Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Umzolozolo Lodge – a winning venue, a prize-winners prize ! - Jeremy Williamson

My wife, Lana’s family were doing family stuff – one of her sister’s daughters was getting married, Lana’s brother, with his wife whom we had not as yet met, were out from Portland, Oregon, USA, with the third sister and her family returning to SA,  from living in China - what a reunion.
To Johannesburg for the wedding and then back to Durban – well that could be made so much more fun if we stopped in at the Nambiti Private Game Reserve on the way. Her brother, Owen was on a tight schedule so it could only be one night, but he was not in on these plans.

Umzolozolo Private Game Lodge was the venue and the surprise was to be Owen’s and his lovely wife, Jen’s. I had been whiling away the drive time, reconstructing the sequences of the Anglo Zulu and Anglo Boer Wars for them. Their interest had been whetted, so I suggested we detour slightly into Ladysmith. Well, then there were the tales as to how and where this all started, the battles which led to the siege of Ladysmith, the altercations at Dundee and Elandslaagte! They were caught up in my story and keen to hear more- “Owen, the Battlefield is just a short distance the other side of Ladysmith, let’s just detour there and have a quick look”. They did not guess that we were in fact taking them to Nambiti Game Reserve to experience it and Umzolozolo Game Lodge, even when we entered the gate – it was just to better access the battlefield (not really, but they were none the wiser). At the car park, where one gets to leave ones vehicle, Lana jumped out of the car, opened their door and cried “SURPRISE !” as they clambered from the car. 

Umzolozolo Game Lodge

I am generally not one for surprises but this one was a good one. (I do believe they were enthralled with the tales of our tumultuous past and am sure they had no inkling of what awaited them) Surprises aplenty there were too – Lana's sister  and  her family, who were in on the surprise and had opted to join us for the night, were so PLEASANTLY SURPRISED by the Lodge, it’s wonderful views, beautifully decorated luxury suites, 

Main bedroom in the family suite

A luxury suite

.... divine cuisine, the uber friendly Dave and Debbie our hosts, super guide and staff and again SURPRISED by the Nambiti Game Reserve, producing some really excellent game viewing in the two guided game drives we enjoyed there.

Now Umzolozolo Private Game Lodge just happens to be the venue, where the winners of Far and Wild Safari’s next lucky draw prize, will be enjoying two nights. Two nights really is the minimum one should spend at such a venue, but ‘Boet’ was off to the south coast, Garden Route and Cape Town before heading home to the States. He wanted to show Jen as much of South Africa as he could, in the limited time they had. Don’t make the same mistake, enjoy the bush at a leisurely pace I say. We did try, with our luggage ensconced in our suites we gathered for a delightful luncheon. Quiches and .. and.. ending in a Pecan nut pie,  relax on the deck and take in the Panoramic views of the rolling hills of Zululand going off in the distance seemingly forever, then it was time for the afternoon game dive.
Enthusiastically the 8 of us clambered aboard the ‘open’ game drive vehicle, Rohan gave us the safety procedures and game drive etiquette speel, then we were off “op safari “.  We had some outstanding game viewing despite the limited time. Lana and I have visited Nambiti Game Reserve on numerous occasions, and this Game Park never fails to impress us. We had some super close-up viewing of rhino, their horns removed to deter the threat of being poached for this highly prized commodity (despite being identical to the chitin of one’s nails) by folk in the East. 

Closer viewing of elephant, when one bull decided he would also like to use the road we were on and came casually past us – I wonder if Jen held her breath as he swaggered by?

The wildlife in the Nambiti Game Reserve is particularly relaxed, for one to have numerous kudu happily browsing meters from our vehicle, still impresses me. 

The impala fattening up fast on the bright green summer growth, perfect for their few newly born calves we had seen, most of the ewes still had to drop their young. The young we saw were angelic and so nimble too.

Nimble but a bit awkward

At virtually every turn there would be some animal in sight. I love it! Rohan took us to a part of the Park where lion had been seen that morning, nothing. As the sun was reaching towards the surrounding hills he decided this to be an ideal venue for our sun-downer refreshment stop. Drinks sorted, we hoped the lion would become mobile or at least give vent and call. Nutting, they were lying low.  Back to the Lodge and dinner. The Lodge is not fenced so the more remote chalets call for one to be escorted to one’s room. Buffalo, elephant and now with both black and white rhino on the property, one cannot be too careful. Dinner and what a delight. At lunch we had been given the dinner menu with its choices – we knew what to expect and as per usual the 4 course meal was delicious. One of the choices was Wildebeest fillet with a special port and mint reduction, which I must say most of the party opted for – I really like it when one is visiting a game park and the likes of venison is included in the menu. Not that easily procured for home consumption.
Swathed in duvets and down, we slumbered, smiles on all our faces I am sure!

