Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sebumo Tude Nature Lounge - Kenton-on-Sea, Eastern Cape

Lana and I were visiting some Lodges in the Eastern Cape early September and we planned on driving all the way through from Durban, to a place close to our first game park, which has its access by river from Kenton-on-Sea, with a fairly early departure.
Sebumo Tude Natures Lounge, a four star venue set in the coastal Albany Thicket and forests seemed a good choice. It certainly was !

 Situated slightly inland and between Port Alfred and Kenton-on-Sea, we arrived late afternoon, to be welcomed by Ron and Doris, German, and their two Great Danes, Danish, to their delightful nature retreat.  

The wind was blowing fairly strongly, giving quite a nip to the air. To our Chalet where we unpacked, freshened up, enjoyed the view, contacted family ...

...  then strolled back to the Main Lodge, where a warm fire and warm hospitality welcomed us.  

 Lana and I liked the attention to detail and the artistic nuances prevalent in and around the Lodge. Secret pathways, hidden benches, clever art pieces and a homely ambience. A chandelier in the lounge was made sparkly by tumbled colored glass pieces. Ron and Doris have an eye for quirky lovely art.
Lana loved a small piece that was a local South African interpretation of “The Musicians of Bremen” Such a sweet tale I remember from my youth,

Now safely on display in our home

Instead of the donkey, dog , cat and a rooster, it was a rather stylised and beautifully garish buffalo, zebra, leopard and guinea fowl stacked. Now that would have been a monstrous cocophony!
Being close to the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, Ron had included a rather beautiful stencil artwork, depicting Nelson Mandela, as a feature. 

Candles were lit and strategically placed throughout the lounges and dining area. Super service and much appreciated, special as we were the only guests there that night.

Doris is well known for her speciality cuisine and we were fortunate to have been offered her signature dishes.
Tomato Melange with Cocktail Tomatoes, prawn and crispy Bacon
Main Course
250 gr. Venison Fillet served with a Butternut-Walnut Quiche and a Green Pepper Sauce
Lemon Mousse
This was an outstanding meal, accompanied by copious amounts of wine and great discourse with our hosts.  The wine hailed from our Cape and not from the Rhine, from whence Ron and Doris originate.  A solar lantern to light our way to our cabin, its warm light could not keep away the cold, I deemed it appropriate that a fire be made in the hearth. Kindle and matches soon had the timber aflame and we retreated to our warm duvet, cosily ensconced – a long day.

We were on the deck early,  as the sun crept up over the hill behind us, slowly painting the dense bush in glowing shades of spring. What a dawn chorus from the very numerous birds, all seeking best vantage at the tops of the shrubbery and trying to outdo one another in their musical expertise.  Repeated flashes of brilliant red and green as one, then another, then .. now was that the same one... Knysna Turaco flitted and glided from tree to tree.

Morning ablutions were bliss, hot shower, with the most delightful soaps and shampoo, then what a pleasure to take my towel from the warm Bathroom Butler. Tad chilly for me in the outdoor shower.

this one was for the pool

Today the wind had died so Lana and I meandered lazily through the indigenous gardens to breakfast.

The pool looked so inviting.

Our sumptuous breakfast was laid out, al fresco on one of the decks with a stupendous view, sharing this with the resident two Great Danes, these massive canines warming themselves in the sun on large mattresses. Well behaved they were too. We thought of our US friend Cindy and hers.

We feasted on fruit and yoghurt, then a full cooked brekka arrived -  Full house and with a pot of coffee we were replete.
There are numerous walks and mountain biking trails on the property with the bird watching really good. Wee took it easy, binocs to the eyes, until it was time for our 30 minute drive to Kenton-on-Sea and our visit to the Sibuya Game Reserve. What an excellent decision it was to have chosen Sebumo Tude as an overnight stop - where such a venue really comes into its own though, would be as a destination away from the madding crowds, a place to unwind and relax, a place for a holiday for a few or more days. You will certainly be well looked after.

