Friday, April 29, 2011

Mpila Camp - Umfolozi Game Reserve

For the Easter Holidays we decided to take a little break and get out of Durban for the weekend and so our trip to Mpila Camp was planed and booked - well in advance due to the popularity of the camp.

For our trip we chose to stay in the 2 bed Chalets - each of the 2 bed chalets have their own little kitchenette, bathroom with a Toilet & Shower, table and chairs inside, a little deck with outside table & chairs and their own braai area in front of the chalet with the most amazing views.( The bush has since grown up and now obscures the outlook. Ed 2023)

 Once we were settled in and unpacked we headed out on our first drive, which was an eventful drive due to the fact that it seemed like every corner we turned there were White Rhino, in total we saw 17 white rhino during our first few hours in the park! our subsequent game drives were similar but besides all the rhino we also saw: Cheetah, Lion, Hyena, Buffalo, Elephant, Zebra, Giraffe, Impala, Wildebeest, Kudu, Nyala, Warthog and the list goes on. (The Rhino population has since declined to extensive poaching. Ed 2023)

Our first night went hand in hand with the day and was also eventful, Mpila Camp is not fenced besides an elephant wire, so all other game shorter than an elephant is able to wander into camp should they wish to. I had been pre-warned and thankfully so as whilst we were braaing that night a hyena walked right past us! when we shone our torch on the hyena it slinked off into the bush and didn't bother us again - there were 6 of us all huddled around the fire, but as soon as we were seated in the safety of our veranda (and after the meat was cooked) not one but two cheeky hyenas came to inspect our braai for any leftovers, unfortunately for them there were none. It is not wise to encourage their camp scavanging.

The friends who went with us had a chance sighting of the elusive Black Rhino but unfortunately by the time we reached the spot the animal had moved off, so yet again they continue to elude us, but this just means that we will have to continue going back to the bush to try and find them! looking at the sightings board which is up in the Reception area of Mpila Camp it seemed like everyone was having a good weekend as there were even 2 sightings of Wild Dog, that afternoon we did go in search of the wild dog but could not find them - as we all know they can move very quickly and cover vast areas.

all in all it was a nice and relaxing weekend and I will definitely go back to Mpila Camp - hopefully sometime soon! 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Lions Valley Lodge - Nambiti Game Reserve

Lions Valley Lodge is situated in the northern sector of the Nambiti Game Reserve. A luxury 5 star venue with beautifully appointed rooms and main lodge area. It’s an approximate half hour drive from the secure parking enclosure to the Lodge through some very scenic country. As we drive to the Lodge one has a view of this beautiful venue nestled on the slopes below, overlooking a waterhole. Anticipation running high.

The reception area and Porte Cochere is vast with access directly through to the expansive swimming pool terrace and rimflow infinity pool – inviting!. The view is really lovely with the bush close enough for one to be able to see some of the animals there quite clearly.

Refreshments and towels to greet, our luggage is transferred to golf carts and taken to our rooms whilst we are ushered on a main lodge familiarization. There is really loads of space here for the 20 guests. A lounge and library area, another lounge at the bar, then a selection of options as to where one may dine. The boma fireplace is open to the sky whilst the dining section is covered, such a clever idea,. It would only be in really inclement weather that one would needs retreat to the dining room. The d├ęcor is really beautifully accomplished. African chic mixed with a more sedate style, much sourced locally. I loved their Kudu Bling, The head of a kudu in wire and mirrored glass mounted in the dining room.

I had the opportunity to visit a number of the suites – all decorated independently, one quite daring /interesting as in the Spaza suite. All rooms have an identical footprint and similar general layout. The Jacuzzis on the decks will all become plunge pools only , in an endeavour to conserve electricity. The more distant rooms have pathways linked to the main lodge and guests are ferried to and fro on golf carts.

Sitting on the deck there is a lovely outlook into the bush and we had a variety of animals to watch with a herd of buffalo rushing down to the water-hole one morning. High tea was beautifully presented with superb selection - and a quiche to die for!

We had a very interesting afternoon game drive. Some of these rangers are just so knowledgeable. The road infrastructure in the northern sector of the Park seemed to be in far better shape than further south and with the animals so widely spread there is just so much to see. The size of the reserve is such that Lodges are normally able to structure their game drives to include areas throughout the Park where high profile animals have been seen, thus improving guests chances of seeing most of the sought after species. The large cats are collared – in case they escape the reserve into the community areas surrounding – however this telemetry is not used to secure daily sightings, this is left to the skills of the Rangers. My game viewing experience at Nambiti has been particularly good with excellent game drives daily.

