When I think of the bush in KwaZulu-Natal, I tend to think of northern Natal – iSimangaliso, Phinda and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi. I didn’t know of a reserve in central Natal – an area that I’ve usually just driven through on my annual Vaalie pilgrimage from Johannesburg to Durban – until I visited Nambiti Game Reserve recently.
I’d never really turned off the N3 before, so I didn’t know what to expect when taking the offramp to Ladysmith. Nambiti is a short drive away from this bustling town – a welcome expanse of savanna after a morning’s drive on the highway from Joburg.
The private reserve was established 12 years ago when several cattle and maize farms were bought up by Rob Le Sueur. It’s the only Big Five reserve in the region and it’s gaining popularity – it’s close to Durban and Joburg for weekend breaks, malaria free, and has a range of accommodation, and it’s growing its animal population.
I needed a sunny bush break as an antidote to mid-winter rainy, grey Cape Town and Nambiti was perfect: though the nights and early mornings were chilly, days were gloriously sunny and warm. I think I may have even got a bit of a T-shirt tan from game drives. I loved being in the ochre and biscuit-coloured winter bush, waking up for pre-dawn game drives wrapped up in blankets and hot water bottles, eating lunch on a sunny lodge deck watching elephants drink from a nearby waterhole, sipping G&Ts at sunset, standing metres away from a family of rhinos and a herd of wildebeest, eating pap and drinking Amarula around a bonfire.
Here’s five reasons for you to visit this up-and-coming reserve:
The 11 000-hectare (or 22 000-acre) reserve has three biomes – savanna, bushveld and riverine forest – which means it can support a large diversity of wildlife. In addition to the Big Five (three of which we saw on our short trip), there are more than 30 other species of game, including cheetah, hyena, giraffe, hippo, kudu, eland, zebra, hartebeest and gemsbok, as well as more than 280 bird species, including the secretary bird, blue cranes, several types of vulture, martial eagles and water birds – the Goliath heron, sandpiper, red-billed teal and giant kingfisher.
The landscape is also diverse: there are waterfalls, rock pools and dams, rolling savanna, thornveld, ravine bush, acacia trees and vast grasslands.
2. Community involvement
In 2009 there was resolution of a land claim by the Zulu Senzo’kuhle Nkos’unodada community which resulted in the establishment of Nambiti Game Reserve. The Nambiti Game Reserve company holds a long-term lease over the land (which is now owned by the local community), and its shareholders are the owners of the lodge sites within the reserve and representatives from the Senzo’kuhle Nkos’unodada community. Many people from the community are employed on the reserve – and more than 100 jobs have been created since the reserve’s establishment.
Nambiti’s commitment is partnering with the local community to conserve the land. One great aspect of community involvement is that there are no poaching problems on the reserve.
3. Bush ‘n Battlefields
Nambiti Game Reserve forms part of the battle route, and is a central base from which you can explore KwaZulu-Natal’s famous Anglo-Boer and Anglo-Zulu battlefields. The site where the Battle of Elandslaagte (1899) was fought is at the entrance of the reserve, and there are British and Boer graves, as well as an old military hospital on the property. An hour’s drive away are the battlefields of Rorke’s Drift (1879) and Isandlwana (1879).
Although you could drive yourself, I would recommend booking a tour to the battlefields (which you can do through the Nambiti lodge you’re staying at). You really need a guide to tell you the stories of the battles to help you imagine these bloody fights and bring history to life.
4. It’s close to Joburg AND Durban
The reserve is really central – four hours from Johannesburg and three hours from Durban. That means you can leave the big smoke – Jozi – at lunchtime on a Friday and be in the bush just in time for afternoon sundowners.
Nambiti is also only an hour’s drive from the Drakensberg, so you can base yourself in the reserve and do day trips to the ‘Berg to do hiking, quad biking, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, 4X4 trails, mountain biking, horse riding, fly fishing, and canopy tours.
5. Cheeky cheetahs
Although I didn’t spot cheetahs on my trip to Nambiti, there are regular sightings of the elusive cats on the reserve. A better bet is to visit the Le Sueur Cheetah project on the reserve, where you can interact with adult and cheetah cubs, as well as leopard, and cerval (and a friendly meerkat called Zulu).
Go to www.cheetahinteraction.com for more information on the project.
Accommodation in Nambiti Game Reserve
There are nine lodges on the reserve, which offer a variety of accommodation, from self-catering to luxury honeymoon suites.
Nambiti Plains is a cosy lodge, with five rooms, situated in front of a watering hole and overlooking the plains of the reserve. It’s a great lodge to stay at if you want to spot ellies – they often come to drink at the swimming pool. Glass-fronted rooms allow for expansive views, while the lounge has a fireplace for wintry evenings, and a boma for bush dinners.
Rates start from R2450 a person a night including all meals, two game drives a day and snacks and sundowners on game drives.