Photographs by Jeremy and Lana Williamson

Samara Private Game Reserve – Eastern Cape

In the Great Karoo, on the plains of Camdeboo, is the vast 27,000 ha Samara Private Game Reserve. Home to some rather interesting and infrequently seen animals – for Lana and I, this was hopefully , to be an especially memorable visit – we had heard so much about Samara.

Well let’s see what happened !  Samara Private Game Reserve with its 5 star Lodges is located some 30 kms south east of Graaf-Reinet  and  250 kms,  (or approximately an 2 hour 45 minute drive) from Port Elizabeth. Here, historically vast herds of Springbok and a wide diversity of species roamed free – to be decimated by the 19th Centaury hunters,  compounded by the erection of farm fencing.  Well Samara is changing that, expanding their farm size, removing the fences and returning the indigenous wildlife to this fragile area.
Samara Private Game Reserve, is fortunate in having 4 of the country’s 7 Biomes – on the slopes and upper plains of the surrounding hills are the ‘Plateaux Grasslands’ which change to ‘Valley Bushveld / thicket’ as one descends to the plains of Camdeboo. Here we find the ‘Savannah and Nama Karoo’ biomes. It is this lower veld type that primarily led to the demise of the indigenous wildlife, as sheep and even cattle were brought in and found to thrive on the Karoo thickets, especially the sheep,  giving ‘Karoo Lamb’ International recognition  for its quality and unique flavour. One must admire and appreciate the turnaround that Samara’s owners, Mark and Sarah Tompkins have achieved in the past decade and a bit, with the reintroduction of many wildlife species, back to their original habitat.
At Samara, it, in my opinion, is all about the wildlife.  The land has been allowed to rest during the past 12 years, but aeons of veld mismanagement, drought and overgrazing has taken its toll and recovery is and will be slow.  Not so slow though, is the transformation of decrepit farms to an Internationally recognised excellent wildlife destination. 

The relocation and reintroduction of species endemic to the area, and in particular the Cheetah, with Samara’s offered game experience with them, makes Samara a destination of choice. Here we have a family of free ranging Cheetah, now totally independent of man, fending for themselves in the bush , with guests having the opportunity to walk up reasonably close to them, and share their lives, all be it for a brief moment. This is not a petting zoo or quasi rehab centre, it’s the real thing, they are living wild, but tolerate man in reasonably close proximity to a point. The Cheetah are conducting life in the Karoo as their distant ancestors did.  Acinonyx jubatus are classified as vulnerable.  So often Cheetah, in the Private Game Reserves have Lion as a cohabiter (well you have to have the Big 5 and lion is one of them, seems to be a common trend) . What normally happens is that the lion kill the Cheetah – well this does not happen at Samara thankfully, as there are no Lion here.

The Aardvark we saw and followed

Samara has another really incredible draw card, reasonably regular daytime sightings (particularly in winter) of Aardvark , and some of these sightings, with these animals seeming totally unconcerned with the presence of those watching them in awe. It is with respect that one is able to experience the foraging of so elusive and threatened an animal.  The Aardvark, Orycteropus afer is classified as vulnerable.  Destruction of their habitat and persecution has reduced Aardvark numbers significantly. An animal rarely seen in the warmer parts of South Africa, possibly as their ant and termite prey are active all night, thus the Aardvark feed late at night, whereas in the colder parts of the country such as the Karoo and at Samara, the insect activity probably declines late evening, encouraging the Aardvark to start their foraging earlier and are thus more visible.
Many of my colleagues and friends have never seen an Aardvark, I have previously only seen two and that was late at night and only briefly on each occasion.  Let me tell you about this amazing wildlife destination.

Lana and I had driven up from the Port Elizabeth area, the road was good tar and we passed over some rather scenic passes before entering the vast plains of the Great Karoo. Samara is easily found nestled up against the Aasvoelberg with a good dirt road right up to Samara’s Karoo Lodge where Lana and I were to spend the next few days.  An old farmhouse modified to suite guests needs, was where we met the most friendly staff of Samara. Carien welcomed us with warm towelets and a refreshing drink and introduced us to the hospitality of the Karoo. What a lovely comfortable, homely Lodge.

