Thursday, January 21, 2016

Focus on the Umzolozolo Lodge, Nambiti Game Reserve – Keith Marallich

I had returned to work after a 12-day, 4000 kilometre road-trip over the 2015 Christmas/New Year period - and it was now time to take a break! So, during the second week of January my wife Janice and I set off for the Umzolozolo Lodge in the Nambiti Game Reserve. I had been to Nambiti before, but never to Umzolozolo Lodge, so was rather looking forward to it. I knew that the Nambiti Reserve was a good wildlife destination and wanted to see what Umzolozolo was all about – I had heard good things about it. I was initially not going to write anything about the lodge itself, except to say that Umzolozolo is a 5-star lodge and I presumed that saying this would be sufficient – but it is not! What stood out for me was the friendly staff – I met Dave and Debbie briefly (the lodge managers) but interacted more with Nadia (the assistant manager/spa therapist/general do-it-all), Mondli (our excellent and friendly waiter) and then of course, our guide over the course of four game drives, Reinhardt (nothing was too much trouble for him, even Janice requesting him to stop every now and then to photograph a tree in the distance was no trouble at all).
The whole experience was excellent – the food was good (and they have a ‘bean-to-cup’ espresso coffee machine on call), the service as good as one will receive anywhere, the game drives were great and the suite – well, the suite! Janice, who never, but never, has an outdoor shower, had her first one here and proclaimed it to be very good (which is what I had been telling her all these years). I too didn’t bother with the double indoor shower or the large bath – I much preferred the outside shower. We also used the jacuzzi on one occasion, but I found it too hot to my liking – I like tepid water! Janice also treated herself to a spa session, a back and neck massage and proclaimed this well worth the effort and good value for money. On this topic, a spa treatment is always great as one does get bounced about a bit in these open safari vehicles, so those neck and back muscles need relaxing. I don’t need to elaborate on the suite - these photos below say it all (photos courtesy of Umzolozolo Lodge).

The double outside shower at our suite


Deck and Jacuzzi

We were also treated to a romantic dinner in our room on the last evening. This whole experience begins when you get back from your game drive, and a hot bath has been drawn, with flowers decorating the rim of the bath and bubbles in the bath, and a table set in the lounge section of the suite. At a decided upon time, Mondli and Reinhardt appeared with our starters, followed by the mains (and no dessert – this out of choice as I had heard that too much food is not good for one!) However, a very good bottle of red wine was consumed, so this filled that empty spot that may have been taken by dessert. However, what really stood out for me, was the show that was put on. I would like to stretch the truth a bit and say that the staff at the lodge had organised this, but I would be lying. Now, many of you may know that this part of South Africa, (like many parts of southern Africa) is experiencing a severe drought at the moment. As we were heading back to our room after the game drive, there were a few (but a very few) drops of rain (so few that I didn’t bother to cover my camera or myself), but accompanied by a very, very dark, ominous build-up of clouds. When Janice had sat down at the table in her lodge-supplied dressing gown after her bubble bath, and the starters had been delivered, the first bolts of lightning lit up the horizon. Imagine the scene, you are sitting down to a 5-star meal in the lounge part of you suite, the full-length glass sliding doors are closed, but the curtains (that’s drapes to some of my American friends) are open and we have this dramatic scene unfolding before us. The lightning starts way off in the distance, first as sheet lighting when it is far away, then a combination of sheet and bolt lightning as it gets closer, and then bolt lightning when it is really close. The noise is deafening and the image of the bolts of lightning are imprinted in the retina of the eye for a few seconds - and this goes on for more than two hours. I was already in bed after the dinner and the lightning was still continuing unabated. I learnt the next day that the reserve had experienced some heavy rain, over 80mm in the north and down to about 22mm in the south (where we were). Two photos of the bath hereunder (but alas, none of the lightning), again photos courtesy of Umzolozolo Lodge.

Candle-lit Bath

and the flower petals

So, what of the reserve and the game viewing? With its waterfalls and diverse landscapes, Nambiti offers many options. Unlike many other game reserves, Nambiti has the carrying capacity of almost twice that of regions like Botswana, thus being able to carry more game per acre than most other reserves. The Nambiti Private Game Reserve was begun in 1999 from what was originally a cattle farming area. These farms were acquired and then the mammoth task of removing internal fencing and old buildings started. After some time the reserve was ready for the delicate task of re-introducing wildlife. After many years of management, the reserve has now come full circle. The flora is flourishing and the fauna has settled down into the slow moving time of Africa. The game drives were great and I particularly enjoyed the open grasslands. However, I did find that rangers tended not to spend too much time here – was this because the open plains were heavily inhabited by the grazers (and therefore maybe seen as “common” and not as exciting as, say elephant or rhino or lion)? Had I been driving here on my own, at least 50% of my time would have been taken up in these open plains – they were covered in zebra, blue wildebeest, warthog, blesbuck, birds of all types and more. Having said that, we did have some great sightings. I do remember seeing lots of young animals, probably born in the last few weeks or so, or certainly at the beginning of the summer. Some of these I did manage to photograph.

Young Blue Wildebeest

Mother Warthog with two babies

Young Giraffe

We also saw elephant on two (or three?) occasions so I photographed a couple of them. However, I admit from the outset that I have photographed many elephants in my time, but I have yet to get that one shot that to me is a “keeper” – I just don’t have the knack (or is it skill?) to get a good elephant photo. There were one or two youngsters with the one herd, and the one chap decided to show off for us a little.

Elephants on and off the track

and the youngster that tried to intimidate us

One sighting that really stood out for me was one morning as we were driving uphill and into the rising sun, I saw what looked like strange shrubbery - there were twisted bare branches just visible over the horizon, framed by a blue sky. Imagine my surprise when we crested the hill and the strange shrubbery turned out to be the horns of twelve male kudu, all laying down with their heads up. I have never seen twelve male kudu together and I can’t explain why there were so many together in an area smaller than a tennis court. I took a few photos of them, here is one below.

Male Kudu

Many other animals were seen, including two adult and two lion cubs. Unfortunately we got to them just as they were preparing to move off, but I did get a photo of both the male and female before they moved – the cubs were just too far away for a decent photo.

Male Lion

Female Lioness

The birds seen were fairly common and plentiful, but I did see a pair of blue cranes (South Africa’s national bird), quite a few raptors (jackal and steppe buzzard and Amur falcon mostly) as well as quite a few others that I could not photograph. Two other birds that I photographed were a male Amur falcon and a Greater striped swallow – this last-named one photographed from the outside deck of my suite.

Blue Cranes

Male Amur Falcon

Greater Striped Swallow

General game was plentiful, with many giraffe, zebra, impala, blesbuck, oryx, warthog, rhino (both species), eland and others seen. I have a fondness for jackal, (and that’s why I posted two jackal photos) and on one occasion we even had a water monitor quite close to the vehicle. Some of these images are…

Black-backed Jackal

Zebra Portrait



Water Monitor

Black-backed Jackal - here you can see two drops of rain

At a waterhole

I believe that the Nambiti Game Reserve is good value for money and I won’t have any hesitation in recommending Umzolozolo Lodge to anyone. If anyone wants more info on this lodge and reserve, have a look at our web-site - the prices for all lodges are found there.  This reserve is easily reached by motor vehicle, being about 2 ½ to 3 hours’ drive from Durban and about 4 hours from Johannesburg. After my 4000 kilometre road trip, this was almost like driving to the shop to pick up the Sunday papers!