Thursday, March 21, 2024

Rhino River Lodge - Manyoni Game Reserve - Zululand


Lana and I have a favoured private Safari Lodge in Zululand. One, that is fully hosted and catered for, at a most affordable rate, with a big bonus, it is situated in one of the finest Big 5 Game Reserves in Zululand.

This Lodge is set in a most beautiful place, nestled on the bank of the ephemeral Msunduzi River, shaded by ancient Sycamore Fig and Acacia trees, with the Fever Trees in profusion, their shining yellow powdered surfaces glowing in the various light of day, all surrounded by the Zululand Bushveld. With open access for numerous animals, some of the antelope and warthog choosing the deemed protection afforded by human habitation, to make this their home. A place I too could so easily call home.

This made more pleasant and welcoming by the gracious and enthusiastic staff. Lana and I had visited this Lodge some 6 years previously and were keen to see how the Manyoni Private Game Reserve had improved with age – like an excellent wine?

The Manyoni Private Game Reserve is some 23,000 ha in extent, it runs adjacent to the N2 National Road on the western side, from the area of Mkuze town southwards, a magnificent part of Zululand bushveld and only about 3 hour’s drive from Durban’s King Shaka Airport. I am sure Rider Haggard’s writings were inspired by these rolling hills of Zululand.

The Rhino River Lodge.

There is the complex of 4 Deluxe chalets, each with air conditioning, private shower and toilet en suite, a private balcony and well appointed room, with a bar fridge and tea station.

Then two Family Loft Chalets, that have a double bedroom and an upstairs loft room sleeping two in single beds. These timber buildings, the original accommodation here.

An independent four sleeper Cottage as well as a six sleeper Homestead, hidden away from the main complex, with private outlook over the river. These also so necessarily air conditioned, each with their own private plunge pool, but still within easy walking distance of the Main Lodge dining and bar facilities.

The Cottage

The Homestead

All these accommodation units are serviced by a comfortable lounge with sun deck, as well as another dining / bar unit with more deck area looking out to the river and riparian forest. These large thatch rooms are open on both sides and cooled by having high roofs and fans. This can be closed up in winter, with a central fireplace in the lounge to warm up at.

Close to these public facilities is a large swimming pool and sundeck with loungers.

We were met by our enthusiastic Ranger who gave us a room and lodge procedure update, after  assisting us with our luggage to our Deluxe suite. The car was parked fairly close to the chalets.

A delicious finger lunch was offered with the afternoon game drive scheduled for 16h30 departure,

giving time to appreciate the ambiance and numerous animals and birds within the Lodge grounds. 

The lodge was almost fully booked, with nine guest on our vehicle, others on a second Game viewer. Just before departure staff arrived with chilled flasks of water, then into the bush our Ranger took us, in search of our quarry, whatever it might be. Most of the guests on the vehicle were in the wilds of the African bush for the first time.  It is wise to book well in advance for such a special opportunity. This Lodge runs at high occupancy due to its popularity. You can see why! For the casual tourist without serious photographic equipment, by visiting such a Private Game Reserve, one is able to capture exciting, quality images, even on one's cell phone as per below.

We encountered a host of different animals and birds. Our Ranger took time to explain the nuances of the different sightings, adding value to each experience. Named by the early African peoples as the ‘Place of birds’, ‘Manyoni’, it is indeed rich with a vast variety of birdlife, some 434 species recorded here.  

A Lilac-breasted Roller

A Tawney Eagle being mobbed by a Fork-tailed Drongo

Escape the tormentor

A White-backed Vulture

A Wattled Lapwing

A Three-ringed Plover

Yellow-billed Storks feeding, a zebra and wildebeest discussing their nocturnal game plan..

Rich too with its faunal populations. This is a Big 5 Game Reserve with, in addition, Cheetah 

and soon to be released from their holding boma, the finest escape artists of the bush, the African Wild Dog, our Painted wolves, who are so adept at escaping the confines of the Manyoni Game Reserve. This lot were found in the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park some 30 kms away, captured and returned, ending their previous escapade. They have a natural instinct to utilise a vast range, resulting in their and other’s frequent escapes, a habit severely impacting on their security and the vulnerability of wild dogs in general in Africa.

What a magnificent game reserve. This is particularly well managed, in co-operation with all the Lodges that share this special protected area. Since my previous visit the dams have been increased and enlarged, the road infrastructure vastly improved, some were totally unusable in the wet summers, with the Black Cotton Soil making them impassable. Now hardened and safe to use. The animals too have become far more numerous and well habituated to the game viewing vehicles.  All this, as a result of Conservation minded farmers who decided to drop fences and unite into one efficient, diverse, conservation initiative. Then the relocation and introduction of key species, along with a variety of general game were reintroduced. There would have been a small nucleus of wild animals surviving amongst the cattle and crops, but the Big 5, along with some interesting animals such as Cheetah, the Wild dog, Pangolin and Brown Hyena were brought in. This all as a result of the support of various wildlife authorities and organisations. This support is ongoing, ensuring the strength and diversity of the various gene pools.

Our game drives in the Manyoni Game Reserve did not disappoint. On our vehicle was a family from Belgium who were fortunately advised to book Rhino River Lodge.  On their 4 game drives of their two night stay, they were fortunate to see four of the big 5, and close too, Leopard eluded us, but this was expected. We had really good sightings of cheetah in compensation. Then a large variety of general game, from a ‘tower or two’ of Giraffe, herds of wildebeest, zebra, impala, kudu, nyala, warthog, baboon and the Wild Dog in the boma. 

The foreign guests were overjoyed by the excellent and diverse sightings that they encountered in just two night’s stay, they were fascinated seeing the enormous Vultures and eagles we encountered too. I highly recommend utilising a good Private Lodge for short term visitors, in order to be able to see more of the key animal species and see then close by.

A tradition on most private Lodge game drives is to have a comfort stop, on the morning drive its tea, hot chocolate or coffee – some with a dash if Amarula cream, plus some rusks and biscuits. On the afternoon drive the Sundowner stop includes a drink of your choice and often biltong and some other snack. At one stop we had a giraffe joining usfor sundowners.

Then back to the Lodge in the dark, a spotlight seeking out more of the nocturnal species to marvel at. Rhino River Lodge  normally use a different venue each night for dinner, adding to the experiences, should the weather be favourable, alfresco dining around a fire is a wonderful one. This was the set up for one of the evening firelit dinners before the 'action' started. Caught this preparation on my departure for the afternoon game drive.

At another of their locations on the second night, waiting for the other vehicle to return.

Starters with a chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc followed by a beautifully cooked Fillet of Beef, pepper sauce and seasonal veggies done so crisp too. Their kitchen staff are excellent

Due to the unfenced nature of the camp, a game guard will accompany guests to and from one’s chalet after dark. Wonderful to retreat, replete and resplendent to one’s chalet after a most exciting day, experiencing that which this truly incredible game reserve has to offer. Readying one’s mind for the early start, and more of this most enjoyable way of experiencing the African bushveld.

Breakfast's didn't dissapoint either. Back from an exhilerating game drive, to freshly brewed coffee, some starters and of course, the Full English!

I can do this! Down to the Baked Beans prepared by the chef, not just from a can. There is great attention to detail here at Rhino River Lodge. From the reception, the intro to the workings of the Camp, to the delicious meals, informative and greatly rewarding game drives, the changes to meal venus, the turn-down, the....

All photographs were taken on this visit of 2 nights to Rhino River Lodge by Jeremy and Lana Williamson

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