Our ample suite with four-poster bed, was free standing and a little way off in the Lodge grounds. We were warned to be careful, as the Lodge is not fenced and there are animals on Samara that could possibly be dangerous. Well there are Buffalo, Black and White Rhino and Cheetah, so Ok to walk the Lodge grounds during the day, but a Ranger would escort us from and to our Chalet at night.

We prepared for the afternoon guided game drive, cameras and warm clothing, as this part of the World can get quite chilly once the sun sets. 

Then to High-tea, on the lovely wide veranda. Really delectable savoury options, loads of cheeses  and desserts – the individual small milk tarts were particularly good. 

We were fortunate to have a vehicle to ourselves, Tendai was to be our guide  for the next few days. All aboard at 15h30 and we drove a short distance from the Lodge, seeing  a herd of Red Hartebeest before Tendai stopped, clambered out of the vehicle and used a radio scanner to see if he could locate the cheetah, which he had seen in the area earlier that day. A faint signal! We took to the broken terrain on foot, cameras at the ready.  Down into a dry river course,  no signal. On we trudged, the signal strengthened. Anticipation on high.  Eventually we were way out in the veld, when off to our left our guide pointed out Mum Cheetah and her two sub adult cubs.

We slowly walked over to the edge of their ‘comfort zone’ and stopped, cherishing the moment. What amazing an experience this was. Here we were out in the wilds on foot with three fair sized Cheetah lazing in the shade of a karoo shrub, right there in front of us.

The cameras were clicking away nicely as the trio started to move about a bit, from one shady retreat to another. We followed, careful not to get too close and upset the trust that the Rangers had built up between themselves and these wild animals. 

Eventually it was time to leave, in the very far distance I could just make out the vehicle, but it was with an elated gate that we returned to our transport – now that was something really special of a game sighting encounter. Almost unique in game Lodge activities here in South Africa.  Samara you have something exceptional in this particular wildlife experience !
Jeremy photographing Cheetah out in the wilds of Samara

Well what could cap this? We proceeded on our game drive and saw quite a rich diversity of species. Eland, Kudu, Red Hartebeest, Duiker, Oryx, Yellow Mongoose and Zebra. 

Eland cow
Gemsbok or Cape Oryx

We also saw one of the World’s heaviest flying birds, a Kori Bustard (can weigh just over 12kg) proudly striding through the scrub. Then Tendai stopped the vehicle – AARDVARK  he pointed, smiled, then clambered from the vehicle and suggested we join him in seeing if we could get closer to it, it was quite mobile.  Now the Aardvark is quite a wary little fella and with those extended ears and being sensitive to ground vibrations, he was soon aware of our poor endeavours at creeping closer, as we stumbled over the rather rocky scrubby ground. We were not able to approach too close although we followed it for ages, as it sniffed one potential  underground termite source after another.

Our rather shy special Aardvark
Tendai suggested he returns to collect the vehicle  and Lana and I continued to follow as speedily as our stubbed toes and twisted ankles would allow.. It then entered a fairly eroded open sandy area and started digging. Had it found a food source?  By the volume of soil being excavated I thought not and decided to approach closer – the digging was like a mini-eruption as the red soil spewed from the orifice of a fast deepening crater and we watched as the thick tail and furiously working back legs disappeared from sight. I would imagine the sand being  forcibly thrust out of the hole, would be an excellent deterrent, flying in the face of some potential predator.   Our Aardvark sighting had come to an end. Quite a spectacular one too.
Almost unbelievable, two incredible lifetime wildlife experiences in one afternoon! By now the sun was starting to settle in the west behind the Aasvoelberg and Tengerai stopped again, clambered from the vehicle and suggested we join him in a drink – a celebratory sundowner. There was quite a warm glow from Lana and I, complementing that of the fiery orb in the sky.
A magnificent ‘bar roll’ was unfurled and the ice chest opened. 

