NAMBITI – THE TALE OF TWO BROTHERS
For someone who is at home in more old school reserves such as the Kruger National Park, the Kalagadi, Hluhluwe, Umfolozi and Mkuze, Nambiti took some getting used to. My initial feeling was that this was “too soft”, too close to civilisation, too tame.
Whereas I was used to scrounging for my own rusks and coffee in the mornings, here I was being served from a beautifully set up table complete with table cloth in the bush only to return about an hour later to a five-star breakfast that would do any hotel proud. The same went for the evenings. Goodbye wors and baked beans and hello a variety of superbly prepared fare.
Although it wasn’t planned, we did two trips to Nambiti – one pre and one post the Covid-19 meltdown. We also stayed in two different places, giving a perfect overview of the good and bad of this well located reserve.
The first was a little last minute dot com with Australian visitors looking for a bush experience en route to Cape Town. We had battled to find accommodation and the friendliness and helpfulness of the lass who did the booking was a huge highlight.
The fact that we were ‘glamping’ at Springbok Lodge added a whole new dimension to the experience for our international visitors who really enjoyed the home comforts of their safari tent but actually spent most of their time on the back of a game vehicle or relaxing in the swimming pool G&T in hand.
As locals, we found it more than up to spec – although the lack of privacy in the bathrooms and the lack of a fridge so that you could enjoy a drink at your own tent rather than walk all the way to the lodge was a little disappointing. Friends who return to Nambiti year after year have also complained that the air conditioners are noisy (although that wasn’t our experience) and that the camp is quite crowded as it houses the most visitors of all the lodges in the reserve.
For a couple who are used to the craziness of the safari metropolis of Skukuza in the Kruger Park, we felt it was on the peaceful side, actually.
What we did enjoy was making new friends – eating supper in the boma with other guests and our extremely knowledgeable guide, William.
Our return, in August, to Elephant Rock, took peace and quiet to a whole new level. Our beautiful and luxurious chalet (one of only five) was the perfect place to soothe a stressed soul from a super comfy swing seat on the veranda which overlooked the busy waterhole.
It was also the perfect spot to enjoy the lovely birdlife.
There were only six of us at Elephant Rock due to Covid regulations which left us feeling pretty special as did another superb and knowledgeable guide, Keegan, and the incredibly friendly and helpful team that ran the lodge.
The food was even better – think everything from Springbok carpaccio to succulent lamb shanks and even some great vegetarian options for the less carnivorous – the service five star and the whole experience was superb.
But, on both occasions, I couldn’t shake the feeling that civilisation was on the doorstep and that this did not have the wild feeling that many other Big Five reserves have.
However, it was when I began researching the history of the reserve that everything suddenly began to make sense.
Nambiti started out as a sanctuary for orphaned elephants. As the elephant population began to grow, the internal fences dividing different farms were removed together with the alien vegetation and replaced with game fences. The entire reserve was formally declared in 2001 and fully rehabilitated after decades of farming.
A little agile googling turned up the story of founder Rob Le Sueur who first rode Nambiti on horseback two decades ago. Taken in by the vast open expanses, waterfalls and beauty of the land, he drew on his own experience in conservation in Botswana and northern Zululand to begin the creation of what is now Nambiti.
Apparently, turning 23,000 acres of depleted farmland into a viable preservation area was no mean feat. Over 100 kilometres of conservation fencing, an in-depth ecological research project, the sourcing of more than 40 species of game and intensive community outreach campaign took years to complete.
In 2005, there was a proposal to build lodges within the reserve. This proposal was taken on and three more farms were added to the reserve. Today, there are nine very unique lodges on Nambiti with another in the throes of being built.
Like many reserves, Nambiti became the subject of a land claim. This was, however, settled, and now the community is actively involved in the upkeep of the area. Though balancing conservation goals with the needs of the local community, Nambiti has created close to 300 full time jobs.
Community representatives sit on the board and have a voice in how the reserve is managed and maintained. The philosophy of openness and shared destiny has seen Nambiti grow from strength to strength, delighting more than 25 000 local and international guests every year.
It is exactly here that the true Nambiti experience hits home. It is not so much a bush fantasy that helps you forget the trials and tribulations of city life as a real life celebration of just what conservation can achieve.
During my initial trip, I was disappointed to find that the big cats were all collared and the rhinos dehorned. As an enthusiastic amateur photographer I somehow felt a little cheated as well as frustrated by a guide who didn’t really linger long enough or position the vehicle well enough for that perfect shot and subjects that wouldn’t crack the nod in photographic circles.
Fast forward six months and I had a guide who checked that all was well before pulling away and even provided plenty of good photographic advice whilst taking his own shots.
During our first trip, we had come across two cheetah brothers feeding on a carcass and heard how they had been born at Nambiti. On our return, we found out that these two young cats had been swapped for two brothers from a private reserve near Kruger with a view to improving the local cheetah gene pool.
We watched these newcomers kill a warthog right next to our vehicle. A day later, we watched as these mischievous young cats sauntered along the boundary road and gazed through an electrified fence at goats and dogs beside a nearby farmstead.
The difference, this time, was that you realised that these mischievous felines who were unashamedly teasing the locals were protected from the ugliness of the poverty, soil erosion and litter filled countryside that borders the reserve by dedicated conservationists who really care.
On our return home, people asked us if we’d seen ‘the brothers’ and it was clear that they were fast becoming one of the defining stories of this lovely reserve.
Throughout our drives, I was also fascinated by the ruins of kraals and homesteads that appeared around corners or on hilltops. A bushveld hospital dating back to the Anglo Boer war as pointed out to us as was the stone facade of an original homestead that is in the throes of being transformed into a super luxurious lodge.
Situated in Elandslaagte, Ladysmith, Nambiti is situated in the thick of things when it came to both the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer wars. Many of the region’s most brutal conflicts played out within a stone’s throw of the reserve and the sites of the Battles of Isandlwana, Rorke’s Drift, the Siege of Ladysmith and the Battle of Blood River are a few minutes’ drive away, making a great add-on for those who haven’t yet explored the region.
At the same time, these reminders of the past also tell us a true conservation story and hint at how man and the wild lived together then and how they could continue to do so into the future.
The beautiful countryside – Nambiti includes grasslands, riverine bush, savannah and thornveld – and the fact that this small reserve is home to 40 different species is a true victory for conservation.
But, as you watch a magnificent herd of elephants amble up a hillside in the last golden rays of the afternoon sun or watch a serval frozen as it stalks some unsuspecting prey, you forget the potential danger that is never far away.
Yet, it is these special moments that truly define just what “getting away from it all” is all about.