Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cheetah Ridge Lodge, Nambiti Game Reserve – Jeremy Williamson

 It’s all about the wildlife, or not so wild, wildlife at Cheetah Ridge Lodge (Woodlands Lodge) in the Nambiti Game Reserve near Ladysmith / Elandslaagte in KwaZulu-Natal. Imagine a baronial mansion set in a Big 5 Game Reserve with a wild cat rehabilitation centre as part of their commitment to our wildlife. The Lodge is so much like some found in Central East Africa. Slightly different to the other Lodges in Nambiti in concept, but such a wonderful wildlife experience with all the trimmings – 4 star – well yes, and within the South African Lodge structure grading, a top end 4 star too, with food way in the 5 star stakes, the game drives too, but that holds true for all the Nambiti Lodges.  The high density of wildlife here still gets to me in such a good way and the open plains full of animals, reminds me so of East Africa.

The Le Sueur Wild Cat Project is a relatively new initiative and is run by the Cheetah Ridge Lodge Management team, Des and Elizke Gouws. A  caring couple providing a very responsible rehabilitation centre that is about to move to its new, much expanded breeding enclosures adjacent to Cheetah Ridge Lodge.

There are presently a variety of our South African wild cats, serval, caracal, wild cat, a robust maturing leopard cub

 and of course the cheetah, which have already bread in record time, under their care. The cheetah must be ‘happy’ in this environment to have bred so readily.

Guests from other Lodges in Nambiti may also visit the young cubs and enter the enclosures to pet them too. The fee goes to towards the rather substantial food bill. Des is rather particular as  to what ‘his’ cats eat. They all certainly appear in good health and excellent condition. A rather wonderful activity opportunity for guests staying at Cheetah Ridge Lodge, which contributes to the funding of it, is for them to be able to participate in a 'free range run' with some of the cheetah, here the cheetah hone their skills and learn to hunt and fend for themselves. I have always been sceptical with regards to these ‘breeding projects’. Well, I must say my perception has changed. Here were two cheetah, Sky and Storm, who Lana and I could embrace, nuzzle up to, tickle and stroke, who, when out on the neighbouring property, also owned by Rob Le Sueur, would become the ‘efficient’ high-speed hunting machines  Cheetah are known to be – well these guys are still learning, but it’s all instinctively there.

Where are the antelope?

Jeremy watching Sky set off

 The stalk, the sprint and then when right in amongst the Blesbuck or Wildebeest for the kill, their confidence seems to lag, as they now see just how large that prey is. Maybe start with something smaller, they will and do.  

I can see them !

Here I come

Rather here we come
Lana and I experienced one of these training exercises and guests will be able to enjoy this too, for a fee. An approximately 2 to 2,5 hour hunt for the cheetah, guests would follow and observe and then when the cats need to cool down after the chase, all would sit in the shade of a handy Acacia, Elizke would produce some of the tasty Cheetah Ridge’  fare with something to drink. We even gave the cheetah some water, Des slicing open a water bottle to make a  drinking receptacle for them. What an experience and photographic opportunity.

Lana and Storm interacting

Cheetah Ridge Lodge is spacious and very comfortable with an enclosed garden, safe for children, where  one can relax, or for the more energetic, have a game of tennis or just while away the time in the swimming pool with possible views of some wild animals grazing just beyond the fence. We had a herd of wildebeest, some impala with their new born and a number of kudu that melted away between the bushes.

Pool, tennis court and expansive gardens
Then there is the most endearing family friend resident at Cheetah Ridge, a rescued Suricate meercat that Des and Elizke and all female guests so enthusiastically care for. He loves the ladies but not too friendly with the men.

Zulu on sentry duty
I was lucky as he took to me too, but not with quite the bond that Lana and he, Zulu, seemed to have. He followed her around and when cuddled would hug her arm, angelic !

Ideally suited for familys, the 5 luxury suites plus a family suite which can then host 12 guests at Cheetah Ridge Lodge are all within the Main Lodge building which has a bar ( TV, DSTV's - rugby? - and dart board),

 three lounges,

snooker room (for more casual entertainment) ,

  a comfortable large veranda, those couches were so inviting,

and a number of dining venues which includes an outside boma with central fire and braai, a beautiful garden setting under the most enormous 110 year old fig tree teeming with birdlife. The bird calls beckoned and Lana and I searched in vain for the Red-chested Cuckoo that was calling so profusly, we found the Black-headed Oriole, guided by it’s beautiful liquid call and then the bird check list started to fill. I believe the Leopard cub, Vega is sharpening his tree-climbing skills here.

