Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Nambiti Hills Game Lodge - Jeremy Williamson

What makes a visit to a private Lodge in a Game Park really special ? Lovely if the game experience is good and that the Lodge should meet expectations, this in respect to the comfort, facilities and meals, but I find that it is the people – the staff,  that really make it a worthwhile, pleasant, memorable experience.

Nambiti Hills Private Game Lodge in the Nambiti Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal is a truly wonderful venue in this wildlife reserve that I find so intriguing. Perched on a hilltop with a delightful outlook over the bushveld – one can relax on ones private deck, binoculars to hand and see all sorts of animals below. This whilst the people of this Lodge take care of their guests, and here they do!

It was an easy drive from Durban, taking just on 3 hours to the Park . En route I get a call, it was Brett Hoy, Head ranger and Camp Manager, just making sure that we were en route and for him to be able to arrange that there would be someone at the parking lot to meet us.  Lana and I arrived at the Nambiti Game Reserve’s Woodlands gate in time for the preferred 14h00 check in at Nambiti Hills Game Lodge. We were met at the Lodge by Chantal and Thandeka,  warm smiles,  a warm scented facecloth to freshen up, plus a cool ginger and lemon drink, which set the comfort mode to high for the next few days. Walking through the expansive reception and lounging area to the deck, that view! Awesome it was! I just love our bushveld and to have such a vantage view,  is the epitome of therapy for me.

This was a rather special visit, what made it more so was that Lana and I were to be accommodated in the Lodge’s rather luxurious ‘Honeymoon’ (Special persons) suite. We loved  the accommodation!

Tastefully appointed, luxuriously decorated with really large wildlife photographs, beautiful artifacts  and with  all that one would expect of a Five Star Lodge in South Africa. Comfortable armchairs, sofa, deck chairs, deck recliners - well stocked bar fridge, tea station with the most delectable of snacks and then for a self proclaimed  coffee nut, my dream, real coffee – a Nespresso machine with fresh milk in the fridge – made my day! Charlotte Rhys soaps on the vanity, open plan stone bath bathing area, more special soaps for the indoor and outdoor showers too. Heated towel rails, excellent reading material and comfortable seating options. To top it all, a bottle of our preferred wine on ice – this was going to be fun.

I had monitored the weather forecasts, so,  gone were our soft camera bags, replaced by waterproof cases, fleeces traded for waterproof jackets and we were ready for whatever the weatherman was going to throw at us. It was wet, but every now and again the fine drizzle would abate and out would come the cameras, clicking madly away at whatever animal was in range. At Nambiti Game Reserve there is rarely time when no wildlife is to be seen – I find that rather unique. Must be so much like Africa before the intervention of “man the hunter”.  Then there were the 'People of the Lodge' – well, we were particularly fortunate to have Brett Hoy as our guide. He is an accomplished photographer and a wealth of information – photographic and also in particular with respect to the wildlife too. “Considering the weather (prevailing light situation) have you considered setting your camera.....” .. "Have you noticed how the Impala.......   ..."?   I learned so much!

Despite the weather, the game viewing was good – I feel I must add – As always !. We came upon a small herd of elephant and two of the youngish bulls were testing their testosterone, engaging trunks, dueling tusks and pushing one another around quite energetically. The smaller one was so aggressive that he eventually caused the slightly larger guy to back off, turn tail and run, incredible!

This is such a beautiful and diverse game reserve, rugged hilly areas, open flat grasslands and pretty much all else in between and so full of a wide variety of wildlife and flora. Lovely to see South Africa’s largest antelope,  the Eland,  so close and so many of them.  

Kudu, then a few more  and  ‘Oh yes’ ! some more - there are quite a few Kudu at Nambiti, such a beautiful antelope and some of the bulls have the most magnificent massive horns.  

 There are a number of lion at Nambiti too,  we were fortunate to see them well. One morning we came upon the big fella and his 2, two year old sons.

Big daddy before the fight
They were not in passive mode, low growls from all three rumbled the earth - was that because of our intrusion? apparently not, aggressive pecking order for superiority displays then started, with  one of the youngsters ‘mounting’ his brother in a show of dominance, that was when dad had to show who really was boss, a massive fisticuffs,  just meters in front of us in the road, ensued. Grunts and grumbles turned to roars of rage, no wonder death is often the result of such altercations, the claws certainly were not sheathed, this was wildest Africa, right here. No pictures, we were too enthralled by the action.

One evening Brett delayed the return to the Lodge a bit, to our delight, he had heard a male lion giving vent in the distance and was determined to locate him.
Roaring,  telling all and sundry just where he and his territory was, Brett found him, anticipated his direction  and just happened to be right next to him when next he rose to the occasion to demonstrate his emotions, the poor Land Rover vibrated under such resonating a call. Had we not been well ensconced safely in the vehicle I would say encountering such vociferous resonance would have had me quaking in me boots. On another occasion we had sightings of just the two younger males , having left dad to fend for himself.  The following day we again found them, this time with their sister, and on this occasion it was a “mattress of lion,” all three recumbent, flat out in the long grass, seemingly too lazy to raise an eyebrow, let alone a head. This is the joy of visiting these private game reserves versus the National or Provincial parks, as here the Rangers are able to track the animals with the comfortable Land Rover Safari vehicles, even to venture off-road to secure close clear sightings of these mostly prostrate predators, normally so well hidden in the long grass.