So many options on offer! Lana and I settled for a Sauvignon Blanc wine and our Ranger a coke. Cheers !! Biltong and nuts, then back to the Lodge in the dark. In the spotlight Scrub Hare, Jackal, Spotted Eagle Owl and then the delightful, lamp lit Karoo Lodge.
We returned to our room to find a prepared bubble bath. What a pleasure, as we shed the grime, freshening up on the Charlotte Rhys soaps and changed for dinner. Our Ranger escorted us back to the main building and dinner. The other guests were a largish foreign group, who really could not converse in English, so we were offered a private dinner in one of the anterooms. Beautiful silver and crystal gleaming in front of a glowing fire, we ate fine fare to the accompaniment of the odd glass of wine or two.
What a day !
Private dinner
Good morning. A 06h30 arrival for the usual drinks and rusks. Today we were going to summit the plateau and enjoy the scenic splendours and wildlife on high. Although not much could beat the high of yesterday.
En route to the valley that afforded easier access to the tops of the surrounding hills, we found three Cheetah out on an early morning hunt, striding purposefully  through the Karoo thickets. We admired them for a while, then let them be.   

Sibella - she has been an excellent mum

We saw numerous Kudu, Hartebeest  and some Eland on the way, but none presented good photo opportunities, quite skittish is the general game here.  Samara have cut a road into the side of the mountain, this rather scenic access brought us to the Rooigrass (Themeda triandra grass) plains (plateau) above. 

Mountain Zebra

Mountain Zebra, Eland, Black Wildebeest and Oryx (Gemsbok) were thriving and at home here, we could not get too close, but with the open grasslands with small herds scattered, this must surely be so much like it was here before man and his rifle created havoc to the then numerous herds. Now all we need is for the lower reaches of Samara to have really large herds of Springbok.  

Black Wildebeest AKA White-tailed Gnu
Cape Oryx AKA Gemsbok

We did not find, but I believe Mountain Reedbuck, Klipspringer  and Grey Rhebuck are also to be seen at these elevated altitudes. And elevated it is, Tendai stopped the vehicle, clambered out and suggested we join him. We followed as he led us through some bush and then down a slope to a massive rock platform hanging over the edge, once vertigo was sorted, I gazed on the most wonderful panorama. The Plains of Camdeboo stretching out forever and the Aasvoelberg  off to our right, all in shades of browns, blue and grey, with a splash of green here and there, spectacular!

Some solar panels were  powering a bore-hole pump deep in the earth with the pipe meandering snakelike to a pan some distance away. I wondered what would happen to the plastic pipe should there be a veld fire. Well apparently due to the type of veld and paucity of cover, fires don’t really get going in this region.   Time for a coffee stop and at another view-site up on high!

Over a rise and a large herd of Eland, knees clicking, came by, what elegant looking antelope and so huge. I guess these are pretty safe from Cheetah, just too large to be prey.
Giraffe, Ground Squirrel, Rock hyrax and a large troop of Baboon were added to our species list as we wended our way back to the luxury of Karoo Lodge, time to relax and then to high tea.   

Ground Squirrel

Actually there was a fair bit of action around the Lodge, baboon hoping for a window to be carelessly left ajar, numerous birds in the Karee bos and close to the Lodge, a well reeded dam was host to a variety of waterfowl such as African Spoonbill, Egyptian Goose, Little Grebe, South African Shelduck and Little Egret. I could have spent time there but the delicious cuisine of High Tea called. High tea was interrupted  slightly in that two large exhibitionist Leopard tortoise were mating on the lawn, much to the delight of the foreign guests.

We explored other areas of Samara on the subsequent game drives, adding Ludwig’s Bustard to our life list and a special sighting of some 25 Blue Crane – our National Bird, all gathered fairly close in some sort of meeting, another species on the Red Data list classified as vulnerable, that Samara has space for. Then on the last morning game drive, another lifer for Lana, when Tendai stopped the vehicle, clambered out and suggested we join him in walking over to a Porcupine, hiding in and amongst the Karoo shrubs. It thought we couldn’t see it, but sharp-eyed Tendai had and what a sighting, early morning, out in the open and close too. We crept up to it, but Porky decided that it should retreat  and made a break for it. It loped away, spines bristling and rattling, probably trying to find a convenient Aardvark hole – we were in the way for it to retreat to the one it had just left.