Breakfast after the morning game drive with real coffee - Cappuccino's on tap - I love it !

This was to be our luncheon venue too, delightful. We savoured the most delicious chicken croquette with a ‘skewered’ salad and new potatoes. This set the standard for the meals at Cheetah Ridge Lodge, amongst the finest we have enjoyed at any of the Nambiti Game Reserve Lodges. Now that’s saying something.

Our first night was to be a ‘Private dining experience’ with our meal on the upper deck just off our suite – super, we could just roll into bed !

Dinner for two
Turn down with chocolates and a foam bath decorated with rose petals, with Chrysalis shampoo and Duke and Forsyth luxury soap from Ireland.

Our suite
To give you an idea of the superb  cuisine our dinner starter was Salmon on a bed of sliced beetroot, caramelised onion, cream cheese with white wine sauce – fine dining starts here.
This was followed by an Ostrich fillet tower with the most tender ostrich fillets interspersed with layers of  mushroom, butternut, potato and onion – I salivate just thinking of that meal which ended with crème caramel and a decoration of Thai chocolate. Part of the decoration was a Porcupine quill. Lucky I licked it, it was a clever dark and white chocolate manufacture, so realistic. This Lodge has a very innovative kitchen with an extremely competent chef, she really does produce incredibly good quality meals. The ‘Braai’ we had on the subsequent night was one of the better ones ever. How does one make a braai stand out so ?  Well done Cheetah Ridge.

The game drives were as good as one gets in the Nambiti Game Reserve. Brad and Des were great guides, but they too just missed on the leopard sighting. He was hiding behind a bush and decided we needed to return to Nambiti before he would show himself to us.  It wouldn’t take much persuading.

Starting to stir after a day of cat napping

Then some general game

Nambiti has a very high density of Kudu

Loads of Blue Wildebeest too

Zebra gambolling in the background - so cute

then some more cats

What super wildlife sightings, well that is what it's all about really at Cheetah Ridge Lodge
The day we visited the cubs it was raining and the light really was too poor to do the photographs of the cats justice. I would love you to see what Des and Elizke are doing.  Next time hopefully we will have better light and the cats in their new home.

Photographs by Jeremy and Lana Williamson

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Umzolozolo Lodge 2012 Nambiti Game Reserve – Jeremy Williamson


On one of the highest hills , overlooking the rugged valleys of the Nambiti Game Reserve, is one of my favourite venues, the incredible, Five star, Umzolozolo Private Safari Lodge.
We just had to revisit this wonderful, luxurious Game Lodge, indulge ourselves, be pampered  and meet the  new staff we had heard so much about, since our previous visit.

 Yip, I value the people directly involved with guests at a Lodge, as the most important of staff members, they can add so much to ones experience. Umzolozolo has not lost its touch. The management couple, Dave and Debbie certainly made our visit memorable.  Then probably the person who spends the most time with guests, and to me probably the most important person, is the guide. Rowan made our game  drives so interesting,  here we have a tracker of note ! He so nearly had our first sighting of leopard at the Nambiti Game Reserve secured for us. . Next time.

We were so fortunate to have Dave accompany Lana, Rowan and I on one of the game drives, to expound his knowledge on the local flora. That was special, with Lana and he prattling off in Latin as we discovered this new, ( to us), plant, reidentified that species, and in between, saw a multitude of our mammalian friends as well. Such intense game drives couldn’t get much better.  We learn so much on these visits whilst having fun too. I must try that wild Basil in one of my next kitchen concoctions. Stagger grass - Zephyranthes Atamasco - could be worth a try?? What would it do for me if it gets the Zebra on a high? That might be too radical. Did the local San try the Datura stramonium, known locally as Malpit, which is believed to have originated in the Americas, but is now found here. It is a powerful hallucinogen and deliriant and used spiritually, for the intense visions it produces when ingested.  Then the myriad variety of colourful flowers bringing the veld to life in glorious speckled  technicolour. Dave's knowledge was so expansive and intriguing.

