Ibala-Bala – the place that stays in your dreams…
By Nelius Mostert
This time of the year we bow hunters start getting that “feeling” that it is going to be a good season. You wake up one morning and as you open the door and step outside you smell it. Fall is in the air and the hair in your neck rises, sending a chill of excitement down your spine.
Memories of past hunts come flashing by. You can smell the wetness of the grass and the leather of your armguard, and you feel the familiar smoothness of the bow in your hand and the comfort of the string pressing on the inside of your arm.
I have known about Pieter McCord and Ibala-Bala for some years now. Rean Steenkamp, publisher of Africa’s Bowhunter, told me a lot about this place he visits at least twice a year. As a matter of fact, over the last three years he has invited me time and again to accompany him. But on the one hand I never seemed to be able to synchronise my diary, and on the other I never want to join a group of hunters of more than about six. Their groups are already larger than twelve and crowds are what I want to leave behind in the city.
Well, if only I had sat still for two seconds and figured out the big question. Why do twelve good guys, which have Africa as their playground, choose to go in such a large group at least twice a year? Knowing my friends and the quality of outdoorsmen they are, the answer is quite simple. The place is great! So please, guys, my sincere apologies. Knowing what I know now, I would never have missed a single trip. But let me tell you why.
Pieter McCord is the owner of a beautiful piece of Africa – a total of 1600 Ha (3 953 acres) only one hour’s drive from the airport at Johannesburg. That in itself is a very big plus in my books, for my clients, from the moment of their arrival, have only one thing on their minds: hunting. Although most want to get rid of jet lag, I guess doing it on a bed in the coolness of a pit blind beats doing it inside a hotel room or in any lodge available.
Not that there is anything wrong with the lodge at Ibala-bala ( it means “place of the kudu” in one of the local languages). Here you have the luxury of thatch-roofed private chalets with air-conditioning, a stylish bathroom with shower and bathtub, and a front stoep with comfortable relaxing chairs. The chalets (four that sleep four guests and five that sleep five guests each) are placed in a circle around a large, open garden and swimming pool. Sitting on the stoep, you will find that you are still in Africa. Birdlife during the day and the stars, night sounds and occasional buck on the lawn will keep you mesmerised. There is also an option for the seekers of wilder experiences to enjoy nights out in the bush camp.
When we arrived at the gate that day, there was a mistiness hanging over the savanna. It covered the thorn trees almost halfway up and the blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), and red hartebeest (Alcelaphus caama) greeted us like grey ghosts in the medium-length grass. The veld had a magical quietness, with only a single yellow-billed African hornbill (Tockus leucomelas) calling his mate. Driving to the lodge, I was blessed to see the fog open up in large patches to reveal herds of antelope grazing – mostly only giving me a casual glance before the mist would hide them again and I would scan around for the next surprise.
The lodge itself is furnished to be comfortable and to reflect the hunt. This is a place where you can relax with a book and a drink, enjoy company around a good fire in the boma, relax in the sun at the poolside or watch your favorite programme on DSTV. This is also the place where Pieter’s lovely wife Selma will cook up a storm for you in true South African style.
But the real reason I am crazy about Ibala-Bala lies in the bush. Never before have I seen such a well-stocked game farm. At Ibala-Bala you will find about all the endemic species of the area –over twenty species, except elephant and buffalo. The veld is in great shape and it could even take more animals. The birdlife overwhelmed me and the quality and quantity of trophy-sized animals kept me in awe.
It took me five minutes to sort out my kit and then Pieter and I were on the game-drive vehicle, with me already lost in the wild. I love identifying as many trees as I can and name them out loud as we pass them, hoping my host will correct me where I am mistaken. Pieter made it a pleasure for he really knows the veld. What I also loved was the passion and zeal Pieter showed for everything in the wild. His enthusiasm is highly contagious and overflows into anyone in his presence.
In Southern Africa, the best time for bow hunting is always around the end of winter, because that is when the animals have a much more recognisable pattern of drinking and feeding. The reason is simple: towards the end of winter, natural food gets a bit scarce. You will find the animals at a well-placed blind more often. Winter in South Africa starts in May; spring comes in September.
My visit to Ibala-Bala happened in mid-April, after (or actually during) a very wet season. The place was lusciously green and I thought there would not be much chance of making a first kill so early. Boy, was I wrong! Hunting five buck in one and a half days was incredible. But that is another story. Ibala-bala boasts 17 well-placed hides – ground, pit and tree stands.
Ibala-Bala is most definitely the best kept secret in our industry, and I am surprised that I did not have to stand in line for an opportunity to hunt there. It is the most successful bow hunting destination I have visited in my days of travel in South Africa.
Our last day ended with a sundowner at Pieter’s special lookout point in the middle of a large stretch of open grassland. It felt as though there was a synchronised meeting taking place as all the animals started walking in to enjoy the last sunlight before the evening chill. The sun, growing into a very large fire ball, started its slow goodbye with an amazing colour display over the golden grassland. It showed up in perfect silhouette the hundreds of animals saluting the day’s end. Ibala-Bala will, if it is our Lord’s wish, see me again.