Under a darkening sky where late afternoon was soon to become dusk, storm clouds gathered, and the light faded fast. This combination made for the sort of light that I find difficult to drive in. Not yet dark but no clear daylight to be guided by. A place in the day where the mind can play tricks and there is always something to be seen from the corner of the eye in peripheral vision. Normally those ‘something’s’ turn out to be rocks that look like elephants and tree stumps that resemble lions. Luckily I was not driving. In that seat sat Raymond, our guide. He had his work cut out with a full game viewing vehicle and an age range of guest’s varying from senior citizens to pre-teenagers. He needed to draw on not only his knowledge, which he freely shared, but all his ‘people’ skills. As older people got chilly, youngsters needed constantly entertaining. My patience was tested by the amount of comfort breaks needed by the youngsters but Raymond just smiled through them. He like all game guides must have been feeling the need and pressure for sightings to keep everyone happy.
Approaching the derelict remains of a settlers homestead the first drops of rain fell from that darkening sky. The storm was closing in. There was light at the end of the tunnel though. As Raymond eased his way around a bend in the dirt road, there on the ground less than one hundred meters away were two very dark patches, darker than anything above us. These patches were the magnificent black manes of two huge sleeping male lions. All the vehicles passengers were now totally engrossed. Everybody now loved Raymond. Anything that could take a photograph was out and exposed to the rain. Above the clicks of camera shutters, “These two are brothers” Raymond told us. The lions were not bothered by us, but as the rain drops grew in size and persistence, they stood, stretched, and made their way to a reed bed right next to our vehicle. We heard them flop to the ground but even though we were right on top of them they instantly vanished from view.
The game viewing under the direction of Raymond had been excellent. From a tiny steenbok to many superb specimens of kudu. The male kudus looking particularly splendid with their sets of spiralling horns. Each spiral indicates approximately a year of growth. There were close encounters with the tallest of all animals, giraffes, and the biggest of all animals, the elephant. Herds of wildebeest were bolstered in numbers by many young calves. Red hartebeest and eland kept their distance but were there in good numbers.
There was no shortage of birds either. Endangered blue cranes mixed with secretary birds, ostrich and Egyptian geese, all within a few meters of each other. During the day there were tawny eagles and jackal buzzards. After dark it was nightjars and spotted eagle owls. On an afternoon drive white back vultures fed on the carcass of recently deceased giraffe. The reserve had lost giraffe to both lightning strikes and tannin poisoning in recent times. Raymond told us of the poisoners. An unlikely source, acacia trees. Acacias when being browsed on have the ability to produce ethylene which they emit, this then travels in the air for up to fifty meters. On contact with other acacias it warns them of the onset of browsers and this in turn produces the highly toxic tannin. If the browser is not put off by the bitter taste and continues to eat, the build of tannin will be toxic enough to cause death.
Our home for this short break was Umzolozolo Private Safari Lodge. The recently extended, thatched, main lodge sits high on a hill top commanding un-spoilt views down and across the reserve below. It is the sort of place where you feel instantly at ease. It seemed every member of staff knows your name on arrival and nothing is too much for anyone. I had forgotten to tell the lodge that my wife’s dietary requirement had changed between our booking and our arrival. This was no problem and some very special meals were prepared for her with absolutely no fuss. The food was of a very high standard in general as was the service that accompanied it. We relaxed in the lodge on comfy couches and armchairs. We sat on the deck and dipped our feet into the infinity pool.
Our suite also commanded the same views as the lodge. From its private deck, to the large window next to the bath and the outdoor shower. All gave views of the reserve and the wildlife it supports. The views come hand in hand with the luxury of a five star hotel. The four poster king size bed, which was turned down complete with draped mosquito net prior to bedtime, the focal point of the room. Male nyala browsed, almost eye to eye with us, only a few meters from our suite. Obviously the open bush surrounding our suite was also five star quality.