We returned to the Lodge after a most successful afternoon / evening game drive, pre-dinner drinks at the bar, superb dinner and then twin baths and bed. I would have preferred air-conditioning, or even ceiling fans in the rooms to the retro styled standard floor  fans. These were noisy. With no easily opening windows the ventilation aspect should be addressed.  The early morning wake-up call was the fairly close roar of lion. These lion however eluded us on the morning drive which our Ranger made into the area where the calls seemed to emanate. Much of Nambiti is rehabilitated farmland with dams, homesteads in various states of disrepair, even windmills. The fences have however been removed, the maise fields rehabilitated to grassland – none of which now looks like previously farmed areas – what I really appreciate is that this marginal farmland has had its land ownership issues resolved with ancestoral land claimants and Lodge owners having reached a mutually beneficial working partnership to the benefit of the people, the wildlife and ecosystem.

Visiting the Nambiti Game Reserve from Durban or Johannesburg is such that after the morning game drive, breakfast and check-out, there is time to drive home to be there mid-afternoon. Ideal to unpack and ready for the days ahead.

Springbok Lodge - Nambiti Game Reserve

Springbok Lodge is situated in the Nambiti Game Reserve near Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal. A malaria free area, this reserve has excellent game viewing and in particular of high profile animals such as lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo, cheetah and giraffe. Leopard do occur here but are rarely seen.

We arrived at Nambiti’s southern entrance gate where the gate guard let the Lodge know that we were here. We then drove through to the nearby secure shaded parking area where a vehicle from the Lodge collected us and transferred the four of us the short distance back to the Lodge. The game viewing commenced immediately on this drive , with a magnificent kudu bull and warthog with youngsters seen on the way. We were warmly welcomed at the Lodge with a drink whilst we checked in, our bags were dispatched to our rooms. Lunch was eminent so we opted to relax on the expansive deck which has a lovely outlook into the bush. Breakfasts and lunches are generally on the deck and in the evenings dinner is served in the boma around a fire, all dependent on the weather.

We settled into our spacious luxury tents after lunch and prepared for the afternoon game drive.

15 elevated Luxury Tents sleep a maximum of 30 guests, offering opulence in the African bush. The tents are air conditioned in the warm summer months and heated in the chilly winter ones, with electric blankets keeping guests extra snug. Each of the tents have their own viewing deck with comfortable chairs, inside a kingsize bed (also available as twin beds), bathroom en suite - bath indoors with outside private shower, a hospitality tray, complimentary sherry, safety deposit box and a hairdryer.

We walked back to the main Lodge buildings, cameras and a jacket ready ready for he afternoons drive. Tea and biscuits and off we go in the “open” game drive vehicles.. These purpose built vehicles normally seat 10 passengers. We headed north to the open plains area and bingo, on the road a coalition of three cheetah on the hunt. They were quite relaxed in our presence and were very close when they walked past the vehicle before disappearing in the long grass. There had been excellent rains during summer and also heavy storms just before our arrival. Wonderful for the bush but the road infrastructure had suffered somewhat, especially in the valleys and at stream crossings where the access had been eroded.

The open grassland areas at Nambiti Game Reserve are particularly enjoyable as one is normally able to see a variety of animals in almost any direction , we had a marvelous drive seeing so many different antelope.

As the sun was setting we came upon a lioness and her three sub-adult cubs. She was particularly interested in a nearby herd of impala. With the darkness we departed to leave her to best source food for her cubs. An eagle owl, night jar and scrub hare and the eyes of many a plains game on the way back to camp. So it was we returned to Springbok Lodge with rain drops beginning to fall. That was a pretty good game drive ! Due to the possibility of more rain the boma dinner was not to be and we dined instead in the cosy main lodge dining room. After a super dinner, excellent conversation and a night cap we were driven back to our tents.

We had a Fiery-necked nightjar seemingly sitting on our tent, so close its call sounded – one of the joys of tented accommodation is that one is normally able to hear all the sounds of the bush more clearly. I slept so soundly that even lion roaring did not wake me.

Early wake-up call and a 06h00 departure, as we sought out Nambiti Game Reserve’s wildlife. A pair of black-backed jackal scavenging were the first animals seen, then a hippo returning to the safety of its preffered water sanctuary. A bit later on we had a really good sighting of a large breeding herd of elephant. We sat quietly and they came past in all sizes, each a character, some cheekily coming closer, others challenging a sibling and testing strength. So entertaining! This game reserve has a wide variety of wildlife and I wish to believe that when on the open grassland areas – this is what Africa must have been like before man arrived – for as we looked in each direction so there was a herd of zebra here, some wildebeest and blesbuck there, some giraffe, hippo and waterbuck in the wetlands and eland making off in the distance.

