Estcourt proved to be really good find.
Weenen Nature Reserve, proclaimed in 1975, covers around 5003 hectares and the vegetation is typical Valley Bushveld and is characterised by Acacia Karoo, Acacia Tortillas and Acacia Niclotica.
The reserve varies from 1000 to 1240 meters and has a road network of around 30 kilometers taking the game viewer into the valleys and then up into the mountains. Due to the nature of the terrain, I found the drives to be very interesting, and at your own risk, you are allowed out the vehicle at designated areas. The reserve has a number of well situated picnic spots along the drives as well as a few view- points where one can look down on to the neighbouring farmlands. There is a LDV or 4×4 track that is well worth a drive, it follows along an old narrow- gauge rail way line that was constructed at around the turn of the century and has a few very narrow bridge to cross over, with very little room for error. The narrow line was operated by the Natal Railway Company and was originally designed to run from Ladysmith to Weenen but only the section between Weenen and Estcourt was surveyed in 1902 and constructed. The drive itself is not really a 4×4 route but it does require a high ground clearance, hence the name LDV route.
The reserve is rich in archaeological sites with evidence throughout the area of stone and Iron Age’s occupation dating from before 1500AD. The large rock structures, which were the cattle kraals, belong to the recent Zulu population, whilst the smaller structures were those of the Stone and Iron Age inhabitants. You will see many of these structures along the route as you drive around the reserve.
Although we were not there in ideal weather conditions, we did still see quite a bit of game including, Zebra, Eland, Kudu, Giraffe, Impala, and Red Hartebeest and of course White Rhino. The reserves species list is of course quite a bit bigger than this though. The birdlife is fantastic too with a large bird species list to tick off as you go along.
We camped over for 4 nights, 3 of which were in either rain, strong wind, lightning storms or all three, the days were not much better. The last night we chose to take the short 28 kilometer drive to Estcourt for take aways rather than try and light a fire or even cook on gas in the wind and rain.
The camp site does not have the best positioning in the reserve, its right as you enter the reserve on the left hand side. Fortunately the main Weenen / Estcourt road is not a busy one as you do hear each and every vehicle as it passes by, it’s not loud but you do hear them. The camp site’s are fairly open but they do have shade on them which on hot days will be very necessary. We were the only ones camping for the duration that we were there which was a real treat for us. From our camp site we overlooked a large valley, a hide overlooking an empty water hole and then a hill in the distance. Just to sit and watch the game from out camp site was really great and if the weather had been better, I would have spent more time in my chair with a book and the great site on front of me. The cooler box would never be too far off either.
Weenen has not seen the last of me, I enjoyed the reserve and everything it had on offer and a bonus is that it is just 250 kilometers from Pennington. Make that less than 200kms form Durbs. I would recommend the reserve to anyone looking for an easy weekend break.