The Manyeleti is a 23,000ha reserve owned and managed by the Mnisi Tribe, in conjunction with the Mpumalanga Parks Board, who claim that they are committed to retaining the integrity of the game reserve and unlocking the tourism potential to the benefit of the Mnisi people and surrounding communities. This reserve is bordered in the north by the Timbavati Private Reserve, to the east by the Kruger National Park and to the south by the Sabi Sands Private Reserve. There are no fences separating any of these reserves from one another, so animals are free to roam over this vast area.
We were shown into our tent at Mantobeni, which had a mosquito net, double bed, wooden deck, his and hers basins, two showers and a rustic sunken bath, with the usual nice smelling stuff – Charlotte Rhys in this case. The hot water was supplied by a gas geyser, which was pretty effective. This tent was also electrified and wi-fi capabilities were available throughout the camp. After checking in we were treated to a 3-course lunch at the lodge. The communal areas of Mantobeni consisted of a deck with a lounge, pub, dining area, small library and a pool, as well as an outside boma. The programme at Mantobeni followed the usual programme that most of the lodges follow: an early wake-up call, followed by hot drinks, out on the morning drive, with another stop for hot drinks, back for breakfast, then the opportunity to explore on a bush walk, lunch and then the afternoon/evening drive, with a sundowner stop during this.
Our afternoon drive with our tracker and guide, Dries, produced elephant, buffalo, kudu, impala, hippo, and a civet, among others. What we also found was a magnificent male lion laying down in a dry river bed, with great light on him – perfect for a photo, but he was far off. Dries maneuvered our Land Rover down into the river bed and across to this animal, only for the lion to get up and disappear into the long reed beds flanking the river. Did this lion not realize that he was a great specimen for a photograph, and that the position that he had been in was perfect? We did try and follow him, but this was not easy in the thick bush and we eventually gave up. On this drive we did not see too many animals, but I was quite excited, as from the signs of wildlife, such as dung, broken trees and branches, droppings and spoor, I had the feeling that this place was actually full of animals, they were just eluding us, which does happen – if you go into the bush often enough, as I am fortunate to do, there are always occasions when game will be scarce. As usual, we stopped for sundowners at a pretty scenic spot, before moving on with our drive, this time by spotlight, searching for nocturnal animals. What was nice during the sundowner stop was the lovely sunset, heralding the onslaught of cold weather. Dinner that night was superb, and I had probably one of the best pieces of duck that I had ever had – well done to Nicholas, the chef.
That night was cold, very cold. Maybe this was the reason why I was woken at about 03:00 by the sound of a lion roaring, which seemed to be just outside our tent! Maybe the lion was seeking the warmth of my tent? I had not bothered to close the tent flaps, so all we had separating us from a marauding wild animal to protect us, was a mosquito net – hardly adequate. Anyway, we weren’t attacked, and the lion (or maybe lions?) moved off, the roaring getting fainter and fainter.
On the morning drive a cold front had moved into the Lowveld and the temperature had dropped down to 1º C! The result of this was that very little was seen. We did see the usual animals, such as impala, zebra, wildebeest, klipspringer, duiker, bushbuck and a herd of about three hundred buffalo which were close to the Kruger Park boundary. We also saw plenty of predator tracks, including many tracks of hyeana, but saw no predators on this morning. As a result of this, I was down to trying to photograph birds in flight, including one grab-shot of a Martial Eagle and one of a Lilac-breasted Roller. One can imagine how well a hot mug of hot chocolate, with a tot of Amarula, went down on this cold morning during our drinks stop – very welcome.
We returned to the lodge and a hearty breakfast, before departing to our next venue. Unfortunately I only spent the one night here, which I believe does not do this reserve justice. The fact that it was so cold also meant that we did not see too much. What is maybe not too appealing about this reserve is the state of the roads, easily traversed by the game viewing Land Rover, but nonetheless poorly maintained. This may be down to the fact that the parks board does not have any money to maintain the infrastructure. The lodge itself is not high-end luxury, but is probably attractive to some-one who does not want super luxury, but wants good food, good accommodation and a very enthusiastic guide in Dries – he clearly loves his job and was very apologetic in not finding too many exciting animals for us. I would have loved to have Dries as our ranger at our next lodge!