Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Zimanga, Again! - Keith Marallich, May 2018

I had in the past submitted three pieces on the Zimanga Private Game Reserve and after the last one in May 2017, I thought to myself, no more, none, all has been said, I’m done!

And what had been said and done, I hear you ask? Well, please see these below:

Now it just so happens that not all had been said and done, as Zimanga has recently opened a new lodge, this time the Zimanga Main Lodge and I visited here just recently, hence this missive to give an update on this excellent lodge. This new lodge sleeps twelve guests in free-standing, separate air-conditioned luxury double suites and can also host single visitors (and unlike many other lodges, at no additional single supplement cost) in four single rooms. Zimanga Main Lodge is situated reasonably close to the Homestead (see my May 2017 input) and has some lovely views looking out over the Mkhombe Valley, as seen from the large deck (replete with sun loungers, shade providing umbrellas and rim-flow swimming pool) - we were quite fortunate one morning during breakfast to see a herd of elephant in the distance from the dining room. 

On arriving at this lodge, the first thing that struck me was the beautifully displayed photos, mounted on acrylic and obviously all taken at the reserve, which greets one in the entrance hall. If you don’t feel inspired as a wildlife photographer looking at these, I doubt that there is anything else that will get your photographic juices flowing – they are truly superb.

The staff are great, the food is wholesome and tasty and the large open spaces in the lounge, deck and viewing deck (this being above the dining room and lounge) make for a very pleasant stay. For groups that wish to make use of this, there is also a small-ish conference centre with overhead projector and screen. One can use this to have a look at your day’s images if you feel so inclined – apparently you just have to download the software (I never attempted this so I don’t know how it works)!

When one arrives at the reserve (and one has to be at the entrance gate by 13:00) you are escorted to the main lodge by one of the staff members – I have a small sedan and it easily made this journey as the access road was in pretty decent condition. After the check-in formalities, you are shown to your room and thereafter you are offered a light lunch. One of the staff members, usually your guide, will advise you what activities are planned for which days and they will try and accommodate your interests as best they can. Zimanga usually has one hide activity and one guided game drive planned for your stay per day, but depending on how full (or not) the lodge is, they will always try and accommodate your preference.

During lunch one of the serving staff will advise you of the dinner menu and you leave for your afternoon activity after lunch in the early afternoon (times vary, depending on the time of year). At this time, we were departing at about 14:00, to be in place at a hide by about 14:30, with about two and a half to three hours of decent light still to work with. Upon your return, you meet for dinner and drinks (if you are not spending time in one of the overnight hides - which can normally only be used by guests that are booked on a 4-night stay or longer) at about 19:00. The following morning (during this time of the year it was at 05:30), you meet for coffee, tea, rusks/biscuits and depart on your morning activity. Three hours or so later, you get back to the lodge for a late breakfast – and then the cycle repeats itself.

This below are the only two photos I currently have of the new lodge – and these aren’t mine! Thanks to Zimanga for the use of their two images – both of the main and deck area (we will hopefully have some new photos to update our web-site in the near future).

The room that I stayed in was one of the double rooms, which had two work-stations, replete with as many electricity outlets as one can hope for, both at the workstations, but also dotted all around the suite, including in the bathroom. There is also wi-fi in the suites, but as my suite was the furthest from the central area, the speed was at times quite slow (and on one or two occasions, even non-existent for a short time) but at the main area, it was, just as at The Homestead, pretty fast. 

The bathroom has both a bath and a shower (both facing out into the surrounding bush from large windows), two vanity basins, hair-dryer, mirrors etc. The water pressure was good and there was also a separate toilet, which, quite novel, has an overhead light that came on with the slightest movement in the vicinity of the door – you don’t even have to fumble around in the dark for a light switch!  

I asked the question in my very first blog on who should visit Zimanga? These are my answers below and are well worth repeating:

(1)   Well, for starters, serious NATURE/WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHERS of course. One just has to have a look at the quality of the images produced by photographers which were taken at Zimanga - after all, Zimanga was developed especially with photographers in mind.

(2)   Just ORDINARY PHOTOGRAPHERS as well (maybe someone like me). The ease with which one is able to photograph from the hides and from the vehicles means that any person with a camera of any sort has the opportunity to get close to wildlife, something that is very difficult under normal circumstances. 

(3)   BIRDERS, well yes, of course birders. Three of the hides are especially good (and designed) for birds, but the other hides too produce some quality bird sightings. On the flip-side, the ‘bird’ hides too also produce mammals…

(4)   NATURE ENTHUSIASTS – this is those people who have a deeper appreciation for “the bush”, and who crave an unhurried and exclusive experience, whether in the hides or on a game drive…people who don’t mind watching a particular animal for the sheer joy of it, not rushing around trying to get as many ‘ticks’ in as short a time as possible. 