The early game drive was a delight. Hippo 

and then a parade of herbivores.... 
Blue wildebeest aka Brindled Gnu


Plains or Burchell's zebra

 ...through to a herd of buffalo that had earlier chased off the lion – we searched for them, tracks were evident but the felines not. I’m sure their pride had been affected and they were ashamed (dare I say scared?) to venture forth – pity maybe next time, I remember them as magnificent specimens - beautiful dark manes and tan, pale tan ? yellow – nay these lion aint yella’ – rather they’re having a nap before showing those buff a thing or two.
On the way back to Umzolozolo Lodge we encountered a "tower of giraffe" or two, or three..four?... 

...two or one?..

lower down,..even a warthog..

With the heat of summer  a coming, the snakes were out and about, we were fortunate that Johan found this boomslang in a bush

 I believe the rangers found the lion on the afternoon game drive. One really does need more than one night at such venues. My one brother-in-law, Johan, is an experienced man of the bush, having spent a fair amount of time in the Madikwe Game Reserve and many others, he was pleasantly impressed with the quality of the game viewing here in the Nambiti Game Reserve – one just does not recognise this area of the midlands as having been returned to the wildlife status it was of 2 Centuries ago. Fences are dropping and marginal cattle and sheep farmland is in so many places, being returned to their optimum economic earning potential and reverting to wildlife preserves. I’m all for it.
We said our good-byes to Umzolozolo after yet another most delightful visit. I know my family will cherish the time shared with you as too will the winners of our next draw, who should be visiting this super venue early next year.

On the way out, family were keen to see what the KwaCheetah Breeding Project was all about.

Sky, already a successful hunter
Vega stalking, pouncing at Des
Storm - thumb sucking
Arlene with Sky dreaming of his next hunt?

The plan is to 'teach' the Cheetah to hunt and be self reliant, then the releases into the wild will begin next year, when they achieve the required hunting successes. Sky and Storm are almost there.

Photographs by; Jeremy and Lana Williamson

Two Days at Inyati Game Lodge, November 2013 – Keith Marallich.

I was on tour during the middle of November with two clients who were to spend, among others, three nights in the Sabi Sands at one of the lodges in the central region. I was very fortunate to spend two of these nights at the Inyati Game Lodge, situated in the western sector of the Sabi Sands – lucky me.

I had to collect them from the Houghton area of Johannesburg at 08:00 on a Monday morning, and I stayed at a hotel near the O R Tambo International Airport the night before. My biggest fear was not wild animals, crooks, robbers, adverse weather or anything along those lines – my biggest fear was the Monday morning Johannesburg rush-hour traffic. (Why do they call it rush-hour? No-one is going anywhere fast. ED). Anyway, I was on time, and still had time for a cup of coffee before we bravely made out way back through the rush-hour traffic, past the airport and east onto the Panorama Escarpment. The weather was absolutely stunning, clear skies and warm temperatures, until we came to the Escarpment. Here I struggled down the Long Tom Pass in heavy fog and mist (aren’t they the same? ED), averaging between 20 to 30 kilometres per hour. This is a mere 58 kilometres between these two towns, but it seemed a whole lot further. Ah well, we eventually arrived at Graskop and had a lovely lunch at Harries Pancakes – well worth braving the fog and mist for. However, the Escarpment was now covered in cloud, but luckily for me, God’s Window, Berlin and Lisbon Falls, as well as the Three Rondawels, were all reasonably clear and afforded us some half-decent views. That evening we stayed at Hannah Lodge near Ohrigstad and then made our way the following morning to the Sabi Sands. Guess what? The Kowyns Pass between Graskop and Hazyview was also covered in fog and mist – another difficult journey. (You really have to decide, fog OR mist, surely it can’t be both. ED).

