Thursday, March 21, 2024

Rhino River Lodge - Manyoni Game Reserve - Zululand


Lana and I have a favoured private Safari Lodge in Zululand. One, that is fully hosted and catered for, at a most affordable rate, with a big bonus, it is situated in one of the finest Big 5 Game Reserves in Zululand.

This Lodge is set in a most beautiful place, nestled on the bank of the ephemeral Msunduzi River, shaded by ancient Sycamore Fig and Acacia trees, with the Fever Trees in profusion, their shining yellow powdered surfaces glowing in the various light of day, all surrounded by the Zululand Bushveld. With open access for numerous animals, some of the antelope and warthog choosing the deemed protection afforded by human habitation, to make this their home. A place I too could so easily call home.

This made more pleasant and welcoming by the gracious and enthusiastic staff. Lana and I had visited this Lodge some 6 years previously and were keen to see how the Manyoni Private Game Reserve had improved with age – like an excellent wine?

The Manyoni Private Game Reserve is some 23,000 ha in extent, it runs adjacent to the N2 National Road on the western side, from the area of Mkuze town southwards, a magnificent part of Zululand bushveld and only about 3 hour’s drive from Durban’s King Shaka Airport. I am sure Rider Haggard’s writings were inspired by these rolling hills of Zululand.

The Rhino River Lodge.

There is the complex of 4 Deluxe chalets, each with air conditioning, private shower and toilet en suite, a private balcony and well appointed room, with a bar fridge and tea station.

Then two Family Loft Chalets, that have a double bedroom and an upstairs loft room sleeping two in single beds. These timber buildings, the original accommodation here.

An independent four sleeper Cottage as well as a six sleeper Homestead, hidden away from the main complex, with private outlook over the river. These also so necessarily air conditioned, each with their own private plunge pool, but still within easy walking distance of the Main Lodge dining and bar facilities.

The Cottage

The Homestead

All these accommodation units are serviced by a comfortable lounge with sun deck, as well as another dining / bar unit with more deck area looking out to the river and riparian forest. These large thatch rooms are open on both sides and cooled by having high roofs and fans. This can be closed up in winter, with a central fireplace in the lounge to warm up at.

Close to these public facilities is a large swimming pool and sundeck with loungers.

We were met by our enthusiastic Ranger who gave us a room and lodge procedure update, after  assisting us with our luggage to our Deluxe suite. The car was parked fairly close to the chalets.

A delicious finger lunch was offered with the afternoon game drive scheduled for 16h30 departure,

giving time to appreciate the ambiance and numerous animals and birds within the Lodge grounds. 

The lodge was almost fully booked, with nine guest on our vehicle, others on a second Game viewer. Just before departure staff arrived with chilled flasks of water, then into the bush our Ranger took us, in search of our quarry, whatever it might be. Most of the guests on the vehicle were in the wilds of the African bush for the first time.  It is wise to book well in advance for such a special opportunity. This Lodge runs at high occupancy due to its popularity. You can see why! For the casual tourist without serious photographic equipment, by visiting such a Private Game Reserve, one is able to capture exciting, quality images, even on one's cell phone as per below.

We encountered a host of different animals and birds. Our Ranger took time to explain the nuances of the different sightings, adding value to each experience. Named by the early African peoples as the ‘Place of birds’, ‘Manyoni’, it is indeed rich with a vast variety of birdlife, some 434 species recorded here.  

A Lilac-breasted Roller

A Tawney Eagle being mobbed by a Fork-tailed Drongo

Escape the tormentor

A White-backed Vulture

A Wattled Lapwing

A Three-ringed Plover

Yellow-billed Storks feeding, a zebra and wildebeest discussing their nocturnal game plan..

Rich too with its faunal populations. This is a Big 5 Game Reserve with, in addition, Cheetah 

and soon to be released from their holding boma, the finest escape artists of the bush, the African Wild Dog, our Painted wolves, who are so adept at escaping the confines of the Manyoni Game Reserve. This lot were found in the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park some 30 kms away, captured and returned, ending their previous escapade. They have a natural instinct to utilise a vast range, resulting in their and other’s frequent escapes, a habit severely impacting on their security and the vulnerability of wild dogs in general in Africa.

What a magnificent game reserve. This is particularly well managed, in co-operation with all the Lodges that share this special protected area. Since my previous visit the dams have been increased and enlarged, the road infrastructure vastly improved, some were totally unusable in the wet summers, with the Black Cotton Soil making them impassable. Now hardened and safe to use. The animals too have become far more numerous and well habituated to the game viewing vehicles.  All this, as a result of Conservation minded farmers who decided to drop fences and unite into one efficient, diverse, conservation initiative. Then the relocation and introduction of key species, along with a variety of general game were reintroduced. There would have been a small nucleus of wild animals surviving amongst the cattle and crops, but the Big 5, along with some interesting animals such as Cheetah, the Wild dog, Pangolin and Brown Hyena were brought in. This all as a result of the support of various wildlife authorities and organisations. This support is ongoing, ensuring the strength and diversity of the various gene pools.

