Monday, April 29, 2013

Ukhozi Lodge, Kariega Game Reserve – Eastern Cape – Jeremy Williamson

Now here is a reserve where some really excellent big game sightings may be enjoyed. The Reserve is close to the popular Garden Route, making it an ideal Big 5 safari venue to visit whilst touring the Cape. This malaria-free South African game park has some of the richest biodiversity in southern Africa with the return of most of the wildlife that were so prevalent in the area, before their decimation by the early hunters. And that includes members of the Big 5. Leopard are present in the area but are rather elusive and rarely seen, a legacy of that early persecution? 

Eye to eye with Lana

The reserve is also fortunate to have two rather scenic rivers flowing through it as well, the Kariega and Bushman's . The topography is very interesting , quite varied with steep wooded valleys and open grasslands affording really good diverse game viewing.

There are presently four Lodges on the reserve, with expansion of the reserve and development of another luxury tented camp in the planning stages. Kariega Game Reserve really seems to be a vibrant, forward thinking venue.
The four star Main Camp is quite substantial in size and geared to cater for larger groups and families, with accommodation in 21 log Chalets. All these log chalets are air-conditioned, the bedrooms have en suite bathrooms, whilst the chalets have a fire place, view deck and satellite TV's. The more exclusive uKhozi Lodge which abuts Main Camp, offers separate facilities such as the more intimate central lounging / dining area and pool. Each of the chalets have their own plunge pool at the four star superior uKhozi Lodge. 

The accommodation and setup of the Lodge here at Main and uKhozi  is slightly different to the norm. Firstly, one is able to drive to ones Chalet where there is covered parking making the handling of luggage so easy. Then the Chalets are Swiss log-cabin styled? Spacious and comfortable, and in our suite, with the most enormous double bed, extra length and width King-size!  

 The entire camp area is well fenced making it safe to be able to walk ones-self back to ones room after dinner. I enjoyed that, with the most amazing starry night skies above, tripping over the stones in the path and being caught up in the odd thorn bush as we meandered eyes gazing ever upwards back to slumberland .
But it’s really about the wildlife. The animals are very relaxed here, so much so that on arrival we had to wend our way through and past a herd of blesbok, they just would'nt budge.

We met Alison, our Ranger for the duration of our stay at Kariega, how she managed that massive open game drive vehicle so dexterously impressed me. Fun too as we hurtled over the hills and dales in search of our next sighting. And good sightings we had ! Some really good elephant viewing and they too, were really relaxed around the vehicles. Well all except one little newcomer who tried to see off one of the Safari vehicles. ...

... and another who just had to show us how big he was ! or close he could get !

Whilst others needed to vent their excess of testosterone on one another! Note the dense Albany thicket biome with the Cape candelabra euphorbia

 Then the lion, well what could one expect ?  Totally relaxed! Or was it that they were just bored?

Just pawsing

Then the buffalo, these are particularly valuable as they are all certified  “disease fee” so no foot and mouth or corridor disease here. The main road to Kenton-on-sea cuts directly through Kariega Game Reserve, this dividing fence has one advantage, the buffalo can easily be separated from the lion, to roam freely in a substantial sector of the reserve, safe from predation.

The herbivores  are not so fortunate and occur in both sectors of the Kariega Game Reserve, I wonder if they are given the chance to draw straws as to where they will reside?. This public road is hardly intrusive, what with the rather efficient electric gate ‘locks’ – each point with dual gates, which would obviate any cunning animal from sneaking through – meanwhile allowing speedy egress  for the Safari vehicles.

A dazzle of Zebra?

We visited River Lodge on the Bushmans River to see what the Lodge was like so that we could best advise our clientele. What a lovely Lodge and excursion that was, a game drive through to the river where we boarded for a scenic cruise downstream  to the Lodge. Guests are either driven directly to the Lodge, or are alternatively able to avail upon the boat transfer. The Lodge is set  right on the banks of the river with the public areas having expansive views over the water.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Amakhala Game Reserve – Jeremy Williamson

Are the Eastern Cape game parks good enough for the wildlife enthusiast ?
Lana and I decided to find out. We had previously visited a couple of the wildlife venues in the area, one being the rather well known Shamwari Game Reserve. We needed to know if the other game parks in the area were any good with respect to the game viewing ? Arrangements were made to visit Lodges in the Amakhala Game Reserve for a few days so that we could really get a ‘feel’ of the game viewing potential of that reasonably new protected area. 

