Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Esiweni Game Lodge - Jeremy Williamson

We just had to visit Esiweni Game Lodge in the Nambiti Private Game Reserve near Ladysmith, Elandslaagte actually, in KwaZulu-Natal.  The Anglo-Boer War Battle of Elandslaagte was fought on part of the northern sector of this 11,000Ha Game reserve. Why visit Esiweni ? well its in the Nambiti Game Reserve and by all accounts the view from the Lodge is gorgeous – pun intended.

We arrived at the Memorial Gate Parking lot just after 12h00 – ideal for the 12h30 check in time at this Lodge.  We were met by new Ranger Ewert and  taken by open Safari vehicle to the Lodge. Access is down a steep bumpy road, and it has been built on the edge of the hillside just above a sheer cliff overlooking the gorge.  There to greet us were the delightful Management couple, Natie and Magda.
Freshen up cloths, a hot chocolate and marshmallow welcome drink - we had arrived. The chocolate was lovely but getting the now very sticky marshmallow out from its guey seat at the bottom of the mug could be interesting. Magda delights in seeing how the various arrivals succeed. We were then led to the expansive deck for the Lodge briefing – the view of the Sundays River valley below was magnificent.

 Esiweni is presently a 4 star venue with 5 Chalets arranged on the edge of this view. The rooms were comfortable with open plan bath

- the vanity, shower, indoor and out – were partly hidden around a nookie. There was however a private toilet.

A tea station with all the necessary, as well as a Bodum and ground  coffee for those who like it real. Decor rather austere.

Lunch at 14h00.
We settled in and enjoyed the view from the expansive chalet deck then off to lunch.
Warthog pie and salad. Delicious, hung around a while and realised that that was it, so off back to the room for a cup of coffee. I might add that there was a tea station in the dining room with one of those perpetually hot urns – so that could have been an option too, for after luncheon coffee.

We relaxed and read the magazines in the room before the 16h00 game drive. We arrived with our layers of clothing, waterproof cases and loads of enthusiasm. No afternoon tea setup so directly to the vehicles and out.  Magda enquired of us before leaving, as to which option would we want for dinner, the Salmon on couscous , or the Kassler chops. We chose the salmon.
The babies were out this afternoon. A newborn Hartebeest, first of the season, was taking its first drink on very wobbly uprights. Soon and within an hour that youngster would be fairly competently mobile. Natie wanted to show us a breeding herd of elephant, just that the road to where they were, had a bit of a steep ascent. The Toyota's just don’t quite have that slippery hillclimb ability, even in 4X4 mode, but with some Jeremy Clarkson style wheel burning, we found grip and summited. The elephant were a delight – BFE, the dominant bull elephant was in attendance. Here too was the matriarch with her three year old daughter and the matriarch’s very new infant, about a week old, angelic. All in the herd, would interact and deliberatly distance the baby from this metallic intruder filled with gawking bodies, so protective were they, that only occasional glimpses of a mobile shadow in the longish grass could be seen. Fortunately the baby did make one curtain call for us, promptly tripped, landing on its face cushioned by a rather non-controllable trunk.
The sun started to fall as we then headed off in search of more. What a beautiful game reserve.

“That’s a reedbuck alarm call” Natie tells us “must be a predator or two around” So we circled the area, getting darker, lights on, another alarm call, then almost from under our wheels, a lioness darted out of the way, then nonchalantly looked back. Another vehicle joined us – enough, the lioness said and circled close to the two vehicles  - this is my territory, don’t come upsetting me here! She said it all with the most threatening looks. I was so please to be in the vehicle. She must have realised that having to feed four hungry growing cubs was more important than taking it out on us, just because of  the innocent error of almost running her down. She headed off into reedbuck land and we headed off too, only to find the four youngsters a short distance away, waiting in anticipation for her call. They were at that rather awkward age, when ‘help’  from them could mean the loss of  a meal. So perched on a mound for better vantage, they obediently waited, we could not, and departed. With all these predators around it was not wise to stop for sundowners.

The next evening Natie found  three lion for us. slowly they awakend as the sun set. Getting ready for their nocturnal hunting.

