The oldest proclaimed game reserve in Africa now has its first private lodge. The state managed Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park has several choices of accommodation and now it also has ‘Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge’. An all inclusive luxury destination situated in the west of the parks Hluhluwe section. I get excited every time I go on safari. The excitement was a little more for this safari as Hluhluwe-Imfolozi is a very special place to me. I have spent many days, even weeks, in the reserve and have so many special memories.
The main lodge is modern, spacious, architecturally pleasing with traditional Zulu touches. It incorporates a bar, restaurant, and spaces to relax. The viewing deck, complete with fire pit, also has ample space for outdoor dining and a lower deck with sun loungers for taking it real easy. The decks are incorporated into the ridges natural rock where indigenous trees, including monkey apples, thrive.
Guests rooms are individual and separate from the main lodge. They too are architecturally designed and in-keeping with the lodge and the surroundings. From a distance they nestle inconspicuously along the ridge. The open plan layout provides plenty of space. The rooms need to be big otherwise the huge four poster, mosquito net draped, bed would not fit in. Even the shower commands a view across the reserve.
Isibindi – Exclusive African Lodges, who operate the lodge, and several others, have a reputation for working alongside local communities. Here at Rhino Ridge it is no different. The majority of the large workforce are local and have been trained on the job. It is a huge achievement on both sides, converting people who had never been in employment to super efficient staff in all departments.
The discussion and buzz around the deck over dinner was the high standard of the food and its beautiful presentation. In particular, on one evening, the spicy pineapple chutney that accompanied the coffee cured venison carpaccio, avocado purée and paprika crisp dominated the conversation. I was not the only person passing my compliments onto the kitchen staff and asking for the recipe. Much thought and care went into all menus and meals. Breakfast was an absolute pleasure and afternoon tea was divine, I took a particular liking to the home made ice tea that was served in the afternoons. On an evening game drive instead of the usual drinks stop we were taken to a specially prepared open air bar. Staff including ‘Boyz’ the barman had travelled with the bar and on arrival he greeted me with a big smile and an ice cold beer. The snacks here were in keeping with all the food served and the spicy guacamole on toast was delicious.
The game viewing here is not limited to the two daily drives. Eagles and vultures soar by at eye level such is the altitude of the lodge. Below the deck at the bottom of the ridge is a water hole. Ingeniously the water for this is rain water that runs from the lodges roof tops, down chains and underground pipes and collects in the water hole. It is a gathering point for game especially in the hot drought conditions that were affecting the park. Elephants, buffalo and buck were there most of the day, wallowing and drinking. Even a leopard was seen quenching its thirst.
Our guide for the duration of our stay was Anna. A Canadian lady with a passion for the African bush who wanted every sighting to be special and memorable. She told us of her first leopard sighting and how un-passionate her guide was on that occasion. Her focus from that moment was to ensure she was never like that guide. Not once did she let us down. I must be honest, I have never seen a guide so excited as to when we came across a newly born waterbuck. Her excitement ran through the entire vehicle and even I found the tiny hairy bundle both fascinating and very cute.
We spent one day searching for a super-herd of elephant where driven by the drought over two hundred and fifty elephants had merged together. We came across many large herds that day but it looked as if the super-herd had broken up. Rain was forecast for the end of the week and I wondered if the elephants, highly in tune with their surroundings, knew this? Approaching our morning tea stop Anna heard the call of the Gorgeous Bush Shrike. She was intent on all of us seeing the stunning, brightly coloured bird, and we all did. This delayed our morning tea but all things happen for a reason. Standing looking down onto some of the last water in the Hluhluwe River, sipping tea, we watched everything from elephant and buffalo to warthog and impala come to drink. Then directly below us a nyala let out an alarm call. We all instinctively looked down to our right just in time to see two lionesses bolt from the bush. The hunt was on and at a furious pace. As quickly as it started it was over and before the dust had settled the nyala and the lionesses had gone. They were unsuccessful but it was a thrilling and memorable moment. Thank you Anna and the Gorgeous Bush Shrike.