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Review of Umzolozolo Lodge, Nambiti Private Game Reserve

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

I recently had the privilege of staying two days at the five star Umzolozolo Lodge in the Nambiti Private Game Reserve near Ladysmith in KZN. Nambiti is famous for being the closest Big 5 Game Reserve to Durban and features a good mix of habitats. I am here however to predominantly talk about the birds, so let’s get to it, but did I mention that the accommodation was five star? So let’s talk about luxury first shall we.

Accommodation and Service

We arrived at lunch time, and were immediately welcomed by the very friendly staff. We sat down to a scrumptious lunch. Now some people might think five star food might be over fanciful with all squiggles and foams etc., but thankfully it wasn’t. The food was elegant, simple and featured high quality ingredients cooked to perfection. Succulent chicken, fresh salad and paired with a couple of glasses of chilled Sauvignon Blanc, what more could you ask for? Well you could of course finish it off with the most moreish homemade pecan nut pie and fresh cream. I don’t think I have even mentioned the accommodation yet have I? I have been rambling on about the food and wine, forgive me I tend to do that especially when there is wine involved.

Umzolozolo lodge itself is perched on a hilltop with breath-taking panoramic views of the bushveld below. There is an infinity pool on the deck, a large communal lounge area, a bar and the service from the staff is excellent. Me and my friend Adam Cruickshank stayed in an opulent and sprawling two bedroom chalet, featuring king size beds, a free standing bath, indoor and outdoor shower, mini bar, a view over the valley to literally die for and most importantly a magical bottle of Sherry which had the ability to fill itself up while we were out for the day. Dinner that night was served in the boma, a quintessential African experience, featuring bacon-wrapped asparagus, lamb chops with mint sauce, and the lightest heavenly pillow of tiramisu. Yes of course I had wine, a couple of glasses of premium Shiraz. I could go on and describe the breakfast I had on the deck the next morning, and lunch etc., but I think you get the picture by now.

I want to talk about the staff and service now. Of course at a five star lodge you expect exceptional service. Good service is one thing, but sometimes at a place the staff are friendly to you but you get the feeling that they are smiling through their teeth, secretly resenting your presence. I am happy to report that at Umzolozolo all the staff I interacted with were friendly, happy and were genuinely interested in making my stay as enjoyable as possible. I must also mention that each guest party is assigned their own private guide who drives them around the reserve. Our guide was exceptional and whilst his knowledge of birds was more than adequate (their main drives are usually showing overseas tourists the Big 5), the thing that most impressed me was his eagerness to learn more about birds, their calls and any other information me and Adam gave him.

Accommodation and Service Rating : 9.5/10

Birding

Birding in Nambiti is probably better than what most people expect. Whilst it’s not a headline birding mecca featuring lots of specials etc like a Wakkerstroom, Mkhuze or the Kruger Park, its diverse range of habitats (grasslands, riparian patches, and bushveld) means that you can rack up a large and quality list in a short space of time.

A couple of kilometres before even entering the reserve we had already spotted the Birdlife SA 2019 bird of the year, the one and only Secretarybird. Quickly into our first afternoon drive we encountered some of the common but always delightful to see bushveld birds, including Blue Waxbill, Ostrich, Black-crowned Tchagra (drunken sailor), Neddicky and Red-backed Shrike.

Blue Waxbill

We soon came to a small wetland that featured among others Red-billed Teal, White-faced Whistling Duck, Three-banded Plover and African Wattled Lapwing.

African Wattled Lapwing

The first raptor of the trip was discovered next, that being a stunning Black-winged Kite perched on the top of a tree.

Black-winged Kite

Whilst on our drive we also encountered and heard more iconic bushveld birds including Chinspot Batis (three blind mice), Red-chested Cuckoo (Piet me vrou), Orange-breasted Bushshrike (coffee, tea, me) and the delightfully noisy Bokmakierie.