Back at Esiweni Lodge we were greeted with refreshing towels and a glass of sherry. That just hit the spot and made up for the lack of alcoholic stimulation earlier. We chose a bottle of Ataraxia Sauvignon Blanc from the Lodges wine cellar....

and to dinner. A glowing fire, comfortable seating, convivial chatter and a bowl of chunky tomato soup to start.  A lovely surprise, as we were not sure what the menu consisted of. We had chosen the salmon on couscous. Truly a wonderful dish. All went so well together, the spices, consistency,  just perfect. We complimented the chef, Magda blushed, we found out that Magda was presently on chef duty too,  Magda was doing almost everything - camp manager, reception, reservations, housekeeping, chef, customer liaison, marketing and then a few others, I had better stop.  Magda should stop a bit too, or certainly slow down. That is way too much for one person to do. Well maybe stay with the chef duties whilst we were there, she was certainly quite a master in the kitchen, with flavours and combinations  just so right.

To bed and our room was freezing. We quickly turned on the little radiator heater and dived in under the duvet, cuddled up for warmth. Little did we know and only realised on departure, that the room had under-floor heating. Never thought of it, what with the radiator right there next to the bed. We survived, rose with the wake-up call,  dressed warmly, kettle on for tea and coffee and a biscuit, before heading for the Lodge. Warm muffins, cereal and juice was set up in the dining room and the tea station there had the urn on the go. I made another cuppa.
Off on the game drive. We headed south to where the action and animals seemed to be.

Some of the action that Natie was determined not to take part in, was any confrontation with buffalo. Nambiti Game Reserve seems to have the odd cantankerous bull that goes as far as taking on the game drive vehicles.  Toyota’s are purportedly tough, but tough enough to take on a Buffalo more suited to the Bull rings of Madrid? He wisely thought not. We did see buffalo and a number of them, all bovine and docile, then a big boy showed inordinate interest in us, but we were not that interested in him, so left, fairly rapidly too, with that tell-tale cloud of white smoke. Top-Gear would be proud.

Loads of giraffe, then a herd of gemsbok, these antelope more suited to our western desert biomes, were thriving here, albeit slightly out of their preferred habitat.

The hartebeest too, multiplying well. The blue wildebeest were so prolific a breeder here, that the reserve management were planning on selling off some of the excess stock after the peak in calving was over. Good game viewing.

We stopped at an old farmyard site for morning teas. What a beautiful setting, I loved the old stonework. Some of which was reverting to nature as the figs and vegetation slowly take over.

On one of the morning game drives, Natie pulled over and gave us an insight to the Anglo-Boer War Battle of Elandslaagte, which happened right there on the plains and hills in front of us, just over 100 years ago. All that is now left to remember the soldiers by, are the tales now recounted, some grave sites and monuments to the fallen.

 Magda  welcomes the game drive with refreshing towels and intriguing drink combinations, was that black cherry and lemon? Delicious.
Breakfast had a range of the propriety cereals  and yoghourts, with the cooked breakfast adding chicken wings, mushrooms, tomato and mozzarella to our eggs and bacon. So I made up a Bodum of ground coffee and tucked in.

The most comfortable seating at the Lodge was in the expansive lounge. Some of the more sittable sofas and chairs, and what’s more they looked good too. Normally it’s the antithesis. Then there was a collection of reference books.  

Magda had recently added a new one,  describing our local indigenous flowers, one we did not have, Lana was absorbed, we spent hours there. Spring was here in all its glory with so many of the veld flowers and trees in bloom. A delight.

Natal Bottlebrush
Oh to be more of a botanist. Mind you Lana helped me a lot with the flowers’ IDs.

The Potato Plant was quite prolific,  Hypoxis sp – extracts from this plant, an effective immune booster. Moducare one of them.  Our friend Dawn in the USA will remember this one.
More drives,

Natie had amazingly good ‘bush’ eyes and was first to see any of the more concealed wildlife. Thank you. The mountain reedbuck were special.

He first saw a pair and then slowly the rest of the family appeared on the hillside, an ear here, a twitch there, super! I loved the way the colours so blended, even the impala were indiscernible from the rustic rock so prolific in the Park. Would they choose to ‘hide’  there amongst them, as it so often seemed? Then occasionally so visible out on the plains. Yay.

On one of our drives at Esiweni we had lovely close viewing of – yes the Big 5 minus 1. Yip it's leopard, the elusive one missing from the tick list of our lively new friends on the game drives. 

This lack of leopard sightings is for me, made up for, by the rich diversity of antelope species and the oh so numerous giraffe. Natie has seen leopard and in time so will guests.There are also cheetah to be found in the Nambiti Game Reserve.
Esiweni is a beautifully sited Lodge that should soon be up to compliment with staff. A new chef and Ranger starting this month.. and so forward.  Maybe then Magda and Natie will have time to do what they do best, and look after their wonderful haven and its guests to the max.

Photographs - Jeremy and Lana Williamson


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