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Talking hippo and rhino in Durban's old wildlife parks

MONDAY Late autumn in Durban. It is always an odd feeling that leaves are fading when they are still bursting into bloom at home. The darkness gathers around 6pm and the sunrise is around 5.30am. I am in the towering Elangeni hotel with the waves crashing on the beach below. Leave the window open here and the seagulls come in to your room.

TUESDAY Tourism is as strong as its weakest part, Thulani Nzima CEO of South Africa Tourism tells us. "What is the weakest part?" a German colleague asks. His answer picks out the bits over which he has no control, visas, air delays, access fares.

TUESDAY NIGHT A lively day talking safari with old industry friends and then dinner in the Oyster Box, the most luxurious hotel in the Durban coast. It is still family owned and heiress Vicky Tillman joins us. The World Cup has changed the Durban coast, giving it a safer atmosphere than before.

WEDNESDAY Lunch in Umlazi Township, a city of half a million people to the west of Durban with a multi-lingual welcome from stunning South African TV hostess Jo-Ann Strauss. The politicians make long speeches as we sit on the deck and drink increasingly tasty Castle lager. They tell me I will get one of the best evenings of your life if you come here for a chisa nyama (known to us as a barbecue ).

THURSDAY Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is a contender for the most unpronounceable tourist attraction on the planet. It is a sort of shlush-lewy, with a very light emphasis on the L. We meet some black rhino almost as soon as we embark on our first game drive and ascend the low hills to look back on the world's very first wildlife park -- five years ahead of Yellowstone, our guide Garth Larrett declares proudly. "Do you know the mating call of a hippo?" Garth asks. "Me neither."

Rhino are under pressure from a poaching epidemic (200 lost so far this year, up to six a day) as rhino horn fetches a higher price than gold. "Saving private rhino" is one of the projects to prevent this happening.

FRIDAY Hluhluwe River Lodge is family owned with small self-contained lodgings with gecko droppings on the sheets. The owners, Wayne and Gavin Dickson, stop by to talk wild animals over a few Windhoek beers and splendid red wine.

SATURDAY Impala everywhere, the McDonald's of the bush, lots of them, everyone eats them, very tasty and they even have an M on their arse for good measure. Garth entangles us in acacia bushes when he goes off road.

SUNDAY One of the things about being from Ireland is that you are always given the crankiest horse when you do one of those horse riding experiences. They threaten me with a retired racehorse called Danzig Lane. Instead I get Spike, a feisty 11-year-old Polo Pony with a mind of his own and no second or third gears. Elmarie Larrett ("us Free State chicks don't take any nonsense") warns us about hippos in the reeds as we descend to the lake. Does it get better than this?


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