Monday, September 10, 2012

Umkumbi Safari Lodge – Jeremy Williamson

If it’s a Game Lodge within the Sabi Sand Game Reserve,  is it automatically,  a good Big 5 game viewing destination?   Lana and I went and had a look-see if this was the case.
 What a most wonderful locality for the Lodge, situated right on the bank of the Sand River with the open flood-plain below. This has to be one of the better Lodge outlooks in the Sabi Sands area. As we arrived and walked through to the deck, so a small herd of elephant were feeding in the reed-bed immediately in front of the camp.

We were met by Herman, the Lodge manager and Jason, who was to be our Ranger for the duration of our stay.

Umkumbe is amongst the more affordable of the Lodges in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. The rooms have this really lovely view but are very modest in size and furnishing, with only a shower and toilet en suite in most of them. The rooms were however air-conditioned. 

Lana and I were given the honeymoon suite, very comfortable and here there was a bath and shower in this larger chalet.

The food is rather basic, the main lodge comfortable, service reasonable, with the bar operating on a self help honesty basis, but then this is the Sabi Sand and it’s rather all about the wildlife, is it not? 

The game drives at Umkumbi Safari Lodge can be good, as we were to find out, or were we just incredibly fortunate?
Jason and Tracker Moses  guided us on the little maze of roads – nyala, buffalo (some old dagga boys), impala, then giraffe, some dwarf mongoose and then the light started to fade and with it my hopes of something good.

Sun down and a genet in the spotlight – then the call came through, a leopard on the boundary. This became something of a road race on a par with the Dakar Rally!  We had to get there before the leopard moved off, back onto the neighboring property. We roared past a large herd of elephant, who stood back, blinking their long eyelashes in awe as we sped past, a dozen foreign bodies  bouncing up and down on that Land Rover contraption, jaws set, hands gripping whatever possible,  tightly, eyes slit protectivly against the wind, we were ready . Lights - our neighbors vehicle, Sabi Sabi,  that had been following him -  there he was, magnificent in the spotlight, in the riverbed / boundary. He lay down on a sand bank in fine repose for the photo shoot,  then casually marked his northern boundary limit, then ambled along the stream and away into the bush on the far bank.

I looked back, another three vehicles on the Umkumbi side, had arrived just in time,  and were watching him too. These were visitors from outside the Park, who had been brought in to Umkumbe, for “a sunset drive in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, to be followed by a firelit Boma dinner”, before being driven back to their hotels.

We returned to the quizzical elephant herd, assured them that we indeed wanted to see them too. We made our way back to camp, en route, the lights of other vehicles driving in parallel, just away from us could be seen. Umkumbe is a very long extremely narrow stretch of land between Sabi Sabi / Nottens and its northern boundary and relies principally on sightings of animals passing through. With this area having such a high concentration of wildlife, the chances of seeing the Big 5 along with a wide diversity of other species,  seems possible. 

Back in the camp and to dinner. The reason for the over large Boma for the  number of Umkumbe’s Lodge guests, now became apparent, we were expecting guests. The three  vehicles we has seen earlier, arrived in a cloud of dust,  spilling out their mix of enthralled languages. They had been lucky, leopard, elephant and buffalo, of the Big 5 and giraffe, zebra and some antelope. The guests the previous night, we were told, were not so lucky.

The Boma too was a good one for these guests. Crackling warm fire and a potjie dinner. Large caldrons (potjies) one with a chicken stew, the next venison, with a third, the South African staple, ‘stywe pap’ (a porridge-like maize-meal dish). There was also a corn and pea, veggie dish and salad. This is the way to feed a hoard of folk in the bush. Umkumbi have this down to a fine art it seems as it really was delicious. This followed by plated poached pears and ice cream. Then off to the honesty bar for a night cap.
Africa began to waken when we boarded our Land Rover for the early morning game drive. This also turned out to be pretty good. Nyala, then some kudu cows, glowing in that lovely early morning light,

….. then we came upon her, a lioness, (which very obviously was sill suckling her cubs), out on the hunt.

We followed her for some time, as she tested one opportunity after another, enough, maybe best to leave her to it, alone.

A tree squirrel, more giraffe and some impala - later we heard that another vehicle had seen a female leopard in the Sand River bed near the Lodge, but the Ranger had been unable to raise us on the radio. The animals certainly are here. When we arrived, guests who had spent three nights at the Lodge, had yet to see any of the large cats. Their luck changed with our arrival, leopard on the night drive and lion this morning, finally the Big 5 ticked for them, Lana and I missed on rhino whilst at Umkumbe.

At most of the Lodges in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve area, on a four night stay,  one can be fairly well assured of seeing all of the “five most dangerous animals to hunt” – the Big 5. Here at Umkumbe? The limited traversing gives me doubts. Where leopard can normally be seen almost daily, here, I am not too sure and the record reflects this. If only they could share traversing with a neighbor and increase the size of land they traverse on.

Back to the Lodge for breakfast.  Laid out on the deck was a fine cold breakfast spread. Cereals, fruit, juices, with the hot breakfast, cheese omelets and toast, help yourself! 

 Lana and I consequently had a rather reasonable one night stay at Umkumbe. Would you?


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