Last stop for Leg One of our Rise of the Matriarch 2022 expedition was Pongola Game Reserve. We were here to see and experience what is happening with the Black Rhino Expansion Project.

Enroute we passed through Jozini, stopping along the cliffs on the edge of the Pongola Dam to admire the spectacular views. It is here we start to hear of the legacy of Digs Pascoe, founder of the Space for Elephants Foundation. Our matriarch, Carla, had a strong connection with Digs as a mentor. So for her I felt this part of our journey held special significance.

As we drove through the gate into the reserve Dora met a cute little Series 1 Land Rover coming in the opposite direction and we knew this last stop on this leg of ROTM would not disappoint.

The place to rest our heads, cook, eat and laugh round the fire is another incredible spot – White Elephant Safaris Bush Camp. We are warmly greeted by the lovely Suzette, wildlife monitor for this area and in charge of the Black Rhino Expansion Project for this area. Two more Matriarchs joined our crew bringing the total to 9 fierce and fabulous females! Once we had settled in Cosmos, our guide, took his nine “wives” for a delightful sunset game drive.

Round the fire that evening Suzette and Dr Heinz briefed us on the following morning’s project work as we would be assisting with a black rhino radio collaring.

A beautiful morning dawned with the crew up and ready to take part in this very necessary boots-on-the-ground conservation work. Unfortunately, the particular rhino we were looking for did not want to be found. This sometimes happens with these things. It cannot be forced. So our fundraising will still support that collaring work but we won’t get to see it happen. All fine with us. It is an immense privilege to even be on the periphery of such valuable conservation efforts. Suzette and Dr Heinz’s passion for wildlife, rhino and elephant in particular, is simply awe-inspiring and we are so proud to be able to support them in any way.

The rest of the day was spent in happy company very conscious of the imminent farewells as this leg of the expedition comes to an end.

Suzette and Dr Heinz joined us fireside again that evening as we toasted to legacy.

Packed up and ready to hit the road once again we make a last stop at the White Elephant Research Camp where Digs’ Land Rover is parked, battered hat and bag still inside. Those of the crew who knew him shedding tears of happy remembrance and sadness at the passing of such a giant of a human.

One last stop on the hill to spit on a stone and place it on the isivivane – a stone cairn tradition from Zulu culture – in Digs’ honour.

More tears of farewell as our merry group disbands (for now). Those of us continuing on to leg two leaving the magic of Zululand and heading up the escarpment and into the highveld grasslands of Mpumalanga. We have a brief interlude here at the peaceful Greystone Lodge Dullstroom before our adventures continue….