Our guide took us to a lovely view-site on the Sundays River where we could see the “Cascades” – with the river reasonably high this was quite a sight. A very varied topography throughout this reserve makes for a wide species diversity. We even saw Gemsbok. These antelope really belong to the west of the country in the Kalahari. Somehow the local Park authority had issued permits for this species to be released here and so they remain – thriving too.

That is quite some game viewing for just two guided game drives. This is really an excellent value destination with game viewing as good if not better than we have in our local provincial parks. Here the game drives are included in the tariff and made so much more interesting by the knowledgeable Rangers.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lalibella Game Reserve - Eastern Cape

The Eastern Cape is slowly adding an array of really worthwhile wildlife destinations to its attractions. The Greater Addo area and beyond is becoming a maze of protected biomes. We are slowly being able to visit each in turn to assess just how good the area is becoming. One is able to have a very good wildlife experience at places we know such as Kwandwe and Shamwari and Addo too if you are into elephant. So eagerly we drove through to the Lalibella Game Reserve, on the N2 to Grahamstown and approximately 45 minutes from Port Elizabeth to see what this venue offered. Reception is at the gate and here ones vehicle is parked for the duration and one is transferred to the Lodges. On checking in and signing the necessary indemnity lunch was then offered. This a convenient way of getting the new arrivals together and then all transferred as one to the Lodges. There are three Lodges on the property Lentaba Lodge, Mark's Camp and Tree Tops. We were destined for Tree Tops for our two night visit. A delightful tented camp set in the forested slopes of a rather rugged part of the reserve. Luncheon replete, we boarded our minibus and rumbled through the countryside. Initially mostly open grassland with a reasonably wide diversity of animals to be seen, all very relaxed as we passed by. Impala, blesbok, gemsbok and giraffe aplenty. A small resident herd of Nyala welcomed us as we entered the Lodge car-park. Lalibela comprises 7,500 hectares (18,500 acres) of valley bushveld, savannah grassland, fynbos, riverine forest and acacia woodland.

Clever design has the Lodge easily transformed from an open deck , to a cosy enclosed lounge / dining / bar. Such was the weather when we were there that the canvas sides were in the main left rolled up and open.

Our tent bedroom was large, had a shower and toilet en suite and then a deck with an outlook over the forest. The weather had been rather warm and airconditioning the tent was a welcome luxury.

Cameras made ready, a jacket in case the weather turns chilly and we clamber aboard the Toyota open game drive vehicle. There is a lot of diversity in the terrain here and we initially clung to the side of a cliff as we negotiated the road to the valleys below. Our first big game sighting was a crash of some 6 white rhino who were quite happy placidly grazing and not bothering to give us the time of day.

This was followed by two youngish bull elephant and then we found a variety of antelope, saw where cheetah had left the remains of a kill from the day before and we tried to “listen’ for the usually very vocal lion. Stopped for sundowners as the sun cast its vermillion net in the west. In the light of the spotlight the barely discernable outline of a cat – what was it? It then stepped out from the shrubbery – a serval. The first our guide had seen at Lalibella, so a big tick that night. There is an unfortunate large amount of invasive wattle trees on the property and the serval chose to evade us by dissapearing into one of these forests. Welcomed back to the Lodge where a fire on the deck was ablaze and a collection of Djembe drums awaited us, as too our host for the evening’s entertainment. With drums between the knees and a lesson in rhythm, we were off making music. The lion were silent that night.

The weather the following morning was misty but this still afforded some excellent game viewing. Cheetah and her two cubs on an Impala kill, more elephant, jackal and a variety of antelope. Gemsbok, red hartebeest, black wildebeest and common reedbuck. The evening game drive produced yellow mongoose, springhare, aardwolf and more jackal as well as some night birds. All in all excellent game viewing. Other interesting species are found here too such as suricate meerkat and bat-eared fox. Although designated a Big Five Reserve with elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard, one rarely gets a sight of the elusive leopard, as in so many of the Big 5 reserves in South Africa. In my experience it is really only in the greater Sabie Sand area that one would almost be assured of seeing the Big 5 when staying at a lodge for 2 nights. Cheetah certainly make up for this here though.