Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Umzolozolo Lodge – a winning venue, a prize-winners prize ! - Jeremy Williamson

My wife, Lana’s family were doing family stuff – one of her sister’s daughters was getting married, Lana’s brother, with his wife whom we had not as yet met, were out from Portland, Oregon, USA, with the third sister and her family returning to SA,  from living in China - what a reunion.
To Johannesburg for the wedding and then back to Durban – well that could be made so much more fun if we stopped in at the Nambiti Private Game Reserve on the way. Her brother, Owen was on a tight schedule so it could only be one night, but he was not in on these plans.

Umzolozolo Private Game Lodge was the venue and the surprise was to be Owen’s and his lovely wife, Jen’s. I had been whiling away the drive time, reconstructing the sequences of the Anglo Zulu and Anglo Boer Wars for them. Their interest had been whetted, so I suggested we detour slightly into Ladysmith. Well, then there were the tales as to how and where this all started, the battles which led to the siege of Ladysmith, the altercations at Dundee and Elandslaagte! They were caught up in my story and keen to hear more- “Owen, the Battlefield is just a short distance the other side of Ladysmith, let’s just detour there and have a quick look”. They did not guess that we were in fact taking them to Nambiti Game Reserve to experience it and Umzolozolo Game Lodge, even when we entered the gate – it was just to better access the battlefield (not really, but they were none the wiser). At the car park, where one gets to leave ones vehicle, Lana jumped out of the car, opened their door and cried “SURPRISE !” as they clambered from the car. 

Umzolozolo Game Lodge

I am generally not one for surprises but this one was a good one. (I do believe they were enthralled with the tales of our tumultuous past and am sure they had no inkling of what awaited them) Surprises aplenty there were too – Lana's sister  and  her family, who were in on the surprise and had opted to join us for the night, were so PLEASANTLY SURPRISED by the Lodge, it’s wonderful views, beautifully decorated luxury suites, 

Main bedroom in the family suite

A luxury suite

.... divine cuisine, the uber friendly Dave and Debbie our hosts, super guide and staff and again SURPRISED by the Nambiti Game Reserve, producing some really excellent game viewing in the two guided game drives we enjoyed there.

Now Umzolozolo Private Game Lodge just happens to be the venue, where the winners of Far and Wild Safari’s next lucky draw prize, will be enjoying two nights. Two nights really is the minimum one should spend at such a venue, but ‘Boet’ was off to the south coast, Garden Route and Cape Town before heading home to the States. He wanted to show Jen as much of South Africa as he could, in the limited time they had. Don’t make the same mistake, enjoy the bush at a leisurely pace I say. We did try, with our luggage ensconced in our suites we gathered for a delightful luncheon. Quiches and .. and.. ending in a Pecan nut pie,  relax on the deck and take in the Panoramic views of the rolling hills of Zululand going off in the distance seemingly forever, then it was time for the afternoon game dive.
Enthusiastically the 8 of us clambered aboard the ‘open’ game drive vehicle, Rohan gave us the safety procedures and game drive etiquette speel, then we were off “op safari “.  We had some outstanding game viewing despite the limited time. Lana and I have visited Nambiti Game Reserve on numerous occasions, and this Game Park never fails to impress us. We had some super close-up viewing of rhino, their horns removed to deter the threat of being poached for this highly prized commodity (despite being identical to the chitin of one’s nails) by folk in the East. 

Closer viewing of elephant, when one bull decided he would also like to use the road we were on and came casually past us – I wonder if Jen held her breath as he swaggered by?

The wildlife in the Nambiti Game Reserve is particularly relaxed, for one to have numerous kudu happily browsing meters from our vehicle, still impresses me. 

The impala fattening up fast on the bright green summer growth, perfect for their few newly born calves we had seen, most of the ewes still had to drop their young. The young we saw were angelic and so nimble too.

Nimble but a bit awkward

At virtually every turn there would be some animal in sight. I love it! Rohan took us to a part of the Park where lion had been seen that morning, nothing. As the sun was reaching towards the surrounding hills he decided this to be an ideal venue for our sun-downer refreshment stop. Drinks sorted, we hoped the lion would become mobile or at least give vent and call. Nutting, they were lying low.  Back to the Lodge and dinner. The Lodge is not fenced so the more remote chalets call for one to be escorted to one’s room. Buffalo, elephant and now with both black and white rhino on the property, one cannot be too careful. Dinner and what a delight. At lunch we had been given the dinner menu with its choices – we knew what to expect and as per usual the 4 course meal was delicious. One of the choices was Wildebeest fillet with a special port and mint reduction, which I must say most of the party opted for – I really like it when one is visiting a game park and the likes of venison is included in the menu. Not that easily procured for home consumption.
Swathed in duvets and down, we slumbered, smiles on all our faces I am sure!

The early game drive was a delight. Hippo 

and then a parade of herbivores.... 
Blue wildebeest aka Brindled Gnu


Plains or Burchell's zebra

 ...through to a herd of buffalo that had earlier chased off the lion – we searched for them, tracks were evident but the felines not. I’m sure their pride had been affected and they were ashamed (dare I say scared?) to venture forth – pity maybe next time, I remember them as magnificent specimens - beautiful dark manes and tan, pale tan ? yellow – nay these lion aint yella’ – rather they’re having a nap before showing those buff a thing or two.
On the way back to Umzolozolo Lodge we encountered a "tower of giraffe" or two, or three..four?... 

...two or one?..

lower down,..even a warthog..

With the heat of summer  a coming, the snakes were out and about, we were fortunate that Johan found this boomslang in a bush

 I believe the rangers found the lion on the afternoon game drive. One really does need more than one night at such venues. My one brother-in-law, Johan, is an experienced man of the bush, having spent a fair amount of time in the Madikwe Game Reserve and many others, he was pleasantly impressed with the quality of the game viewing here in the Nambiti Game Reserve – one just does not recognise this area of the midlands as having been returned to the wildlife status it was of 2 Centuries ago. Fences are dropping and marginal cattle and sheep farmland is in so many places, being returned to their optimum economic earning potential and reverting to wildlife preserves. I’m all for it.
We said our good-byes to Umzolozolo after yet another most delightful visit. I know my family will cherish the time shared with you as too will the winners of our next draw, who should be visiting this super venue early next year.

On the way out, family were keen to see what the KwaCheetah Breeding Project was all about.

Sky, already a successful hunter
Vega stalking, pouncing at Des
Storm - thumb sucking
Arlene with Sky dreaming of his next hunt?

The plan is to 'teach' the Cheetah to hunt and be self reliant, then the releases into the wild will begin next year, when they achieve the required hunting successes. Sky and Storm are almost there.

Photographs by; Jeremy and Lana Williamson

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