We duly arrived at the Sabi Sands, I dropped the clients off at their centrally located lodge and made my 2-hour journey from here to the Inyati Game Lodge in the western sector of the Sabi Sands – keeping an eye out for any birds and wildlife that may cross my path. At this stage there was some high cloud cover, but this presented no problem and I arrived at Inyati with enough time to settle in, look at some monkeys and enjoy high tea before going out on the afternoon game drive. I did not take any photos of the lodge, so I will hereunder describe it for you – if you need to see the photos, please go to 

This is one of only a handful of lodges in the Sabi Sands that face onto a river – this river being the Sand River and only accommodates a maximum of twenty two guests in seven luxury and four executive chalets. There is also the Warthog Hollow Bar, library, filtered swimming pool, air-conditioned gym and walk-in wine cellar. Their traditional boma was where we enjoyed dinner on both nights. I am not going to bore you with the size of the room, the colour of the curtains, how many baths, showers and hand-basins there were, what type of carpet, mosquito nets, overhead fan, air-conditioner (You are now being boring. ED). Okay, I have stopped. Inyati in my opinion is a “no-frills” lodge that is comfortable and well worth a visit - their main interest is on the wildlife and game drive experience and are not overly concerned with super luxury and gourmet meals.

So what of the wildlife, I hear you ask. Well, on both afternoons I was entertained by a troop of monkeys that seemed to favour the camp as their afternoon hangout. They were completely at ease with my presence and I hope that they don’t get to the stage where they become a nuisance, but on this visit they kept away from the central and dining areas, so no issues there. Oh, there was also a lizard that I photographed somewhere along the line.

There was one local television celebrity in camp, Jan Braai. Now this chap does a cooking programme on one of the local television channels and he and his crew were busy filming a programme here. For those of you who don’t know, a “braai” is very much like a barbeque, but in South Africa it is only much better. He is also the person responsible for National Braai Day (held on Heritage Day) which has the endorsement of Archbishop Desmond Tutu no less. Ask any South African what day the 24th September is and they’ll tell you, “National Braai Day”. Just for your info and to see what he is about, here is a direct extract from one of Jan Braai’s blogs: 

Steaks should be done medium rare.
·          If you really prefer your steaks rare and aren’t just saying it to try and sound rougher than everybody else ordering medium rare, then you should not be ordering rare steaks anyhow. There are two great dishes for you to try. Steak Tartar and Beef Carpaccio.
·         If you prefer your steaks medium, then start buying better quality steaks, learn how to braai them better, and acquire the acquired taste of enjoying them medium rare.
·         If you prefer your steaks medium well or well done, then why exactly are you reading this? You are surely quite capable of messing up meat all by yourself.
·          If one of your guests wants their steak medium well or well done, refuse.

On the game drives, and in no particular order, we saw, among others, the following:

(a)    A pair of mating leopards. These two were in fairly thick bush, but whilst we watched they must have mated about five times, and just like their lion cousins (Are they really? ED) the coupling was over in a flash, with much snarling and display of fangs from the female. Now I have been lucky in my job to have seen many, many leopards in various reserves in South Africa, from KwaZulu Natal, through to the Kruger Park, Sabi Sands, Timbavati and on to Madikwe, but a pair of mating leopards was a first for me. There was for me, only one negative to this sighting:- I have an entry level camera and an entry level 80-400mm lens. Now this lens does not focus too close on a subject and we were too close to the leopards for me to get both animals fully in the frame, so I had to compromise and cut off their tails. Oh well. I am in the market for a prime lens and a shorter zoom lens, so will be giving out the bank account details into which monetary deposits can be made to the “Keith’s Camera and Lens Fund”.  
(b)   When it was already dark, we came upon a pride of lions that had killed a warthog and were now busy devouring this prey. There were quite a few lions (too dark to make any accurate assessment of exactly how many) but I did get some photos and if truth be told, quite bad ones at that. Now, if I had a prime camera and prime lenses, maybe the photos would have been better than these below. Who knows? I am just waiting for the fund to be launched. However, it is also something special to not only see lions consuming their prey, but to also be witness to the snarling and snapping as they challenge each other over the scraps.
(c)    Some elephants, but again, we were so close that I could not fit the full animal into the frame, so I had to settle for tightly cropped photos. They were out in the open in soft light, brought about by the cloud cover – this is borne out by the white sky. We saw elephants on most drives and on the second evening, as we were packing up after our sundowners’ drink stop, we were joined by a herd of about 25 animals. They were calm and relaxed, and entered our space rather that the other way around. One female in particular got so close that I could reach out and touch her. I did not take any photos here. I may have told you about my lens that does not focus too close?
(d)   A group of about ten or so buffalo, mostly in sleep mode and enjoying the attentions of the Red-billed oxpeckers that were busy grooming them. I actually saw quite a few buffalo on my own, when I drove to Inyati and also when I departed the reserve. One of the guides, with Jan Braai’s group, was quite desperate to find buffalo as they were the last of the “big 5” to be ticked. This just goes to show, sometimes one just has to accept that nature cannot really be dictated to and one cannot just find specific animals on a whim.
(e)   Also somewhere on the drive we had a sighting of a juvenile African Fish-eagle, quite obviously different in appearance from the adults.
(f)     We also saw a great sighting of a leopard with her two cubs. These cubs were tiny and I would suggest that they were no more than eight to ten weeks old. However, they were in such thick grass and bush, and only one vehicle at a time was permitted at the sighting, due to the delicate nature of this, that I was unable to get any photos. Oh, I tried, but here I must say, even with a prime lens and camera I would not have been successful, the grass was too long and they were well hidden. Even the visual sighting that we had was poor, we could, from time to time, just make out the animals in the long grass, but never in the open. As soon as I returned home and put the photos onto a bigger screen, I knew I had to delete them, but what a sighting.
(g)    Back to the monkeys in the camp. Three youngsters had cornered a grasshopper of some type and were busy trying to kill it. The grasshopper valiantly fought back, tooth and nail,  but in the end, it was defeated and succumbed to its injuries, whereby the monkeys had an argument as to who was going to eat it. Whilst the two dominant monkeys were arguing, the smaller one grabbed it and ran off with it – clever.
(h)   One afternoon we saw about eight different white rhino, and then we saw another one (So, that’s nine then? ED). No, this one was a black rhino. Now, as many of you may know, the black rhino is very rare and hardly ever seen in the Lowveld. With all my visits to the Kruger Park and the Sabi Sands, I had only ever seen black rhino on three occasions in the Kruger Park and prior to this, no black rhino in the Sabi Sands at all. Well, here he was in all his glory, and to boot, he was pretty relaxed (for a black rhino) so I did manage to get a photo or two.  Back to the camera again – by this time the cloud cover was quite dense, which made the light poor, so I was shooting at about 3200 ISO, which, in poor light and with an entry level camera, makes for a grainy photograph. Oh for a prime lens and camera! But wait, the fund will be launched soon.

