Saturday, November 27, 2010

Umzolozolo Lodge - Nambiti Game Reserve

With great interest Lana and I left Durban for the 3 hour drive to the Ladysmith area and the relatively new Nambiti Game Reserve and Umzolozol Private Safari Lodge - Malaria free and technically a Big 5 game reserve – the leopard are extremely elusive here, in their stead cheetah are seen regularly. A pleasant drive to the midlands of KwaZulu-Natal, with some roadwork delays, we were in the parking lot, shaded bays and security, awaiting our Game Ranger and lift to the Lodge. A short 10 minute drive and we arrived to a welcome drink, lavender scented hand cloths and smiles all round. Our bags were dispatchour suite whilst we took a quick look at the beautiful vista from the Lodge. Set on top of a hill nestling ed to in discreetly amongst the beautiful old Acacia trees, the view out over the Nambiti Game Reserve is really delightful. Rolling hills disappearing in the haze, I could sit here all day with my binoculars looking for the host of animals and birds visible from the deck.

We were then escorted to our beautifully appointed airconditioned suite – huge double bed, dressing room, expansive bathroom and then a double outside shower as well. From our veranda, a secluded path took us to our own private viewing deck with Jacuzzi – set at just the right temperature - ideal for Honeymooners and old fogies like us.

The décor, in lovely bold reds with black and the orange of the African Hoopoe (Umzolozolo) part of the theme, all put together rather tastefully. It's not about the bathroom only, what a lovely view!

Some lovely African artwork and fittings add so much to the feeling of being in Africa in the bush. A lot of thought and care has been put into guest comfort. A 2 way radio connected 24/7 is something I have not seen at any facility that does not have telephones in the rooms. An excellent safety feature.

Back to the Lodge for lunch. A beautiful steak dish done perfectly to order followed by a banana turnover dessert. Whilst enjoying our freshly ground coffee our hosts presented us with the dinner menu with the choices for starters, mains and dessert. As one could return fairly late from the afternoon game drive, such forward planning in the kitchen is such a good idea. I know I was anticipating my snail starter, lamb shank and chocolate mousse with glee. Time for a quick swim whilst viewing the bushveld below – numerous Kudu and Impala visible - a cup of tea with fresh baked biscuits and we were into the game viewing vehicle with our guide Bradley giving us a quick rundown of what was to be expected. I must add that the safety procedures sounded more like a briefing – quite hilarious besides its importance. We were to enjoy and learn a lot from Bradley.

The topography of the Nambiti Game Reserve is quite diverse with some very hilly and scenic areas contrasting with the northern plains, a wonderful open flat area for the grazers. Hippo in the dams, kudu around almost every corner – these antelope are really numerous in this game reserve, I have never seen so many. Then impala aplenty, giraffe, zebra, eland, common reedbuck, black-backed jackal, buffalo , steenbuck, hartebeest and grey duiker all seen during the afternoon drive. We stopped for a sundowner drink, stunning sunset, and then, before it got too dark, Bradley was determined to find lion for us. He had heard lion calling and we rushed off – ‘eagle eyes’ one of the guests on the vehicle soon spotted a lioness not too far from the road.

As we stopped, she started calling, what an impressive sound the call of a lion right next to your vehicle is ! From somewhere, just across the nearby river, came an answering call. Close but we could not spot him. Then way off on the far hill we saw this magnificent blackmaned lion approaching. His call had seemed so close. Well he did come close and he did call again. One had the feeling that the walls of a nearby abandoned kraal would come tumbling down like Troy of old, such were the reverberations – awesome. Bradley let us know that these two lion had been seen mating – they decided to await our departure, so we missed the often rather aggressive copulation.

Darkness and a nightjar, an owl, some of the diurnal animals which Bradley was careful not to temporally blind with the powerful spotlight and we were eventually back at Umzolozolo. Scented cloths to wipe away the dust and grime and we hastened to freshen-up returning to the comfortable veranda for drinks, recounting the afternoon sightings and dinner. My anticipation was rewarded with a most delicious meal and good company. What a super day.

I awoke to the roar of lion emanating from the valley below our chalet. A fairly early start produced some really excellent game viewing. I was very impressed with the diversity and quantity of species seen. Along with those seen the afternoon before we added blue wildebeest, mountain reedbuck, waterbuck, a lone black wildebeest, white rhino, Blesbuck, water monitor lizard and then an antelope from the western side of our country, gemsbok.


We found 2 female lion on this sojourn as well. Bradley pointed out various birds and some super sightings were had, even a pair of the rather scarce Black Harrier and some eleven Blue Cranes with chicks, our National Bird, these also becoming “threatened” in RSA. He would also stop for us to smell and taste some of the bushveld herbs, interesting and adding to our enjoyment. Nambiti Game Reserve is yet another area rehabilitated from not really viable cattle and sheep ranches. It is also part of the local African community land, now being utilized to maximize the benefit to these folk, with them getting a return from the Lodges / visitors. Many are also employed at the various Lodges in the Game Reserve. I found it quite evocative driving through the bush and coming upon a stone covered grave with an old Ziziphus mucronata - Buffalo Thorn tree growing from the head of the grave, was this part of Zulu custom, to take a branch of this tree to where the person died, this thorn tree brings back the spirit to the grave?

We returned to the Lodge for breakfast, extensive, leisure, lunch , individually baked chicken “pies” each in own deep ramekin dish with a crusty topping followed by an apple dessert, leisure and then once again out into the bushveld. Management of the Nambiti Game Reserve have decided to dehorn the rhino, hoping to save them from the present spate of poaching. The reserve has already lost two. I was getting my bush eyes back and was really enjoying the environment, the company and Bradley kept adding value to the drive as he carefully negotiated some very rough and bumpy sections. We had a rather grumpy old Buffalo ask us to depart the area immediately. New one for me to have a Buff go for a vehicle. Bradley never let him exert his will too strongly and left as soon as this cantankerous bull started advancing on us. The Park strategy to hopefully cure the old boy of his wayward intentions. That evening after dark another lioness in the long grass – what a days game viewing.

The weather was a bit changeable so dinner in the Boma was not an option although this is a popular venue for the evening meal, all seated around a fire under the stars. In compensation we were treated to a breakfast out in the bush. A lovely setting next to a dam with the odd antelope wandering past. The catering staff had preceded us to the site, set up the venue and prepared a full breakfast, a lovely end to our visit capped only by venturing off-road on the way back to the Lodge to find the two lioness in repose for the day in the shade.

Umzolozolo Private Safari Lodge is a particularly wonderful wildlife destination.

Our hosts made guests feel welcome, relaxed and really comfortable, or was it the décor, furniture and fittings. The standard here is high.

The staff were particularly unobtrusive but so attentive. One felt like you had your own private butler.

The game viewing was better than expected or were we exceptionally fortunate? It might have been out of the norm to have lion sightings on all four game drives, but for the rest I believe this would be what one could expect. I really would like to revisit Nambiti Game Reserve at a different time of year – late summer and winter, to really asses this wildlife venue that so far is a wonderful, affordable alternative to our KwaZulu-Natal provincial parks and what’s more it’s Malaria free.

This beautiful reserve is also so well situated, between Johannesburg and Durban, close to the Drakensberg Mountains and there is history here too – battles between Boer and Brit within the Park boundaries and remnants of early Zulu habitation. There is more to explore here, we will be back!

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