Friday, October 17, 2014

New Website for Mpila Camp, Hluhluwe iMfolozi Game Reserve

Mpila Camp
Hluhluwe iMfolozi Game Reserve
Self-Catering Accommodation
Visit Far & Wild Safaris' New Website for Mpila Camp in the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal

To make a booking fill in the Form on the Base of the Website or email

Monday, October 6, 2014

Umlani Bushcamp – Timbavati Private Game Reserve – by Jeremy Williamson

“See the real Africa at Umlani Bushcamp, enjoy the ultimate experience of true wilderness and seclusion in a camp that accommodates just 16 guests, in traditional African reed and thatch huts. At a Classic African Safari Camp”

This is how Umlani Bush Camp in the Timbavati Nature Reserve describes itself and how the owners would like guests to experience their hospitality.  In today’s modern World, getting away from it all, is what so many seek when visiting the Bushveld. At many venues, the break is not that complete, WiFi, TV, air-conditioning, telephone  and such. At Umlani, guests are able to really get away from all these modern connections, to experience the African Bush, in the way that many believe it should be and in comfort.
This is how Lana and I discovered the Umlani 3 star graded Bushcamp to be like.
The camp is indeed rustic, all reed and thatch with some brick under thatch buildings. Styled much as the early pioneer farmer / hunters would have built a camp. A number of separate rondavels overlooking an ephemeral river – presently dry – with a waterhole beyond.
We had taken a slow drive through from the southern sector of the Kruger National Park and arrived  just in time for lunch. Home made iced tea, with a very tasty pasta, vegetables and salad for lunch– teas coffees always on tap (hot water on the fire)  ...
also included in the tariff are all locally branded spirits and beers as well as their  house wines and soft drinks.  These are stored in a cooler box at the view deck/luncheon venue and in the dining room, just help yourself. High ceilings and being open on the sides, allows these rooms to be pleasantly cool. Remember no air-conditioning here, no fans either, very limited electricity - one power point for the recharging of batteries. Despite the weather being particularly warm, peaking at 37degrees C each day whilst we were visiting, we did not feel uncomfortable in any way, possibly it being a dry heat also helped. 
The pool is partially shaded so that would be the ideal way to cool off and then to relax there in one of the hammocks or in one of the surprisingly comfortable log and mesh recliners.
Our room (rondavel) was fortunately their brand new Eco Rondavel, This is a brick under thatch structure,  with windows instead of screens and has a turbine extractor fan set at the peak which sucked out the warm air, certainly keeping this room cooler that those without this clever feature I am sure.
Comfortable bed with effective mosquito net, as with no air-conditioning, one would needs keep the windows open, a big plus is that one is then able to hear the night sounds from the bush. we were lucky to hear the lion calling and a side-striped jackal too. The bathroom was partially covered, well the loo and basin were,
 ..with the shower open to the skies.
A bonus for this Eco Rondavel is that there are some battery powered LED lights, the bed-side lamps and one in the bathroom. This is such a good idea, still very eco-friendly but for folk not used to paraffin lamps, almost a must. Lana and I were at another Lodge where paraffin lamps were the only means of lighting as well, a guest had screwed the wick down to extinguish the light when going to bed – only, she had screwed the wick down and out of the mechanism, which made it not ignite in the morning when she needed light to get ready for the early game drive. She was quite distraught. I sincerely hope that Umlani Bushcamp introduces this limited electric light concept to all the accommodation unts.
Contrary to this, Lana and I were so impressed when returning from the afternoon/ evening game drive, arriving in camp after dark to see the plethora of paraffin lamps, like a fairy tale garden illuminating the dinner table and room.  
Drinks around blazing fires, exchanging the days sightings with other guests, enjoying the stars, the ambiance and companionship. The silence of the night was broken by the beating of a drum, dinner had been announced and our chef described what she had prepared.
The dinners were really delicious too, tomato soup to start followed by a really good Ox-tail main and then a fruit dessert.  Another night it was a Thai styled chicken dish. All help yourself and plenty for all. Three star plus, a slight negative could be that if Ox-tail was not really on your wish list, that was it, no alternative, unless you had detailed your dietary requirements to the chef before-hand.  All the while our hosts made sure all had sufficient to drink and joined in with anecdotes and tales of bushveld life.
It was the bushveld and its wild inhabitants that we were really here for. Sinhle, our Ranger and Maurice the Tracker, were to give us some really wonderful experiences. After a safety briefing we were out there on a maze of roads searching. It did not take too long before we had a leopard and her cub right there next to us as they bonded and relaxed close the cubs safe haven, in a river bed.   
Then a couple of male lion that were for all intense and purpose, dead to the World! They wouldn’t even stir, maybe the occasion flick of a tale proved that in there, there was life.

