Monday, May 16, 2011

Elephant Rock Lodge, Nambiti Private Game Reserve

I have just returned from a tour to the Nambiti Private Game Reserve, situated close to Ladysmith in KwaZulu Natal, and I must say, I was pretty impressed (and rather chuffed with myself – this will become clearer in the next paragraph).

I had reserved a tour for a couple from Canada to one of our public game reserves in KwaZulu Natal, and this was all done and dusted – paid for, bookings confirmed, etc. About the time that all this was being confirmed, I had occasion to visit this park on another tour and was slightly disappointed on a number of issues, which I will not go into here. So, during one of those long game drives, when game is scarce and the bush is very thick, I got to thinking, “what about an alternative for my Canadian guests?” My colleague had just returned from Nambiti, and he was very enthusiastic about the place. I had never been there, but I know that his opinion can be relied on, so when I returned to the office, I approached my clients and offered them an alternative, this being the Elephant Rock Lodge in Nambiti. When I set out the pro’s and con’s, they were quite happy to switch to Nambiti, so with due haste this new reservation was made and the old one cancelled. We were off to Nambiti!

I was still a bit concerned about whether I had done the right thing, but three days before I was to collect them I again had occasion to visit this public park for a few days, and this visit told me that I had done the right thing. So on Monday it was a three-odd hour drive from Zimbali through Ladysmith to Nambiti. With its waterfalls and diverse landscapes, Nambiti offers endless opportunities and options. Unlike most other game reserves, Nambiti has the carrying capacity of twice that of regions like Botswana, thus being able to carry more game per acre than other reserves. The Nambiti Private Game Reserve was begun in 1999 from what was originally a cattle farming area. These farms were acquired and then the mammoth task of removing internal fencing and old buildings started. After all the unwanted manmade structures were removed, the job of removing all alien vegetation commenced. After some time the reserve was ready for the delicate task of re-introducing wildlife. After many years of management, the reserve has now come full circle. The fauna is flourishing and the fauna has settled down into the slow moving time of Africa. What I experienced on our game drives was that the reserve certainly has plenty of water – all those old cattle farms had farm dams which have now been incorporated into the reserve, so unless there is serious drought in this area, water will be in abundance here.

We arrived at the reserve and parked our “soft” vehicle in the secure car park, where we were collected by our ranger. Steve, our ranger for the duration of our stay, took us to the lodge, where we were shown to our rooms. Superbly sited overlooking a waterhole, Elephant Rock Lodge is a charming boutique safari lodge offering luxury accommodation for up to 10 people. The lodge boasts five well appointed luxurious suites that are well spaced for total privacy and include an en-suite bathroom, private deck and outdoor shower, and all have great views of the waterhole or the indigenous bushveld. Another good thing about this lodge is that it is fenced, so one does not require an armed escort to get around inside the camp after dark! The rooms have ceiling fans, double or twin beds, his and hers basins, outside shower and all other trimmings one can hope for, all in all, very comfortable. The most appreciated by me was the presence of electric blankets, which were sorely needed in these cold nights!

We enjoyed lunch, which was very good. In fact, all our meals were very good. Breakfast has a cold buffet section, and your order is taken for your hot breakfast, which included eggs (done in any which way) mushrooms, bacon, sausages, tomato, toast, etc. Lunches are usually quite light (they have to be after a full breakfast) and consisted of quiche, salads, chicken-bake and similar dishes. It is during lunch that your orders are taken for your dinner preferences, which gives you a choice of starters, mains and dessert – two or three choices each. Coffee, tea, Milo, hot chocolate etc. is available at all times at the lodge.

At Nambiti we enjoyed four game drives - two in the afternoon and into the evening and two in the early morning, into the mid morning. These were done in open safari vehicles with our guide Steve. Just a short word on Steve – an excellent guide, enthusiastic, very knowledgeable and keen, simply a pleasure to be with. On that topic, Inge and her staff at the lodge also did a fine job and well-done to them. What I particularly enjoyed about the early morning drives was the early mist hanging over the dams and into the valleys, before slowly being burned off by the ever rising sun. What I particularly enjoyed was time spent in the open plains, which were dotted with a variety of plains game and great light. Having said this, all areas of this reserve were good, and a variety of wildlife was seen. I will not bore you with which animals were seen on which drives, but I will list hereunder the animals that we did see – I made notes, so as not to forget!

I could not believe the diversity of animals that we had seen – this I have never experienced before in any reserve in South Africa, whether private or public, and as for the “special” sightings, we saw cheetah (twice), serval (twice) and aardwolf once. For any experienced nature guides who may be reading this, you will know that sightings of these animals during the course of four game drives, is very, very rare. We also saw the following animals, not classified by me as “specials” but nonetheless great to see, and in no particular order and in large numbers for the most part; kudu, zebra, mountain reedbuck, common reedbuck, red hartebeest, blue wildebeest, black wildebeest (they are to remove all of them in due course – you cannot have the two types on one property), eland, hippo, elephant, white rhino, waterbuck, impala, giraffe, black-backed jackal, warthog, nyala, spotted hyena and gemsbok (oryx). All that we missed out on was lion and buffalo, but I must say that Steve tried very hard to find these, and as everyone knows, wild animals come and go as they please, there are no guarantees.

Now with all the good things to say about the lodge, surely there must be some negatives? Yes, there is one negative Рthe lodge does not have filter coffee! In this day and age, surely this is not too difficult to serve. It need not be available at all times, but there should be filter coffee available before the morning game drive, at breakfast and lunch Рinstant coffee is not real coffee! All one need is some real coffee beans, a coffee grinder, a percolator or cafeti̬re or any other similar product. Come on, Elephant Rock, it can be done!
PS - The Lodge has done it with good coffee, from a French Press the order of the day now !

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