Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Kuzuko Lodge – Eastern Cape

Kuzuko Game Reserve is a private concession within the malaria free Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape Karoo, and is approximately two hours drive from Port Elizabeth. This malaria free 15,000 hectare private section of the greater Addo Elephant National Park, has the Big five along with Cheetah. In order to protect the vulnerable cheetah and buffalo from the lion, this Game Reserve has three large fenced enclosures. Kuzuko’s Cheetah are habituated enough to allow guests to view them from a reasonably close distance on foot. They are not tame but simply tolerate guests. These 'Cheetah walks', allow one to get to achieve quality photographic opportunities close to the Cheetah.

The Addo Elephant National Park is the third largest National Park in South Africa, the Park has expanded enormously, it has a wide biodiversity and varied topography and landscapes. Stretching from the semi-arid Karoo area here in the north around Darlington Dam and the Kuzuko Conservancy, over the rugged Zuurberg Mountains, through to the Sundays River valley, then south to the coast between the Sundays and Bushman’s River mouths, Addo Elephant National Park is approximately 180 000 hectares (444 700 acres) in extent.

Kuzuko Lodge is set on the top of a hill, with panoramic views of the Karoo stretching away in the distance. This is a modern brick under thatch lodge, with 24 free-standing luxury air-conditioned Chalets sited on the ridge, offering uninterrupted views, all close to the main Lodge facilities. The comfortable Chalets have private bathrooms en suite, a view deck and are well appointed.

We turned off the R400 onto the Park access road, through some electric entrance gates and we were immediately amongst the most amazing display of Coral Aloe, Aloe affra. We had missed the flowering of the larger Aloe ferox, their racemes withering in the Koroo sun, but this floral display was really stunning.

We drove on past a quizzical springbok or two, Lana saw a ground squirrel scuttle away. Getting interesting. Check-in was at two  o’clock and we arrived at the Karoo farmhouse reception area on time. Our guide for this visit, Adolph, was there waiting to take ourselves and luggage to the Lodge. Into the Toyota Land Cruiser game viewing vehicle we bundled, then off through another electric gate, into the Kuzuko Game Reserve proper. Some blue crane and waterfowl at a dam, hartebeest, black wildebeest and the game viewing had commenced.

We were welcomed at the Lodge with a refreshing rock shandy, wiped away the road grime, then ushered onto the deck for an introduction to that view, magnificent, then to our room. Hardly time to collect our thoughts, camera and cold weather gear, before we were back to the main building for 'High Tea'. One should not expect a high tea of the ilk of the Savoy in London at our South African Game Lodge venues who have latched onto the terminology – rather expect something savory, something sweet, along with some refreshments.

Kuzuko Lodge brought our serving to the table, quite a delicious spread. A generous portion of freash open ham sandwiches, samosas, tarts and kebabs for the savory, with chocolate cake squares and a coconut slice or two for those with a sweet tooth. Delicious!

Time for the game drive. We met a delightful couple, Neil and Amy at the vehicle – this game drive was going to be interesting.

In the Kuzuko Game Reserve the lion and general game are to be found in the main part of the Game Reserve, with a large fenced camp for the valuable Buffalo, and another for the rather vulnerable cheetah. It is unwise to have cheetah and lion competing within a single fenced area. It seems inevitable that the lion eventually manage to kill the cheetah in such an environment. Adolf was going to show us as much of the the wildlife as he could during our limited time at Kuzuko.

Off to our right on the hillside and in rather dense foliage, was an elephant herd. No roads could take us near to them, so on we went. We arrived at the Buffalo enclosure fence and there they were, waiting patiently, as one of the staff was pitch forking Lucerne to them over the fence from the back of a bakkie. He was feeling a tad vulnerable as two male lion were approaching.

We distracted the lion, by approaching them for a photo shoot, they obliged, then off we went into the Cheetah enclosure to see if we could find those cats.

We found sign of the Cheetah's previous meal, a Kudu, then numerous alert kudu, but not a cheetah to be seen. We reluctantly closed the gate behind us and departed for the Lodge.

The route from the Cheetah enclosure was through a rather scenic gorge where we found a jackal that had started foraging early. Some Plains Zebra and Black Wildebeest were seen before arriving to a friendly welcome at the Lodge. Refreshed we ambled back to the Lodge for dinner. Drinks at the bar, then to dinner. We asked that the two separate tables that were laid for the 4 of us on our vehicle, be joined. A quick rearrangement and a joyful evening commenced, dining on Bean soup, Springbok carpaccio starters and grilled Sirloin steaks. Dessert was Malva pudding, a good SA stalwart. Delicious. To bed.

The Karoo can get quite cold at night, thank goodness for a comfortably warmed chalet. Quite a lot of action today so both were soon fast asleep.
Jeremy watching the sunrise

The early sun lighting the chalet roof-tops and setting the veld a-glow

Wake-up call and we were soon on the deck enjoying a cuppa with the sun edging over the horizon bringing the bush to life. The Malachite Sunbirds were active early, feeding on the dying inflorescens of the Aloes.

Not much time to see and do it all, so off we were to the Cheetah enclosure. Three full days after their last meal, the Cheetah were up early and out looking. They were pretty mobile and quite close to the road, so there was no need to leave the vehicle in order to get closer to them. This walking up to them, is what could happen should these cats be just too far off the road.

Adolph, would take guests closer to just outside of their ‘comfort zone’ so as not to unduly disturb or upset them. This the cats tolerate.

We followed them, watching how alert the general game had become, Kudu barking warily as they caught sight of the predators.

We had followed them from the eastern to the western boundary of their enclosure, then as they had stopped to rest a bit way from the road, we left them, exited the camp and our guide suggested it would be a fair place for the morning coffee break.

Whilst warming up internally on the strong coffee, the cheetah were on the prowl again and came strolling by, on the other side of the fence, totally unconcerned with our off-vehicle activities.

That had been a lovely hour spent with the cheetah, as they so nonchalantly strolled through their domain and now past us.

Back to a full Karoo breakfast and then goodbyes to new friends and a transfer to our waiting car at the reception. One night at this lodge is definitely too short a time to properly assess and report on its game viewing potential. We had had some reasonably  good sightings which should only get better the longer one spent in the reserve.

It is good to see that there are more quality Lodges in this Greater Addo National Park with a reasonable representation of the high profile, and general game animals being returned to their historic areas of habitation.

Photographs by Jeremy and Lana Williamson

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