Our game drives in the Manyoni Game Reserve did not disappoint. On our vehicle was a family from Belgium who were fortunately advised to book Rhino River Lodge.  On their 4 game drives of their two night stay, they were fortunate to see four of the big 5, and close too, Leopard eluded us, but this was expected. We had really good sightings of cheetah in compensation. Then a large variety of general game, from a ‘tower or two’ of Giraffe, herds of wildebeest, zebra, impala, kudu, nyala, warthog, baboon and the Wild Dog in the boma. 

The foreign guests were overjoyed by the excellent and diverse sightings that they encountered in just two night’s stay, they were fascinated seeing the enormous Vultures and eagles we encountered too. I highly recommend utilising a good Private Lodge for short term visitors, in order to be able to see more of the key animal species and see then close by.

A tradition on most private Lodge game drives is to have a comfort stop, on the morning drive its tea, hot chocolate or coffee – some with a dash if Amarula cream, plus some rusks and biscuits. On the afternoon drive the Sundowner stop includes a drink of your choice and often biltong and some other snack. At one stop we had a giraffe joining usfor sundowners.

Then back to the Lodge in the dark, a spotlight seeking out more of the nocturnal species to marvel at. Rhino River Lodge  normally use a different venue each night for dinner, adding to the experiences, should the weather be favourable, alfresco dining around a fire is a wonderful one. This was the set up for one of the evening firelit dinners before the 'action' started. Caught this preparation on my departure for the afternoon game drive.

At another of their locations on the second night, waiting for the other vehicle to return.

Starters with a chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc followed by a beautifully cooked Fillet of Beef, pepper sauce and seasonal veggies done so crisp too. Their kitchen staff are excellent

Due to the unfenced nature of the camp, a game guard will accompany guests to and from one’s chalet after dark. Wonderful to retreat, replete and resplendent to one’s chalet after a most exciting day, experiencing that which this truly incredible game reserve has to offer. Readying one’s mind for the early start, and more of this most enjoyable way of experiencing the African bushveld.

Breakfast's didn't dissapoint either. Back from an exhilerating game drive, to freshly brewed coffee, some starters and of course, the Full English!

I can do this! Down to the Baked Beans prepared by the chef, not just from a can. There is great attention to detail here at Rhino River Lodge. From the reception, the intro to the workings of the Camp, to the delicious meals, informative and greatly rewarding game drives, the changes to meal venus, the turn-down, the....

All photographs were taken on this visit of 2 nights to Rhino River Lodge by Jeremy and Lana Williamson

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Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Zebra Hills Safari Lodge - Manyoni Private Game Reserve - Zululand


Manyoni Game Reserve – Zebra Hills Safari Lodge

There is really only one way that one may be assured of seeing a good selection of the high profile animals in the wild – now isn’t that what everyone really wants? This may only be achieved, when time is limited, by visiting a reasonably sized Private Game Reserve that has the Big 5, Lion, Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo and the elusive Leopard. Some have Cheetah and Wild Dog too. There are a few of these Game Reserves in the Zululand area, all offering slightly different accommodation and wildlife viewing experiences of the ‘Flagship species’.

There is a Private Game Reserve in Zululand that offers amongst the finest of general game viewing in Zululand, with reasonable rates for the accommodation and services. This is the Manyoni Private Game Reserve. This Game Park encompassing some 23,000 ha with only a few Private Lodges within its confines. All highly recommended. See

Just 3 hours from Durban just off the N2 and some 6,5 hours from Johannesburg.

Let me expound on the experiences of one of the Lodges that my wife Lana and I have recently visited. 

A rareity within these Private Game reserves is to have a Lodge where one may self-cater. Within the Manyoni Game Reserve there is a very excellent one available – presently in reduced form, as their Main Lodge was struck by lightning last year and was burnt to the ground. This is Zebra Hills Safari Lodge. Due to the on site construction of the new Lodge there is presently a 'special" running on the Homestead accommodation. Lana and I did not find the new lodge construction intrusive or disturbing at all.

Thankfully their nearby ‘Homestead’ Lodge was not affected by the lightening storm, and is fully operational, offering guests a most luxurious, well appointed, value for money, selfcatering facility. This Homestead Lodge has 3 spacious, air conditioned double rooms,

 each with bathroom en suite, 

There is a lot of attention to detail at this venue. One of the first where, without my glasses, I am able to determine which is shampoo and which body wash in the shower. Basin too.

with two of these having an adjacent room for 2 children, furnished with bunk beds.

These children’s rooms each share their main room’s bathroom. There is a fourth twin room, also with own en suite as well, so this Lodge is able to cater for a maximum of 8 adults and 4 children. 

