Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Leopard Mountain Game Lodge - Zululand Rhino Reserve

The optimal arrival time at Leopard Mountain Game Lodge is 14:00, so Lana and I had packed up the Land Rover and left home in Durban at 10h30. We took the coastal scenic route via Ballito and then up the N2 and into Zululand. The further north we travelled the drier the bush appeared, with the first flush of green just beginning after some recent light rains. A three hour drive and we were at the entrance to the Zululand Rhino Reserve, some 30 kilometres north of the Hluhluwe Village. Enter, security and in, en route to the lodge we spotted some impala, nyala, zebra and giraffe - looking good!

At the lodge we were met by Melissa with refreshing iced tea and were taken to our chalet overlooking the Umsunduze River valley - what a view! Lana relaxed in the hammock on the deck whilst I watched a pair of white bellied sunbirds in the nearby bushes and the distant passing parade of antelope – then Nelson the resident Nyala Bull decided to tend to the shrubbery around our abode. Whilst here we also had the pleasure of seeing a large elephant bull that was strolling along the river-bed below.

Afternoon tea, consisting of tasty sandwiches and scrumptious cakes, was served before onto the vehicles for the afternoon game drive. Our vehicle was a new ‘open’ Land Rover Game Viewer, super comfortable and my favorite game drive vehicle. I’m too old to have my bones shaken about in a Land Cruiser! The bush was very dry and some sections had been burnt with the new growth only just starting to show, so this section really only attracted those animals that enjoy the burnt vegetation. Today it was White Rhino (two in the bush and another two at the waterhole),

Buffalo, Giraffe aplenty, Zebra and then antelope - Blue wildebeest, Impala, Nyala, Common Reedbuck and Grey Duiker. This was a super game drive with our ranger Amy and tracker, Travis, who provided interesting insight on the animals and the environment.

During our drive we stopped for Sundowners (and wine served in real wine glasses!), tasty snacks and drooe wors – a South Africa favourite. On the return to camp we passed through a section of riparian forest, their trees alive with a number of Thick-tailed Galago (Bushbabies) which made Lana’s day. Being nocturnal, these small animals are not regularly seen.

Leopard Mountain Lodge has a rather clever choice option for ones evening meal, in that one is asked to choose from the dinner menu in advance. Because of a light drizzle, dinner could not be in their normal Boma venue, seated around a fire. A delightful four cours meal with South African options. I chose Babootie and there was Malva pudding foor dessert !

Thereafter we returned to our comfortable beds and the next morning was an early rise - we were scheduled to go on an early morning walk. Our guide Ivor van Rooyen accompanied by Ryan Vivier led the way - such an interesting walk. Ivor is well versed in the ways of the wild and kept us well informed of all the signs, sounds and smells of the bush. We followed Black Rhino and Buffalo tracks, animals which are apparently regularly encountered on these walks and we saw where a hyena had crossed our path. We came close to a number of antelope and then the lesser-seen animals as well, a leopard tortoise that had evaded the fire, and some snails too! 

Then aardvark diggings, wherein warthog had now taken up residence in these dug-out burrows as well as some bird nests with eggs - Spring!. October is a good time of the year for birding, with the summer migrants having already recently arrived in Southern Africa. Raptors were really prolific and with walking through different biomes, so new opportunities presented themselves. The dense forest along the Umsundusi River was especially good. The walk was a good three hours of pleasure and certainly well worth doing.

Breakfasts at Leopard Mountain were delightful - juices, cereals and fruit and then the traditional "Full House" South African (English?) cooked option. Repleat, guests may opt to be taken to a waterhole where there is a comfortable hide. In the hour that we were there we had a number of visitors, with no less than 27 warthog in the area at one time.

Thereafter it was back to the Lodge for time to ourselves to relax and enjoy the bush environment. Ours was spent lying on the deck with the sounds of prolific bird calls from all quarters and the odd visit from a warthog or nyala. Lunch was rather unique. Leopard Mountain Lodge arranges a picnic basket to be enjoyed at one of the many places in and around the Lodge. Some guests chose the lovely rock pool, we preferred the deck at our Chalet. Breads, cheeses, salads, pate, dessert were all on offer - such a good idea. After another period of relaxation, it was time for tea, which consisted of delightful sandwiches and cakes before departing on the afternoon game drive.

On this drive we saw a lot of plains game, giraffe, baboon and then a trio of white rhino, mum and her two calves, the one a lot older than her sibling. Then a rather relaxed bull elephant sporting some fair ivory and using them to best secure his meal. Then Amy spotted a Black Rhino, a super sighting before this shy and endangered animal turned and disappeared, zig-zagging through the bush at high speed. More pachyderms were seen, and then it was onto a dam where the abrasive snorts of hippo greeted us. Here we enjoyed sundowners, thereafter our drive continued with spotlights and a genet out on the hunt.

Spring time, overcast and light rain, wonderful! No one seemed to mind that the boma dinner was not to be. Our last early morning game drive produced some more buffalo, white rhino, giraffe, zebra and a variety of antelope.

I am most impressed with the vast improvement in the quality and quantity of game sightings in comparison to our visit to this Game Reserve some five years ago. With the recent introduction of lion, this is now truly a Big Five destination with such potential. Lana and I really enjoyed the Lodge,(good attention to detail here)  the staff were so friendly, helpful and informative and I was pretty impressed with the game viewing. Zululand Rhino reserve really is a worthwhile, affordable venue getting better all the time.