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 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.
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.
The first raptor of the trip was discovered next, that being a stunning Black-winged Kite perched on the top of a tree.
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.
Then I spotted my first lifer for the trip, an exquisite Black-bellied Bustard. Its always special to see large terrestrial birds given the many challenges they face. The light was rather dim, but due to my mad Lightroom skills I got the following photo.
Another 50m farther and we came upon our national bird, the Blue Crane.
As I mentioned the light was fading, so we headed back to camp. On our return journey we heard the call of the Fiery-necked Nightjar (Good Lord deliver us), and we then spotted an odd sighting for what was now complete darkness, a Chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark.
Day two, and we headed in a new direction exploring the more northerly sections of the reserve. Another lifer for me was African Quailfinch, which we saw many of in the very short grasslands.
Other good discoveries were Mountain Wheater, Cape Longclaw, Ant-eating Chat and Croaking Cisticola.
Then something exciting happened, as me and Adam are both atlassers for the Southern African Bird Atlas Project we logged two first time birds for a pentad and I think Nambiti as a whole when in quick succession we came upon African Pygmy Kingfisher and a pair of Olive Woodpeckers. The joys of atlassing.
The day got even better afterwards as we found a Rock Kestrel on a nest with chicks. This was an amazing sighting and the ranger with us was also very excited to see it and to show future guests.
By that stage it had been a long morning’s drive and we headed back to camp for lunch. Just before the camp I came across my third lifer for the trip and an excellent reference photo if I do say so myself for a Desert Cisticola.
In the early afternoon we walked around the camp and came up with some very decent birds including South African Cliff Swallow, Alpine Swift and Mocking Cliff Chat.
Our last afternoon drive we didn’t expect much as the wind had come up and was extremely strong, however we still managed to see some very good sightings including Martial Eagle, Lanner Falcon, African Snipe, Bald Ibis and a large group of Orange-breasted Waxbills.
Overall in two days I was able to atlas 127 species, a hugely satisfying trip.
Birding Rating : 8/10
In conclusion if you want to treat yourself to a luxurious five star experience, see some wonderful birds and animals (including the resident camp Boomslangs), then Umzolozolo Lodge in Nambiti Game Reserve is a no-brainer.
Overall Rating: 9/10