If you’re serious about capturing unforgettable images of African wildlife (whether in your mind’s eye or in a camera), then you can’t afford not to visit Zimanga.  Zimanga’s purpose-built hides offer superb mammal and bird photography and exciting game drives in pursuit of lion, African wild dog, cheetah, elephant, rhino and more. However, just a word of caution… this is not a zoo. By its very nature, wildlife is unpredictable and although Zimanga’s guides will do their best to offer you the most spectacular sightings and photography they can, they cannot guarantee sightings of specific creatures or species. Their ethical stance is such that they will not do anything that endangers or puts wild animals at risk merely to obtain a photograph. Oh, and it may also interest you to know that they have no control over the weather!

There are now seven hides at Zimanga and the beauty is that all hides are built at eye-level for maximum photographic results – hereunder a very short synopsis:

There are three hides that I have yet to visit, and these three are:

Umgodi Overnight Hide which accommodates up to four photographers who sleep over in the air-conditioned hide, which is built into a waterhole with the large window opening up a few centimetres above water level. The drinking edge is four metres from the photographers’ chairs, and to date a large variety of mammal and bird species have visited this water-source.

Bee Eater Hide is Zimanga’s only mobile hide and can seat two to three occupants. Unlike their other hides, seating is provided in camping chairs.  The white-fronted bee-eaters add exciting photographic opportunities as they prefer to flock, resulting in much activity and interaction between individual birds. It is impossible to predict the bee-eaters’ breeding times and cycles, but the guides are always on the lookout to find new breeding sites where the hide will be moved to should bird access be available.

Tamboti Overnight Hide – this is the second of Zimanga’s overnight hides, very similar to the Umgodi Hide, also accommodating four persons at a time. Although the finishing touches were being put in place during my visit here, this hide is now open.
I have been fortunate to have visited their four other hides…which are as below:

Mkombe and Bhejane Hides are Zimanga’s first two hides. These two birdbath (or reflection hides) seat four photographers in comfortable chairs. Both allow water-level images of the multitude of bird species that come and drink and bathe. One of the photographs taken of a leopard drinking, which now adorns the wall of the entrance hall, was taken at Mkombe Hide.
Hereunder four of my images from the Mkombe and Bhejane Hides:

Lagoon Hide was the first step in diversifying viewing and photographic opportunities on Zimanga. This is the largest hide on Zimanga and seats five photographers, with photographic opportunities really at any time of the day, whether you prefer shooting with the sun, or into it.  The shallow waters of the Lagoon draw in a variety of waterbirds, from tiny plovers and sandpipers and onto larger birds like herons, storks and fish eagles.

Below are two images from the Lagoon Hide:

Scavenger Hill Hide (which I am not ashamed to admit, is my favourite of all the hides and that is why I have posted four photos taken from this hide) is placed on…wait for it… Scavenger’s Hill.  Carrion is placed at the site, and to date, five species of vultures, together with other scavengers like marabou storks, woolly necked storks, tawny eagles, plus several other species like kites, buzzards, jackal and hyena have been seen here – I personally have had a lion sighting here (and include one photo of this hereunder) and I know of someone who had a leopard sighting here.


Now, what about the Game Drives? As the reserve did not have a full complement of visitors at the time of my visit, our guide Johnno offered me a hide session in lieu of a game drive if I wanted, which resulted in us only doing two game drives, both of them morning drives. On the first of these drives we spent quite some time with a pair of male lions, but alas, the light did not play along – the sky was overcast which resulted in mostly grainy images, but hey, two male lions all to oneself for over an hour is not to be sneezed at. Below are some images taken on previous game drives at Zimanga:

When Zimanga first opened its doors (well, gate actually – but let’s not nit-pick!) they didn’t have any accommodation, so one had to stay in the nearby town of Mkuze or at one of the other accommodation venues in this area and do single visits for specific activities. I was very fortunate at this time to have visited Zimanga on a few occasions, usually for a single game drive or a single hide session, together with our guests on one of our longer tours between the Kruger Park and the Hluhluwe/Umfolozi Park. This worked out fine and some pretty decent sightings were had, but nothing beats the ease of convenience of actually staying inside the reserve – so well done to Zimanga on their two lodges. Oh, and by the way, they have done away with single or day visits – to enjoy Zimanga, one now has to stay here.

All of the above is summed up in one short little sentence: You just have gotta go!