The evening stops were a delight. Brett would set up the ‘sundowners’ with white and red wines, other drinks and the most divine snacks. Imagine really delicious meatballs, still warm, spiced with all sorts, a bit of coriander? to give it a gamey sensation?  Dried wors, macadamia nuts, nuts and seeds, dried fruit, another evening it was spicy chicken wings and accoutrements. Oooooh so good. 

Thankfully there was still an hour or so till dinner – no rush at this Lodge to cut the drive short  and head back, rather Brett would endeavor to make the very most of the experience.  Then to dinner, now that was decadent fare.
Back at the Lodge, that warm welcome, warm cloths and a warm drink - one evening milo and kalua, the next was horlicks and something exotic?  Was that mint chocolate flakes sprinkled on top? I believe Chantal has great fun making up these ‘welcome back’ warming concoctions!
Bryce, the accomplished Lodge Chef, gave us all a big grin as we entered the dining room to warm ourselves at its double sided central fireplace.  He was busy with the final touches to our preordered dishes, in his “display / open kitchen”  Probably warming himself too,  as the flambĂ© flames did their magic. A sensible idea with regards to dinners (the breakfasts too) is that the comprehensive menu is presented, whilst all are gathered feasting on cakes, teas and coffee before the game drives,

  choice of dishes made,  one is left to salivate in anticipation of the meal,  whilst also enjoying  the game drive – double wammy.

The days started bright and early, our ranger would knock on the door and then to the deck for that Illy Coffee, rusks, muffins and greetings all round. To the vehicles, layered to the hilt our  protection from the early morning cold drizzle, anticipation high. We never seemed to travel far before Brett would cut the engine, point out the reason and then entertain us with an interesting snippet – imagine a herd in excess of 100 Eland slowly moving through the bush munching on the fresh new growth after some recent burning.

We saw quite a variety, grey duiker, steenbuck, common reedbuck, hartebeest, blue wildebeest, some black wildebeest which we were told by Brett,  were to be removed to pastures new as they could interbreed – not desirable.

A pair of black backed jackal were anxiously ferreting about in the cold early morning as  too another of our more nocturnal species, spotted hyena. These three were having a right royal time ‘playing’ or so it seemed and occasionally chewing on odd scraps of skin? Scattered in the veld.  

One of the rather bedraggled spotted hyena
The numerous herds of impala were soon to become even more numerous, the dark patch in front of the hind legs becoming more evident as these prospective mothers’ bellies slowly became distended with the growing foetus. Ready to drop mid November – good time to visit !

 The high profile animals too are well represented. The white rhino here have had their horns trimmed as a deterrent to the poaching menace. With a bit of a stump they don’t look too bad either.  

Always something interesting to see -  a variety of migrant raptors have also arrived for their summer vacation,  supplementing admirably  the already rich avifauna.

Our early morning stop with tea, coffee or Hot Chocolate and the optional Amarula cream, rusks full of nuts and pumpkin seeds, muffins and biscuits. No wonder I couldn’t wait to get back to breakfast ;-) had I ordered the Spanish omelette, Lana’s breakfast was really interesting, a courgette fritter – a stack with tomato and feta layered between and bacon on the side !  The morning game drives were slightly extended and more worthwhile than the norm, well done Nambiti Hills / Brett, some venues elsewhere seem to run by the clock and not by the sightings. So with the later return to camp, rather gourmet brunch and of course the wonderful teas and coffees at the Lodge and in our room, Lana and I decided to forgo on the optional luncheon, which gave ourselves and guests opting to follow suite, time to relax, or to visit the nearby  cheetah rehabilitation centre. Here they have a variety of wild cats.  I believe the principals are certainly conducting the centre in a very sensitive and responsible way. Thank you. Our African cats are just so special.

Nambiti Game Reserve is slowly becoming truly Big 5. There are a number of game reserves in KwaZulu-Natal that do have the Big 5 on their property, (lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard) It is the leopard that is the elusive one and rarely if ever seen. Well the secretive leopard of Nambiti are becoming more friendly and have started showing themselves. Brett tells me he saw leopard again the day after our departure – and saw it well, super news as these sightings are definitely becoming more frequent there.  Good elephant, lion, rhino and buffalo sightings have been pretty much the norm for me when visiting Nambiti. However I actually enjoy the sightings of the very diverse antelope and other species found at Nambiti –

 too often one is at a Lodge where the focus is purely on ticking the Big 5. Not so here. Great. We even saw hippo.

The Nambiti Game Reserve is not that well known – it should be – consequently one of the marketing strategies of the Lodges there, is to offer some really excellent value for money specials.
Lana and I had to have a look at the luxury suites at Nambiti Hills Lodge, there are eight of these and beautifully appointed.

 Bath with a view ! Openplan

and the bathroom - well shower room and vanity

Nambiti Hills Game Lodge is very comfortable, quite luxurious, beautifully decorated and has lovely meals, these are presented at a variety of venues. Their lapa (boma) is quite different. A wooden deck with central fireplace perched on the summit of the Nambiti Hills’ hill with the most amazing panoramic view. No walls for this boma, just African bushveld and a canopy of stars. Quite ethereal. Then they have a wonderful family of staff – the people that make ones sojourn into darkest Africa so pleasurable. Check for their excellent value specials. You might just enjoy the experience as much as Lana and I.

Photographs - Jeremy and Lana Williamson

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