Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Mavela Game Lodge - Zululand Rhino Reserve - Jeremy Williamson

Is Mavela Game Lodge, the epitome of a tented Safari Camp in Africa? Well it is certainly a luxurious way of camping in the bushveld.

Lana and I took a leisurely four hour's drive from Durban to get to Mavela Game Lodge. Up the N2 to Mkuze village interchange and left into the 23,000ha Zululand Rhino Reserve, set amongst the scenic rolling hills of Zululand, KwaZulu-Natal , a Big Five Game Reserve, this relatively new Game Lodge has only been open to the public for 2 years and now offers really excellent accommodation, super meals, wonderful staff and a rather excellent wildlife experience.

The wildlife game viewing can only become more exciting in the Zululand Rhino Reserve, what with lion cubs due to be born fairly soon, mum heavily pregnant with another lioness presently engaged in a mating spree, which we were privileged to witness.

What is probably the most exciting news for the Zululand Rhino Reserve, a pack of wild dog have just been released into the reserve this past week-end, after having been acclimatised in a Boma there for a while. We just missed on their release but were fortunate to see them in the Boma.

Arrival time at Mavela Game Lodge is from 14h00.Check in at the security gate to the Zululand Rhino Reserve, and our private little game drive started, we managed to see some warthog,

a few blue wildebeest, aka brindled gnu,

a herd of impala or two

and anxious kudu, this...

...en route to our home for the next two nights. The gravel road was good for these 9km, we followed the signs to arrive at Mavela Game Lodge entrance, through the elephant proof, high electrified wire, surrounding the Mavela Lodge, and on to the rather impressive Porte Cochere reception.

The open game drive vehicle ready for the afternoon's action

We were greeted by our friendly hostess and Camp Manager, Chantelle Smith who introduced us to Mavela Game Lodge, a warm towelet to wipe away travel grime, then into the massive atrium,

where we signed the mandatory indemnity and were briefed on the Lodge protocol and given access to the bar – all drinks available are complimentary.

Help-ones-self Bar adjacent to another comfortable lounging area - with a view

We then parked our vehicle under a shady Acacia nearby and trundled our gear to our nearby tent with the assistance of the ever willing Chantelle, to settle in and relax until the afternoon light luncheon.  Had we wanted, the tea station in the main lodge and bar was open.

Mavela Game Lodge accommodation is in well appointed Meru styled Safari tents. These are large walk-in colonial styled tents which have additional shading and extended cover over the veranda and deck area.

This style of tent is really comfortable, gone are the zip up entrance doors, now a sturdy, mosquito netted double front door, into the spacious bedroom, furnished with a large double bed in our case, side tables, tea station, ceiling fan and screened windows,

Mavela Game Lodge twin bedded tent

Mavela Game Lodge tent with double bed

 through to a brick built bathroom with private shower, toilet and vanity.

we were then left to relax at our tent and take in some excellent birding.

Cape Glossy Starling
Pale morph Tawny Eagle
Southern Black Flycatcher

Golden-breasted Bunting
White-backed Vulture

Mavela Lodge is very birder friendly, for example each of the five tents have a bird bath at the correct distance from the deck, so one may quietly relax in the canvas campaign chairs and tick the numerous avian arrivals.

The bird-bath water topped up daily, there was a constant melody of calls from the bush. At Mavela’s main lodge there are bird feeders hanging from the trees with an Owl House firmly ensconced in a shady Accacia on the veranda there. We were not privy to its incumbent, next time?
 ‘High tea’ at 15h30 – a delicious chicken salad on the one day, a salmon salad on the next, along with a chocolate cake, teas and their rather delicious coffee,  after which it was departure in the open game viewing vehicles for an extended game drive in the Zululand Rhino Reserve. We met our Ranger, Andre Brenon and clambered aboard, cameras and binoculars at the ready. 

The owners of Mavela Lodge have taken great care with attention to detail, in all that they have done in the reconstruction of Mavela Lodge, for example they have chosen  petrol engined safari vehicles, which obviates the diesel clatter and smell, despite petrol costing a bit more.  Silently we slipped away from Mavela into the vastness and myriads of intertwining roads in the Zululand Rhino Reserve. The roads were well maintained, even making the normally rather harsh ride of the Toyota Land Cruiser quite comfortable – Land Rover owners, no comment!

These youngsters took down a Blue Wildebeest soon after this photo was taken

On this first game drive, Andre found 3 separate prides of lion,(4, 3 and 4)large herds of buffalo,

Part of the herd of Cape Buffalo at a water-hole onZululand Rhino Reserve

wildebeest and impala, along with warthog, kudu, common reedbuck, water buck, zebra, duiker, vervet monkey and numerous birds.

Andre is an accomplished twitcher and accurately identifies the avifauna even if it’s just a glimpse, such is his ability to recognise their jizz. We ticked a few specials! There is a vast diversity of habitats within the Zululand Rhino Reserve, some really scenic, wooded, forested, riparian, open plains areas that consequently support a wide diversity of species, with a bird tally in excess of 300 species. The subsequent game drives were all really interesting.

