Thursday, October 2, 2014

Lukimbi Safari Lodge – Kruger Park Concession – by Jeremy Williamson

How does one get to visit the World famous Kruger National Park and have 5 star accommodation, cuisine and game experience to match? 
There is Lukimbi Safari Lodge of course – a Five Star luxury 32 bed venue located in the southern sector of the Kruger Park. This ‘Private Concession’ is located between Malelane Gate and the Lower Sabi  Restcamp, built high on the banks of the Lwakahle River – arguably one of the better sectors of this wonderful World renowned Game Reserve.
Lana and I traveled up from Durban by car, so that we could visit a number of Lodges in the Greater Kruger Park area. We decided to spend our first night at the luxurious Oliver’s Restaurant and Lodge, just outside White River, so that we could comfortably get to Lukimbi Safari Lodge at their preferred arrival time, from 12h00 – 14h00. Breakfast as early as possible at Oliver’s, then through to Hazyview and finally into the Kruger Park at the Phabeni Gate. Thought we would get to see what a bit of a self-drive in the Park could produce.
I loved taking the “no entry” road into Lukimbi Safari Lodge, access only to staff and guests, we were now on their private ‘Concession’ area of 15,000 ha where the majority of the Lodge’s game drives are conducted. The safari guides would be allowed to utilise the Kruger Park roads outside their ‘Concession’ should they choose, we did not need to.
It’s just so easy at these luxury venues - drive up to the porte-cochere, to be met by our hosts for the next few days, Sarah and Colin with warm towels, warm welcome and a refreshing drink. “Keys for your car please,” Car and our precious luggage gone! as we were led into the cool ambiance of the brick under lofty thatched roofs, to sign indemnities and to be introduced to the workings of this rather magnificent venue. Dining room, bar and lounges all linked by a deck overlooking the river and the bush beyond. 
A lone bull elephant was wading, drinking, squirting, wading, towards us whilst further downstream, a herd of buffalo were at the river, quenching their thirst. What a start to our visit!
Our roomy suite, perched high on the bank of the river had a delightful view of the river as it curved away into the distance. 
I loved the bathroom with its large panoramic  Bay Window overlooking the river, as did the bedroom and even the Loo, as well as the outside shower too. A split level lounging area off the bedroom, lead out onto the deck with its comfortable recliners. I could spend time here.
Especially as we were reunited with our cameras and cases.  Quick photos of the elephant bull as he indulged in the river below, 
before returning to the Lodge for a drink at the bar and lunch.  
Lunch was a generous option of meats and a variety of supporting dishes, quite superb! 
We had been prepared for any type of weather, spring can be treacherously variable, from hot to really cold. We were to be blessed with really fine days with just a light jacket needed to stop the early morning and evening wind chill when on the ‘open’ vehicle, on game drives. Our Ranger and Tracker had been scouting around getting us a variety of sightings.
One interesting interaction we had  was whilst watching a couple of elephant bulls feeding. One seemed to want to show off a bit and this culminated in him pushing down a rather large tree. Took a bit of an effort and at first we thought that he might have picked one too big, but he was a wise old fella and knew what he was at. Down it came – he walked around and started feeding on what had been the ‘out of reach’ upper most vegetation. An unexpected consequence from his tree felling endeavour was that a chameleon was seen to be clinging to his forehead which he proudly showed off.
Then a call came in – “Ingwe” the guide’s African name for Leopard, had been sighted. The guides use  the African names for possible animal sightings. This, so that guest expectations are not unnecessarily raised in any way. Well my knowing what this meant, my expectations were soaring!
We proceeded with some ‘bundu bashing’, driving off road in order to get to where this feline was. It is only for sightings of the large cats that the Rangers are allowed to drive off road in this Concession. She had made a duiker kill and was taking it with her, quite mobile. She reached her destination and settled, and that is how we found her, lying close to her diminutive cub, who was busy trying to feed on the carcass.
She had chosen well and her cub’s hiding place was well concealed affording only partial views of them both. We could not approach closer as this could have spooked them, so the resulting photographs are not clear but the memory of this mother cub interaction certainly is.
A huge plus at Lukimbi Safari Lodge is that there are so few vehicles out there on game drives. This allows for more time at a sighting, something so often denied at venues where there are a large number of vehicles out there traversing the designated area. We only ever saw two other vehicles when out on game drives at Lukimbi. That was for this leopard sighting which is pretty special, the rest of the time we had all the more high profile sightings to ourselves. Some were amazing.
One late afternoon we had been on the trail of lion but had lost the tracks in thick bush. Zane our Ranger then opted for our tracker to see what he could find on foot, so KK was dropped off to go see. We in turn skirted around the area to see if we could find anything and to give him a chance to track the lion. A good time for our Sundowner drinks it was deemed. An open clearing and out jumps Zane, takes out the table and starts to set up for drinks and snacks when “There’s a lion” from the back of the vehicle.
Some 30 meters away a dozy lion had risen to its feet on the intrusion of Zane leaving the vehicle. Needless to say Zane jumped straight back into the Land Rover – the lion walked over for a closer inspection and then lay down again,
we chose to move off in search of a safer sundowner situation which had the most incredible sunset .I have not enhanced these colours on this image at all - light was amazing.
Such is life in the bush – the Big Five safely ‘ticked’ we explored further and had some rather excellent game viewing.

The bush was very dry so it was at one of the water sources that numerous animals would congregate – to the annoyance of the resident hippo it seemed, who would snort ruefully with each additional arrival.
Days at these luxury venues start with the early morning call, some tea, coffee, rusks  and then into the game viewer for an approximat 3 hour game drive. Stop for a comfort break, more teas and coffees and then back for breakfast which at Lukimbi is quite a lavish Continental  spread, followed by a choice from the cooked breakfast menu.
After breakfast we were asked if we would like to go to the Crocodile River and see what we could there. This would entail a short walk from the parking to the river. We hiked through the reeds, both guns accompanying us on the alert. A favorite location for buffalo, one of the old ‘Dagga Boys’, when one is on foot, can be quite an adversary and terribly dangerous. Hunters regard buffalo as the most dangerous of the Big Five to hunt. No buffalo and we made it to some rocks close to a pool where there were a number of hippo lazing away the day till dinner time this evening.
A pair of wire-tailed swallows also entertained us, as they collected mud and added to their cup shaped nest build, in what they deemed a safe position. I had my doubts, as this was on the side of a rock in the river only some 40 cm above the low tide. The rainy season starts soon and the Crocodile River is prone to rise, sometimes substantially. Please don’t build your house of mud there.
An alternative, after breakfast excursion, is a walk in the bush for an hour or so. These walks generally focus on aspects one misses on the game drives. The spoor, the nests, webs and all the smaller interesting life that makes up this dynamic ecosystem.
Back to the Lodge, a spell in the pool or gym? nah let’s just relax and read a book or check  through the mornings photo record, delete, delete, delete, oh well better luck next time. Joking!
The photographic opportunities one gets at these private Lodge venues really is excellent. One can be lucky driving oneself in the National Parks, but to be able to drive right up to a pride of lion for example, (hidden away behind some bushes) for a better view, is something not permitted from the public roads and thus adds so much to such a game park visit.  The leopard sighting would have been the fleeting sight of her crossing the road, taking the remains of her duiker kill to her cub. Instead we got to watch the youngster at work on its meal. Great times.
I was very pleasantly impressed with the quality of the game viewing on the Lukimbi Concession in the Kruger Park. I am sure the quality of our sightings far surpassed that of the general public, resident in the Park Restcamps. Sure there are the lucky good sightings but ours were good, consistently!

Photographs by Jeremy and Lana Williamson

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