We left our prickly sighting to its breakfast as we headed for ours. Another species to add, a pair of Steenbuck. What a set of horns this little guy had. 

Coffee, rusks and Amarula, sigh ! standing out there on the Plains of Camdeboo for our morning drive comfort stop, the mountains at my back and the wide open space ahead. Clear blue skies, early sun casting its special warm glow to the scene, my eyes follow a Greater Kestrel hovering above searching for prey, and then a cloud of dust in the distance slowly approaches. My mind wanders and thousands upon thousands of Springbok in their striped tan and white livery came foraging by. Some pronking in that stiff-legged, arched back fashion with long white mane  displayed from that secretive pouch on their backs,  Antidorcas marsupialis, marsupium - pouch. One is allowed to dream a bit and my dream could be that of the owners of Samara, the Tompkins, that one day vast herds of Springbuck, would be returned to this so special a place.
May I be so bold as to suggest that one should read Eve Palmers “The Plains of Camdeboo”
The Karoo is a vast semi-desert region that extends across parts of the Western and Eastern Cape provinces of South Africa. This environmentally important area is the largest ecosystem in the country and is abundant in wildlife, vegetation, and ancient history. “The Plains of Camdeboo” is a celebration of this remarkable landscape. At first encounter, the Karoo may seem arid, desolate and unforgiving, but to those who know it, it is a land of secret beauty and infinite variety. Samara is joyfully so much a part of it.

Photographs by Jeremy and Lana Williamson

Kuzuko Lodge – Eastern Cape

Kuzuko Game Reserve is a private concession within the malaria free Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape Karoo, and is approximately two hours drive from Port Elizabeth. This malaria free 15,000 hectare private section of the greater Addo Elephant National Park, has the Big five along with Cheetah. In order to protect the vulnerable cheetah and buffalo from the lion, this Game Reserve has three large fenced enclosures. Kuzuko’s Cheetah are habituated enough to allow guests to view them from a reasonably close distance on foot. They are not tame but simply tolerate guests. These 'Cheetah walks', allow one to get to achieve quality photographic opportunities close to the Cheetah.

The Addo Elephant National Park is the third largest National Park in South Africa, the Park has expanded enormously, it has a wide biodiversity and varied topography and landscapes. Stretching from the semi-arid Karoo area here in the north around Darlington Dam and the Kuzuko Conservancy, over the rugged Zuurberg Mountains, through to the Sundays River valley, then south to the coast between the Sundays and Bushman’s River mouths, Addo Elephant National Park is approximately 180 000 hectares (444 700 acres) in extent.

Kuzuko Lodge is set on the top of a hill, with panoramic views of the Karoo stretching away in the distance. This is a modern brick under thatch lodge, with 24 free-standing luxury air-conditioned Chalets sited on the ridge, offering uninterrupted views, all close to the main Lodge facilities. The comfortable Chalets have private bathrooms en suite, a view deck and are well appointed.

We turned off the R400 onto the Park access road, through some electric entrance gates and we were immediately amongst the most amazing display of Coral Aloe, Aloe affra. We had missed the flowering of the larger Aloe ferox, their racemes withering in the Koroo sun, but this floral display was really stunning.

We drove on past a quizzical springbok or two, Lana saw a ground squirrel scuttle away. Getting interesting. Check-in was at two  o’clock and we arrived at the Karoo farmhouse reception area on time. Our guide for this visit, Adolph, was there waiting to take ourselves and luggage to the Lodge. Into the Toyota Land Cruiser game viewing vehicle we bundled, then off through another electric gate, into the Kuzuko Game Reserve proper. Some blue crane and waterfowl at a dam, hartebeest, black wildebeest and the game viewing had commenced.

