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.


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