A really lovely sighting of a breeding herd of elephant, they ambled past our vehicle, some so close..

such a happy chappie
...some buffalo and rhino and thus the Big 5 all in one game drive and all so clearly and close too. One of the Buffalo sightings with the inevitable oxpeckers, had the rare yellow-billed variety doing their thing. 
Yip the sightings in the Timbavati are not at all bad.  We had some amazing  time with the leopard and cubs, which were so special.
Emotions had run high amongst the guests on our vehicle one afternoon at one of the sightings. We had found a female leopard – waiting in ambush for prey at a water-hole.  
With our arrival she decided to move off, so we followed her. She walked right past a Steenbuck who froze and watched her pass.
Steenbuck top left
She started calling, then stopping, venting her territorial call, wonderful to hear so close, not quite the call one would expect and more like the rough hand sawing of timber. 
The call for her cub became more frequent and so too the ‘territorial call’. We must have followed her for more than three kilometers from when she first started calling for her cub. 
Our Ranger became quite concerned and suggested that there was a possibility that her cub had been discovered and possibly attacked. She seemed to be calling more frantically – stopping occasionally to lie down. Then up and call and on. 
What a long way we had followed her. She lay down again and we even started to presume that something might have happened to her cub. Best we leave her, as another vehicle had arrived to see her, we decided to depart and possibly hear the fate of the cub from this vehicle’s Ranger later. We turned the vehicle to exit the sighting... when, there, running through the veld, was a tiny bundle of fur, cryptically coloured in the afternoon light, but making it as fast as it could, directly for Mum. 
The affection at the reunion was enough to bring tears to my eyes, what with the fear of the cub having possibly been killed, fresh in our minds. 
There were exclamations of relief and joy from our vehicle’s occupants, we left in high spirits, Sinhle had a smile back on his face – so life plays out in the wilds of Africa.
At one of these sightings, the radio call that White Lion had been found came through. That was it, we left the cub in the embrace of its mother and sped off (well sort of) to see this rare genetic strain, discovered first in the Timbavati and written about by a friend of mine, Chris McBride, back in the mid 1970’s
They were quite far from where we were, we arrived just in time as the sun was about to set. There was the fear that we might have to abandon our quest to see them should we arrive after dark, as there were 4 cubs and Park policy has it that no light may be shone near very young cubs – we were in time, no lights needed. What a sighting, 3 snow white little wooly kittens and one tawny, all 4 from the same litter. 
Then there was mum, a white lioness and another white adult  as well as a tawny in this pride. What a privilege to have been able to see so many of these truly special cats, in their true wild environment. There are now a few more white lion in the Timbavati area, than the original 3 that Chris found and wrote about.

The Umlani Bushcamp is a no frills bushveld getaway, that really does produce the goods. Clean comfortable camp, excellent food, knowledgeable rangers and seriously good game viewing with quite a diversity of species.
Lana and I, in so many ways preferred this down to earth hospitality, one just needs to know what to expect from this excellent value for money venue - I hope the above pictures and info will make your stay more enjoyable.