More wonderful staff, Bridgette who has been with Umzolozolo for years is certainly expert at getting rid of one’s tensions – her massage technique, the aromatic oils, coupled with the magnificent view from the Spa, which has one of the best vantage positions and outlook at the Lodge, had me rejuvenated, Lana too. No wonder Spa’s are becoming so popular at Lodges. One cannot merely rely on the rough roads and game drive vehicles to give you the necessary manipulations and therapy.!
We arrived at Umzolozolo at about 12h30 and the spoliations began. Refreshing vanilla towels, orange  and cherry drink and then to our room. This time it was to be the ‘Presidential suite’. Quite lovely with all one could wish for to add to the pampering. 

Presidential suite
A steaming Jacuzzi, comfortable loungers on the enormous sun deck, an inside, an enormous bed, huge stone bath with the entire window disappearing when opened, to offer an almost alfresco bathtime, and with this view – Ooh !

The Presidential Bathroom - Umzolozolo
Outdoor showers too if you really wanted to be there with nature. Every comfort, a well stocked bar and large flat screen TV, if you had to watch the rugby. Hang on leave the TV, it stayed off ,  this has privacy, comfort and romance.

Umzolozolo - Presidential suite

Felicia met us for luncheon and produced gourmet fillet kebabs, crumbed chicken, delicious salad and effusive smiles.  Pity I don’t have a sweet tooth, or do I, the chocolate pecan nut pie for dessert was just so good. We enjoyed a cup of coffee on the Lodge veranda with views fore-ever.

Time for a soothing massage or maybe a nap to set the relax mode in readiness for the afternoon game drive. Ready the cameras !
Rowan found lion for us. Mattresses of them, lying all about  – then it was dusk and the felines became active, the large male mating,

the cubs eyeing then following the game drive vehicle with evil intent, naughty!  Rowan let them be, without encouraging their  “playful” unsolicited  intentions.

Inquisitive or just naughty?
So besides the lion, there were wonderful sightings of giraffe,



The one on the right is pregnant
 impala, eland and even two jackal. There had been some rain around and the sun and clouds creating some very pleasing images as we sipped our wine and snacked on biltong, chips and pretzels.

 This set the tone for the evening , on our return to the Lodge we opted to proceed directly to the Bar where we were hosted by Dave, giving us an insight to the happenings at Nambiti Game Reserve. Debbie joined us for dinner which made for such a pleasant evening.
Dinner was a delight. Imagine Tomato and Zuccini soup followed by a very interesting seafood pot with a divine crispy topping.
Umzolozolo Lodge’s Lamb shank is legendry and I should have chosen that yet again. Instead I opted for the Dorado with couscous and lemon and caper sauce. There was also another favourite cut of mine on the menu, rib-eye steak in pepper sauce, all dishes also with a stir fry veg option. The meal was really excellent and the conversation,  superb. The wine was good too. Then more with the Marula pudding. Was Dave being polite in taking us back to our suite or would that be Lodge policy? Anyway we made it. Might be easier when they have their golf cart commissioned. I seemed to trip on things.
We woke to blue skies, hot espresso, yes they too have realised that I like good coffee and there it was, a Sprada, super coffee machine and I knew how to operate it. I’m getting to learn how to operate all these oh so important Barrista substitutes.
Then into the game viewer and out into the bracing early morning freshness.  What a delightful morning drive. Steenbuck, giraffe,

wildebeest,  zebra gambolling like youngsters and with focus today slightly off the flora and more on the Avifauna, we had some super raptors, recently arrived from the Russian steppes along with the local African mix.

Steppe Buzzard
We even had some stumpy nosed rhino and to our delight one of the newest of impala nuzzling up to its mother  for some sustenance,

Impala only a day old
Hartebeest too.

Hartebeest and very new calf

The meals at Umzolozolo are a delight. The coffee excellent, the people amazing , the views go on almost forever with the rolling hills of Zululand disappearing in the Tugela River lowveld haze. The game drives produce some spectacular game viewing with four of the Big 5 regularly seen and now, even elusive leopard are being sighted more frequently. Back at the Lodge, what now? Well the Spa was our choice and a good one too. I could do this! No wonder we are such a relaxed couple.!
The tariffs at Umzolozolo are really affordable  and such incredible value for money, especially when considering the excellence of this venue. 

Family suite - Main

Family suite - twin
Family suite bathroom

Luxury suite - Umzolozolo

Luxury suite bathroom - Umzolozolo
With regular specials especially during my favourite time to visit this Game park, Winter, check our website for these special reduced rates that makes Umzolozolo so accessible to our South African clients

Photographs by Jeremy and Lana Williamson