Unfortunately my luck could not last that long. During the afternoon there was a strong Berg wind. Bergwinds derive their name from the direct Afrikaans translation of “mountain wind” and is often compared to a föhn/foehn wind, where dry air warms up as it flows down the lee side of a mountain. Similarly, in South Africa, the lee side of the “mountain” is represented by the altitude difference between the plateau (average height of 1.2km above sea level) and the coast (sea level). Berg winds occur when a strong persistent high pressure dominates over the interior and another high is situated to the south or south east of the country. The high over the interior results in a large amount of subsidence (or stable, sinking air) and is associated with fine and dry weather. As the air from the plateau moves towards the coast it flows down the escarpment and warms by 1ºC for every 100m it descends. In simple terms, the dry air from the interior (higher altitude) warms up as it moves towards the coast (sea level), resulting in a spike in the temperature. The stronger the berg winds, the more rapid the temperature increase. Now, this had been one hot day and during dinner that evening I could hear the distant rumble of thunder, getting closer and closer – in my experience, bergwinds are almost 99% of the time followed by rain.

That night the rain started and when I awoke at about 04:30 that morning it was raining as hard as I have ever seen. I made my way to the bar area under cover of an umbrella for coffee and a snack and to tell my guide that I would politely decline his kind invitation to go on a game drive. Those of you who may know me, will also know that I don’t easily forgo a game drive in the Sabi Sands (And anywhere else. ED), but on this morning I just had to, it was just too wet and unpleasant and I had an camera, albeit an entry level camera, to protect. I had an early-ish breakfast and made my way to the adjacent Kruger Park, and in my town car it was a bit of a challenge to get out of the Sabi Sands and into the Kruger Park without mishap – it rained all the time. It was only about mid-morning the following day, when I was back in the Sabi Sands to collect my guests, that the rain eased up and we had an uneventful trip back to Johannesburg.

The reason that there is not a more detailed description of the lodge is simply that this lodge (and I suppose, every other lodge in the Sabi Sands) satisfies my needs. I don’t need luxury, gourmet meals, being waited on hand and foot, I just want a comfortable, spacious room, with a shower (and if there is a bath, I’ll take that), big bed, maybe mosquito netting, an air-conditioner (this can come in handy when the bergwinds blow) and good, wholesome food. There are lodges that cater for those with superior tastes in luxury and service, so everyone can be satisfied.

Ten years down the line, I won’t be able to remember what I had for dinner at Inyati, or what colour the duvet was, but ten years down the line I’ll still remember the leopards mating, the monkeys wrestling with the grasshopper and that leopard with her tiny cubs – this is what it is all about.