Situated in north east KwaZulu Natal is Somkhanda Game Reserve. The Gumbi Community owned reserve contains twelve thousand hectares of pristine bush. Being a relatively new conservation area the bush can be thick in places making ideal habitat for the game species it protects. There are over one hundred kilometres of roads winding through the area. This however is no ordinary protected area and has many unique selling points.
Somkhanda is community owned but different aspects are managed by different organisations. Wildlands are involved in the day to day running, from maintaining fence lines to the monitoring of certain game species. KZN Wildlife & WWF have incorporated the reserve into the ‘black rhino expansion project’ allowing this critically endangered rhino to be released onto the reserve. (Sadly with the current poaching situation all rhino have been de-horned for their own protection) I was here as a guest of African Insight who are responsible for the tourism element of the reserve. The company not only manage the accommodation but they offer educational stays to local and international groups and individuals. Internships and training are also offered on site. (For more details on the educational aspects offered please see our article: Somkhanda Game Reserve: A Bush Education)
I stayed in Kudu Lodge, a short walk from the main lodge. Both full board and self catering options are available here. Kudu contains two very spacious lodges that can both accommodate an extended family of six adults plus four children. There are en-suite bathrooms with shower and bath. The thatched veranda has impressive views across the indigenous, well maintained, gardens to the surrounding reserve. Within the gardens there is a natural pond plus swimming pool. If you self cater there is a fully equipped kitchen with dining room plus an outdoor fire pit complete with Webber barbecue. If you chose full board you will get traditional meals served in the main lodge. The venison casserole was excellent! So were the desserts! If you want the best of both worlds you can even hire a chef from the main lodge.
Each day from my veranda I sat and watched the sunrise and sunset. To the rear, impala, kudu and nyala strolled by and to the front white tailed mongoose and scrub hares moved at a faster pace through the gardens. Birding from here was excellent. Every morning as I opened my patio doors red billed ox-peckers announced my arrival with alarm calls. Calling, but out of sight were black headed oriole and Diederik cuckoo. A real thrill was watching the scarlet chested sunbirds feeding on the winter flowering aloes. After dark there was a frog chorus from the pond, geckos on the lodge walls and small bats, sadly unidentified, constantly circling and visiting the underside of the thatch above me.
Guests can self drive the reserves dirt roads but to do this they must have a four wheel drive vehicle and a GPS. None of the roads have any sign posts other than those from the main gate to the reception. Game drives from the main lodge can be pre-booked and I opted for this. Game is plentiful here with big herds of nyala and impala plus lots of giraffe and zebra. We had a great encounter with three black back jackal. All three had been re-homed on Somkhanda. They took it in turns to patrol and sleep around the reserves air strip. Along with these dogs there are hyena and a pack of wild dogs. We were not lucky enough to get a sighting of the wild dogs but they have been spotted at the water hole right in front of the main lodge. Somkhanda will soon become a ‘Big 5’ reserve. Along with rhino, all de-horned, a healthy herd of buffalo and good population of resident leopards there are elephants roaming freely. Two big bull elephants were donated and relocated from Phinda Private Game Reserve along with a breeding herd from Nambiti Private Game Reserve. Lions, a young male and two female, also donated from Phinda are awaiting release from their boma onto the reserve.
To my knowledge Somkhanda Game Reserve is unique in KwaZulu Natal: Community owned, self cater or full board, self drive or guided game drives, and soon to be ‘Big 5‘. Time to book a trip into the unique.