Imagine a group of local farmers, mostly 5th generation family from the 1820 Settlers, all neighbouring farmers, having a meeting where they unanimously decided to pool their resources , remove the fences, restock with wildlife and create the wonderful Amakhala Game Reserve. At approximately 7000 ha in size with some of the properties across district roads and even across the N2 main road, there is fragmentation, but this has been turned to the advantage of game management.
Certain species can thus be separated. One would not be too keen for the prized disease free buffalo, at  around R300,000 each, being on the evening menu of the lion pride. Amakhala Game Reserve management are in the process of restructuring, with the moving of their lion to the main, largest sector and the buffalo to a separate protected environment. This concept could possibly also be applied to their cheetah, these wonderful cats always seem to be on the losing end when in cohabitation with lion in a reserve, slowly being decimated by the competitive larger cats. They have plans too for leopard.

The Amakhala Game Reserve main section is an ideal size in many ways. Small enough, for one to be able to reach an extremity during the course of a single game drive, but not too small that one  has to repeatedly traverse the same area.  The five game drives we enjoyed on Amakhala were all so different and we certainly saw a wide diversity of species.  This diversity so adds to the game viewing. A Big Five destination with the elephant, rhino, buffalo and lion readily seen. Leopard are rather secretive here in the Cape, a legacy of persecution by  farmers. This is changing though as Amakhala Game Reserve is really within a vast protected area, with game parks neighbouring the reserve and beyond, securing a  vast area for conservation which in time will join up with the Greater Addo Park and include a very broad diversity of species, all in a secure relatively safe habitat. From springbok and cape oryx which generally hail from the further western drier areas of the country to impala, hartebeest, eland, blesbok and the less often seen waterbuck, duiker and kudu. There are many others too. I loved it, ostrich mixed with giraffe and zebra, I noted that virtually from any vantage point in the Park one could stop and find some animal within view. 

The diverse biomes within the Amakhala Game Reserve have a very high carrying capacity for  wildlife in general, which in turn offers the excellent game viewing visitors are able to experience here. No wonder, in days of yore, that this area was regarded as one of the best hunting territories , full of loads of animals.  Thanks to the likes of Adrian Gardiner who created Shamwari Private Game Reserve and now these descendants of the 1820 Frontier Settlers who have created Amakhala Game Reserve, the area is returning to how it once was. Their management plans for the future will make this reserve even better and it’s pretty good now.

Besides the open vehicle guided game drives guests are offered a cruise on the Bushmans River. This large vessel is ideal for bird-watching  and to see the odd animals coming to the river to slake their thirst. The scenery is just too beautiful too. For the more active, one can take to the canoes and get some exercise whilst enjoying the environment.
Dense sections there are,  from the compact Albany thicket biome to open grasslands and the nutritious succulent Spekboom.  Not too sure I can get me mind around the English name for that schrub, Porkbush.  Recent research has shown the Porkbush to be an excellent 'carbon sponge' as it has the ability to sequestrate (absorb) free carbon from the atmosphere which is used to make plant tissue. Carbon is one of the major greenhouse gases which are responsible for the warming of the earth's atmosphere; it is produced in excess by the burning of fossil fuels. Currently, humans are producing atmospheric carbon faster than the environment can absorb it, causing a deficit which remains in the atmosphere and causes heat from the sun to be trapped, instead of being radiated back out into space. The porkbush has the unique ability to absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than most other plants and it does so particularly efficiently. A stand of Pork bush consequently has the ability to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than an equal amount of deciduous forest and the animals love feeding on it! 
So is the Amakhala Game Reserve a worthwhile game viewing destination and in particular of the high profile animals?

The answer is simply an unequivocal  - Yes !
Leopard as at so many venues, such as the game parks in KwaZulu-Natal, are present but rarely seen. One would need to visit Lodges within the Sabi Sand Game Reserve for a few nights stay, to be assured of seeing this cat along with the rest of the Big 5.  There will however be a change (for the better) in the game viewing experience when the lion are released into the main game reserve section at Amakhala.

There are presently eleven commercial Lodges in the Amakhala Game Reserve. From purpose built to converted Homesteads, each has it’s own unique character and attributes. Lana and I visited three of the Lodges and we managed to pop in and visit another three. In time we will report on all the venues in the Amakhala Game Reserve. Here are the links to the three reviews we have written and then some photographs of the three Lodges we only briefly visited.

Bukela Game Lodge 
Click here to read our review

Woodbury Tented Camp - Amakhala Game Reserve

This is a three star venue - lovely outlook

Woodbury Tented Camp view deck

Hillsneck  Safaris’ Tented Camp - Amakhala Game Reserve

This is a four star superior tented camp with the most wonderful outlook over the plains below. Set on the bank of the Bushman's River in the heart of the Amakhala Game Reserve, Eastern Cape.

Honeymoon suite lounge area

Hlozi Game Lodge - Amakhala Game Reserve