We were welcomed at the Lodge with a refreshing rock shandy, wiped away the road grime, then ushered onto the deck for an introduction to that view, magnificent, then to our room. Hardly time to collect our thoughts, camera and cold weather gear, before we were back to the main building for 'High Tea'. One should not expect a high tea of the ilk of the Savoy in London at our South African Game Lodge venues who have latched onto the terminology – rather expect something savory, something sweet, along with some refreshments.

Kuzuko Lodge brought our serving to the table, quite a delicious spread. A generous portion of freash open ham sandwiches, samosas, tarts and kebabs for the savory, with chocolate cake squares and a coconut slice or two for those with a sweet tooth. Delicious!

Time for the game drive. We met a delightful couple, Neil and Amy at the vehicle – this game drive was going to be interesting.

In the Kuzuko Game Reserve the lion and general game are to be found in the main part of the Game Reserve, with a large fenced camp for the valuable Buffalo, and another for the rather vulnerable cheetah. It is unwise to have cheetah and lion competing within a single fenced area. It seems inevitable that the lion eventually manage to kill the cheetah in such an environment. Adolf was going to show us as much of the the wildlife as he could during our limited time at Kuzuko.

Off to our right on the hillside and in rather dense foliage, was an elephant herd. No roads could take us near to them, so on we went. We arrived at the Buffalo enclosure fence and there they were, waiting patiently, as one of the staff was pitch forking Lucerne to them over the fence from the back of a bakkie. He was feeling a tad vulnerable as two male lion were approaching.

We distracted the lion, by approaching them for a photo shoot, they obliged, then off we went into the Cheetah enclosure to see if we could find those cats.

We found sign of the Cheetah's previous meal, a Kudu, then numerous alert kudu, but not a cheetah to be seen. We reluctantly closed the gate behind us and departed for the Lodge.

The route from the Cheetah enclosure was through a rather scenic gorge where we found a jackal that had started foraging early. Some Plains Zebra and Black Wildebeest were seen before arriving to a friendly welcome at the Lodge. Refreshed we ambled back to the Lodge for dinner. Drinks at the bar, then to dinner. We asked that the two separate tables that were laid for the 4 of us on our vehicle, be joined. A quick rearrangement and a joyful evening commenced, dining on Bean soup, Springbok carpaccio starters and grilled Sirloin steaks. Dessert was Malva pudding, a good SA stalwart. Delicious. To bed.

The Karoo can get quite cold at night, thank goodness for a comfortably warmed chalet. Quite a lot of action today so both were soon fast asleep.
Jeremy watching the sunrise

The early sun lighting the chalet roof-tops and setting the veld a-glow

Wake-up call and we were soon on the deck enjoying a cuppa with the sun edging over the horizon bringing the bush to life. The Malachite Sunbirds were active early, feeding on the dying inflorescens of the Aloes.

Not much time to see and do it all, so off we were to the Cheetah enclosure. Three full days after their last meal, the Cheetah were up early and out looking. They were pretty mobile and quite close to the road, so there was no need to leave the vehicle in order to get closer to them. This walking up to them, is what could happen should these cats be just too far off the road.

Adolph, would take guests closer to just outside of their ‘comfort zone’ so as not to unduly disturb or upset them. This the cats tolerate.

We followed them, watching how alert the general game had become, Kudu barking warily as they caught sight of the predators.

We had followed them from the eastern to the western boundary of their enclosure, then as they had stopped to rest a bit way from the road, we left them, exited the camp and our guide suggested it would be a fair place for the morning coffee break.

Whilst warming up internally on the strong coffee, the cheetah were on the prowl again and came strolling by, on the other side of the fence, totally unconcerned with our off-vehicle activities.

That had been a lovely hour spent with the cheetah, as they so nonchalantly strolled through their domain and now past us.

Back to a full Karoo breakfast and then goodbyes to new friends and a transfer to our waiting car at the reception. One night at this lodge is definitely too short a time to properly assess and report on its game viewing potential. We had had some reasonably  good sightings which should only get better the longer one spent in the reserve.

It is good to see that there are more quality Lodges in this Greater Addo National Park with a reasonable representation of the high profile, and general game animals being returned to their historic areas of habitation.

Photographs by Jeremy and Lana Williamson