Cell 071-680-4584, firstname.lastname@example.org
Nambiti Hills Game Lodge, one of the newest lodges in the reserve, has a great location on top of a hill. The fire pit on the main deck, with panoramic views, is a perfect spot for sundowners and after-dinner Amarulas. The lounge, dining room and bar area also look out onto the valley below. The honeymoon suite is a drawcard for couples: with a large fire place, separate lounge, deck, an outside shower and fantastic views, it’s worth splashing out on.
Rates start from R2595 a person a night for the luxury suites, and from R3495 per adult for the honeymoon suite, and include brunch, high tea, and dinner, tea, coffee and snacks, two game drives a day, walking safaris (which are subject to availability), and snacks and sundowners on game drives.
Tel 031-333-6723, email@example.com
Set on a cliff top with dramatic views over the valley and the Sundays River, Esiweni Lodge has five thatched rooms which open onto decks. There is a family suite with two interconnected rooms, and a popular honeymoon suite with a romantic outside bath. A perfect spot for hot afternoons, the swimming pool and deck have great views of the valley.
Rates start from R1950 a person, including all meals, two game drives a day, and snacks and sundowners on game drives.
Tel 036-636-9002, firstname.lastname@example.org
Elephant Rock Lodge overlooks a dam which attracts a lot of wildlife, especially in the dry winter months. There are five chalets, with ensuite facilities as well as outdoor showers. The lodge is family-friendly and has a family suite (which gets booked up quickly – book ahead for this suite). Elephant Rock has a homely, cosy feel, with guests often eating meals together at one dinging table.
Rates start from R1 495 a person a night, including all meals, two game drives a day, and snacks and sundowners on game drives.
Cell 083-268-9026, email@example.com
Umzolozolo Lodge, the first luxury lodge in the Nambiti Game Reserve, has five rooms and can sleep a maximum of 10 guests. The Presidential Suite is a good option for honeymooners, with a jacuzzi on the deck with fantastic views. The lodge also offers a family suite with two rooms. A perfect spot for sundowners, the lodge’s rim flow pool is perched on the edge of the deck overlooking the valley below.
Rates start from R2 195 a person a night, including all meals, two game drives a day, and snacks and sundowners on game drives.
Tel 031-579-8360, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lions Valley Lodge is one of the newest and largest lodges on the Nambiti Game Reserve. The rooms at Lions Valley all have different themes with decor to match. The lodge is located in a valley with great wildlife spotting opportunities – there’s a dam right in front of the lodge that attracts game. The rooms at Lions Valley are spread out over a large area, so guests use golf carts to get around. The lodge has a resident mongoose, Mango, who sleeps on a hot water bottle, eats scrambled eggs and chocolate, and is always up for a cuddle.
Rates start from R2 880 a person a night, including all meals, two game drives a day, and snacks and sundowners on game drives.
Tel 031-539-8238, email@example.com
Springbok Lodge is the only tented safari lodge on the reserve. It’s also the biggest lodge, with 15 tents. It’s a good option for families, as there are fenced-in areas. There’s a fun bar, with a big fire-lit lounge and dining area. Springbok lodge is one of the only lodges which properly caters for wheelchairs, with a wheelchair-accessible plunge pool, and two wheelchair-friendly rooms.
Rates start from R1 895 a person a night, including all meals, two game drives a day, and snacks and sundowners on game drives.
Tel 036-637-9604, firstname.lastname@example.org
Woodlands is a restored farmhouse with rooms commemorating the various battles in the area, and is home to the Le Sueur Cheetah Project, and a really cute meerkat called Zulu.There are five double bedrooms, and one family room, all with ensuite bathrooms. There’s a swimming pool, tennis court, bar with a satellite TV, Billiards table, and a hide next to the lodge, which overlooks a dam. You can book the lodge for exclusive use (or book in smaller groups and share with other guests) – it can accommodate 10 adults and two children.
Rates start at R1495 a person, which includes all meals, two game drives and drinks on the game drives.
Cell 083-377-9340, email@example.com
Nambiti Falls Lodge offers both catered and self-catering accommodation – perfect for groups and families. also a restored house offering room and flat accommodation, and beautiful views from the boma and pool area. There is a thatched lapa with a pool, a fireplace for winter evenings, DStv, and a fully equipped kitchen. Activities at Nambiti Falls include horse back riding, going on walking trails, and doing game drives. The lodge has a total of seven rooms and a four-sleeper cottage and can accommodate up to 16 adults.
Rates start from R895 a person for the self-catering option and R1 295 a person for the catered option, which includes all meals, hot beverages, two game drives and snacks and drinks on sundowner game drives. A chef costs R250 a day. To book the whole lodge for self-catering costs R11 000 a night and R15 000 for a fully catered option (maximum 16 people).
Cell 083-377-9340, firstname.lastname@example.org
Nambiti Private Game Reserve contact
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