Note however, that only a maximum of 10 people are allowed on the open game viewing vehicle.  There is a minimum charge for four adults per night at this venue, should your party consist of fewer persons.

The large air conditioned kitchen, dining and lounge area

 leads out onto a choice of seating options, with a swimming pool on the expansive deck.

The Lodge is set in a fenced area, making it relatively safe for children to play within these bounds. In this fenced area are some Nyala that prefer the safety of this area and have become particularly tame.

From here there are open views into the bush with a strategically placed water hole, where a parade of animals visit during the day. Appropriately placed swing chairs for guest's enjoyment of this spectacle.

This Lodge is well appointed, with all necessary cooking and dining appliances, utensils, cutlery and crockery, with barbecue / braai options to suite.  There is good WiFi too.

A very competent cook is available to assist with the meals. She turned our meagre offerings into a gourmet treat. There are staff to service the accommodation, cleaning and the providing of the Boma fire too in the evening.

Now where this Lodge differs from the normal self-catering venues, is that guided game drives are included, late afternoons into the evenings and early mornings. One may not drive oneself within the game reserve except for access to the lodge. I have been visiting game reserves and various Lodges for many years, but I find that I enjoy and learn so much from these enthusiastic Wildlife Specialist Guides employed by the private Lodges. The owners of Zebra Hills Safai Lodge have selected and work with truly excellent staff. Our guide was a most proficient birder and what with this game reserve being a birder's Mecca with some 434 species for an enthusiast to try and find, he was after anything new for me, as well as giving us time to just enjoy the birdlife.

On arrival, we were welcomed by the staff who quickly took our supplies and luggage to the kitchen and luxurious bedroom. What joy walking in through the sliding door from the stifling bushveld heat, to the air conditioned comfort of out suite. Such a necessary luxury in mid-summer in Zululand. The Lodge has adequate backup power generation.

Being a sole use venue, one is able to adjust meal and drive times (to a point) to suite one's selves. We opted to take our expert guide’s advice re early morning departures, to make the most of the best times of day for possible sightings and the light, for photographic advantage.

A major reason for the success one has with regards to the excellent sightings here, is that all the Game Reserve Lodges within the reserve, are in communication with one another, to advise on the whereabouts a particular sought after sighting that one guide has located, may be found. This is done very professionally, and in this game reserve, without a large queue of vehicles all rushing to see that special animal. This assistance and co-operation is vital, to maximise on the best viewing possibilities, particularly if one’s visit is of short duration. This, a major advantage, denied guests in the Provincial and National Parks. Limited off-road access to view high profile animals at close proximity, is also permitted in this game reserve. Guests are thus able to really view most of the Flagship wildlife in close proximity. This following three images taken on Lana's Mobile phone.

And this taken with a camera

Part of the Pride

One does not have to go off road and only when absolutely necessary.

General game so abundant and easily viewed.

Provided one remains within the profile of the game viewer, the animals are not fazed and seemingly ignore the presence of the vehicle. From experience, this is very different when one is on foot in the bushveld. The animals are seemingly comfortable and habituated to the close proximity of the vehicles, but quite the contrary with people walking.

The Rangers normally enquire of the guests whether there are any special request with regards possible sightings, be it the fauna, flora , avifauna or even the more unusual things. Most Rangers here are very competent, with a broad spectrum of knowledge. This adds so much value to the experience. Our guide at Zebra Hills Safari Lodge was most informative and enthusiastic, with ‘bush eyes’ second to none, finding photographic opportunities for Lana and I of our favourite animals and bird species.

A Tawny Eagle

Red-backed shrike

Black-crowned Tchagra

Our favourite LBR - aka Lilac-breasted Roller

A strikingly coloured Tawny Eagle

A Water Thick-knee

A White-backed Vulture

We are quite avid bird enthusiasts, with this reserve offering a plethora of species. When it comes to species diversity, it is difficult to beat Zululand and in particular this Manyoni Game Reserve. The density of the wildlife is to be admired - with the Park Management optimising on the environment and taking excellent management protocols.

This game reserve has really abundant general game which includes giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, warthog, impala, nyala and kudu. There are chacma baboons, Vervet monkeys and in the evening drives one may get to see genet and bushbabies along with a variety of owls and nightjars. The dams host hippo, crocodile, terrapin, frogs and fish. Then there are the reptiles too.

Of the Big 5, leopard are very elusive and rarely seen here, although fairly abundant. There are some slightly unusual seldom seen animals in the reserve too, Brown and Spotted Hyena, Aardvark and other even more rare and threatened species.

This is a special place in the bush, made to suite those that prefer to cater for themselves, but with a degree of luxury, a hightened chance of seeing a wide diversity of the more special animals, with the support of enthusiastic staff to help make the most of the experience.

All photographs taken on the Manyoni Game Reserve whilst visiting Zebra Hills Safari Lodge by Jeremy and Lana Williamson

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