As the sun prepared for bed, we stopped to enjoy sundowners (drinks included in the tariff) and snacks in the bush, with a beautiful view and were fortunate to have a gorgeous sunset.

Sunset over the Zululand Rhino Reserve

Returning after dark, Andre managed to pick out some nocturnal species using his spotlight, genet and a number of Fiery-necked Nightjars, sitting tight  until the very last moment. Back to the Lodge and to the bar, we all then retired to the Boma area to sit around a fire, chatting and admiring the night sky,....

Mavela Game Lodge's convivial fire pit

....then to dinner. The chef had presented the dinner main course options to the guests before we departed on the afternoon game drive, so all was ready timeously – a delicious three course meal.
As the camp is not fenced, Andre escorted us all back to our tents, each given a radio and torch in case there was cause for concern, we retired to bed, as there was early rising in the morning. Departure at approximately 06h30 with the east aglow, and life in the bush awakening.  Another drive with exciting sightings, more lion too.

The mating pair

We came across a rather sluggish (because of the early morning low temperature) Mozambique Spitting Cobra, that slowly wended its way to safety.

Then it was a comfort stop with a beautiful outlook for an Amarula coffee or..

We had quite an extended game drive, then back to the Lodge for an enormous breakfast.
Along with the fruit juices, yoghurts cereal and fruit, a full cooked breakfast is presented, and that delicious coffee, then the day is at guest’s leisure until the afternoon meal. A tranquil haven with a delightful swimming swimming pool,

a well stocked library, whilst the bird activity kept Lana and I engaged until the high tea and preparation for the afternoon game drive.
To have a specialist birder guide, along with his many other skills in the bush, adds so much to one’s  enjoyment of a visit to a game lodge. On one of the game drives we entered rather dense riparian forest alongside the Msunduzi River and were enthralled with the diversity of bird species, ....

...some endemic to the area, such a Rudd’s Apalis, and Blue-Mantled Crested-Flycatcher then a host of LBJ’s so expertly brought to our binocularsssssss’s attention by Andre. Square-tailed Drongo with its rapacious call, the gorgeous, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Pink-throated Twinspot, Burnt-necked Eremomela, seldom previously seen by Lana and I, and so the list grew, adding so much value to our and the other guest’s experience.
For the non birders out there, the game drives produced some rather excellent sightings, lion were in abundance whilst we were there. On one drive we had three separate sightings of different lion in prides of 4,3 and 4, not bad for a mornings game viewing, we had repeat sightings of most of them on subsequent drives to. This along with distant rhino, buffalo a plenty, loads of impala, wildebeest and then also zebra, giraffe,....

....kudu, in herds and some magnificent bachelors, one even relaxing in the shade in the river bed,

and the odd duiker, even a red duiker too. We had the silhouette of a Serval cat visible in another game drive vehicle’s headlights, one evening, having just missed on a sighting they had had of cheetah. I believe the cat sighting in the Zululand Rhino Reserve are pretty good.

The animals are fairly prolific in the Zululand Rhino Reserve despite an ongoing drought, which has certainly impacted on the carrying capacity of the Game Reserve. Zululand Rhino Reserve park management are very proactive in monitoring the biome’s health, having sold off some excess stock, in order to negate the impact of too many herbivores through this ensuing winter, for example. An ambitious water reticulation project is nearing completion. Water from the relatively nearby Jozini Dam is being piped to numerous dams, some newly built, in the reserve, ensuring that this network of water supply will keep the animal’s thirst slaked, without them needing to congregate at a limited water source, with the inevitable damaging impact on the adjacent vegetation.

April / May is when the Impala rams start to assimilate their harems - to hear the garrulous vocalisation of these rutting males for the first time, without seeing what it is that is making such a threatening sound, is enough for guest to believe that they were closing in on some dangerous animal – scary, but then its “just another Impala,” well Impala are amongst the most beautiful of animals and so lively and seemingly full of fun, especially the youngsters that bound about leaping in the air,

I love watching them, so often merely pointed out, when on a game drive, the guide then roaring off after something more exciting, such as? Well Andre shared his knowledge and time with us with the Impala, and the other herbivores, thank you Andre.

Were we particularly fortunate, as the game drives were rather good? I have visited the Zululand Rhino Reserve on a number of occasions since its inception, from when a number of the land owners decided to change from marginal cattle farming, with some plains game hunting, to jointly drop all fences and create this magnificent wildlife haven. So approximately 10 years later, the transformation is almost complete. The once prolific wildlife has been reintroduced, and this includes the return of all the high profile animals too. A genuine Big Five Game Reserve (Lion, Elephant, Black and White Rhino, Buffalo and the elusive Leopard - some of them being seen more frequently of late) and now hosting the Magnificent Seven - Cheetah and Wild Dog.

A venue easy to endorse, where guests should get a pretty good Lodge and wildlife experience, Mavela Game Lodge is excellent value for money.

Photographs by Jeremy and Lana Williamson and Stuart Parker for the tent pictures.

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