Photographs by Jeremy and Lana Williamson

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Lukimbi Safari Lodge – Kruger Park Concession – by Jeremy Williamson

How does one get to visit the World famous Kruger National Park and have 5 star accommodation, cuisine and game experience to match? 
There is Lukimbi Safari Lodge of course – a Five Star luxury 32 bed venue located in the southern sector of the Kruger Park. This ‘Private Concession’ is located between Malelane Gate and the Lower Sabi  Restcamp, built high on the banks of the Lwakahle River – arguably one of the better sectors of this wonderful World renowned Game Reserve.
Lana and I traveled up from Durban by car, so that we could visit a number of Lodges in the Greater Kruger Park area. We decided to spend our first night at the luxurious Oliver’s Restaurant and Lodge, just outside White River, so that we could comfortably get to Lukimbi Safari Lodge at their preferred arrival time, from 12h00 – 14h00. Breakfast as early as possible at Oliver’s, then through to Hazyview and finally into the Kruger Park at the Phabeni Gate. Thought we would get to see what a bit of a self-drive in the Park could produce.
I loved taking the “no entry” road into Lukimbi Safari Lodge, access only to staff and guests, we were now on their private ‘Concession’ area of 15,000 ha where the majority of the Lodge’s game drives are conducted. The safari guides would be allowed to utilise the Kruger Park roads outside their ‘Concession’ should they choose, we did not need to.
It’s just so easy at these luxury venues - drive up to the porte-cochere, to be met by our hosts for the next few days, Sarah and Colin with warm towels, warm welcome and a refreshing drink. “Keys for your car please,” Car and our precious luggage gone! as we were led into the cool ambiance of the brick under lofty thatched roofs, to sign indemnities and to be introduced to the workings of this rather magnificent venue. Dining room, bar and lounges all linked by a deck overlooking the river and the bush beyond. 
A lone bull elephant was wading, drinking, squirting, wading, towards us whilst further downstream, a herd of buffalo were at the river, quenching their thirst. What a start to our visit!
Our roomy suite, perched high on the bank of the river had a delightful view of the river as it curved away into the distance. 
I loved the bathroom with its large panoramic  Bay Window overlooking the river, as did the bedroom and even the Loo, as well as the outside shower too. A split level lounging area off the bedroom, lead out onto the deck with its comfortable recliners. I could spend time here.
Especially as we were reunited with our cameras and cases.  Quick photos of the elephant bull as he indulged in the river below, 
before returning to the Lodge for a drink at the bar and lunch.  
Lunch was a generous option of meats and a variety of supporting dishes, quite superb! 
We had been prepared for any type of weather, spring can be treacherously variable, from hot to really cold. We were to be blessed with really fine days with just a light jacket needed to stop the early morning and evening wind chill when on the ‘open’ vehicle, on game drives. Our Ranger and Tracker had been scouting around getting us a variety of sightings.
One interesting interaction we had  was whilst watching a couple of elephant bulls feeding. One seemed to want to show off a bit and this culminated in him pushing down a rather large tree. Took a bit of an effort and at first we thought that he might have picked one too big, but he was a wise old fella and knew what he was at. Down it came – he walked around and started feeding on what had been the ‘out of reach’ upper most vegetation. An unexpected consequence from his tree felling endeavour was that a chameleon was seen to be clinging to his forehead which he proudly showed off.
Then a call came in – “Ingwe” the guide’s African name for Leopard, had been sighted. The guides use  the African names for possible animal sightings. This, so that guest expectations are not unnecessarily raised in any way. Well my knowing what this meant, my expectations were soaring!
We proceeded with some ‘bundu bashing’, driving off road in order to get to where this feline was. It is only for sightings of the large cats that the Rangers are allowed to drive off road in this Concession. She had made a duiker kill and was taking it with her, quite mobile. She reached her destination and settled, and that is how we found her, lying close to her diminutive cub, who was busy trying to feed on the carcass.
She had chosen well and her cub’s hiding place was well concealed affording only partial views of them both. We could not approach closer as this could have spooked them, so the resulting photographs are not clear but the memory of this mother cub interaction certainly is.
A huge plus at Lukimbi Safari Lodge is that there are so few vehicles out there on game drives. This allows for more time at a sighting, something so often denied at venues where there are a large number of vehicles out there traversing the designated area. We only ever saw two other vehicles when out on game drives at Lukimbi. That was for this leopard sighting which is pretty special, the rest of the time we had all the more high profile sightings to ourselves. Some were amazing.
One late afternoon we had been on the trail of lion but had lost the tracks in thick bush. Zane our Ranger then opted for our tracker to see what he could find on foot, so KK was dropped off to go see. We in turn skirted around the area to see if we could find anything and to give him a chance to track the lion. A good time for our Sundowner drinks it was deemed. An open clearing and out jumps Zane, takes out the table and starts to set up for drinks and snacks when “There’s a lion” from the back of the vehicle.
Some 30 meters away a dozy lion had risen to its feet on the intrusion of Zane leaving the vehicle. Needless to say Zane jumped straight back into the Land Rover – the lion walked over for a closer inspection and then lay down again,
we chose to move off in search of a safer sundowner situation which had the most incredible sunset .I have not enhanced these colours on this image at all - light was amazing.
Such is life in the bush – the Big Five safely ‘ticked’ we explored further and had some rather excellent game viewing.

