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

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