The bush was very dry so it was at one of the water sources that numerous animals would congregate – to the annoyance of the resident hippo it seemed, who would snort ruefully with each additional arrival.
Days at these luxury venues start with the early morning call, some tea, coffee, rusks  and then into the game viewer for an approximat 3 hour game drive. Stop for a comfort break, more teas and coffees and then back for breakfast which at Lukimbi is quite a lavish Continental  spread, followed by a choice from the cooked breakfast menu.
After breakfast we were asked if we would like to go to the Crocodile River and see what we could there. This would entail a short walk from the parking to the river. We hiked through the reeds, both guns accompanying us on the alert. A favorite location for buffalo, one of the old ‘Dagga Boys’, when one is on foot, can be quite an adversary and terribly dangerous. Hunters regard buffalo as the most dangerous of the Big Five to hunt. No buffalo and we made it to some rocks close to a pool where there were a number of hippo lazing away the day till dinner time this evening.
A pair of wire-tailed swallows also entertained us, as they collected mud and added to their cup shaped nest build, in what they deemed a safe position. I had my doubts, as this was on the side of a rock in the river only some 40 cm above the low tide. The rainy season starts soon and the Crocodile River is prone to rise, sometimes substantially. Please don’t build your house of mud there.
An alternative, after breakfast excursion, is a walk in the bush for an hour or so. These walks generally focus on aspects one misses on the game drives. The spoor, the nests, webs and all the smaller interesting life that makes up this dynamic ecosystem.
Back to the Lodge, a spell in the pool or gym? nah let’s just relax and read a book or check  through the mornings photo record, delete, delete, delete, oh well better luck next time. Joking!
The photographic opportunities one gets at these private Lodge venues really is excellent. One can be lucky driving oneself in the National Parks, but to be able to drive right up to a pride of lion for example, (hidden away behind some bushes) for a better view, is something not permitted from the public roads and thus adds so much to such a game park visit.  The leopard sighting would have been the fleeting sight of her crossing the road, taking the remains of her duiker kill to her cub. Instead we got to watch the youngster at work on its meal. Great times.
I was very pleasantly impressed with the quality of the game viewing on the Lukimbi Concession in the Kruger Park. I am sure the quality of our sightings far surpassed that of the general public, resident in the Park Restcamps. Sure there are the lucky good sightings but ours were good, consistently!

Photographs by Jeremy and Lana Williamson