Ngwenya Lodge November 2013 : Warm-up for a wedding

Background

Our good friend’s daughter, Jessie van Dyk, now resident in Toronto, Canada, was to get married on Saturday 9th November and she and a group of her Canadian friends and new family had come to South Africa the week before to spend a few days at Ngwenya Lodge near Komatipoort, prior to the wedding. We were invited to join the group from Monday to Thursday and it wasn’t a difficult decision to accept with the hope that we could provide some support to Jacobus and Lynette van Dyk. Having Canadian family myself (a sister and brother-in-law plus 2 nieces) we were looking forward to meeting some of their compatriots and we had the pleasure of meeting most of them on the Sunday that they arrived, before leaving for Ngwenya the next day.

The big disappointment is that not one of them wore a red-checked woolly shirt or a Mountie style hat – in fact they all looked quite decent and civilized, just like us!

Getting there

While the excited group of some 20-plus went by bus, we made our way separately by car, with our customary stop at Millies near Machadadorp for trout pie and coffee. The trip of just over 400 Kms was uneventful but the “stop-and-go” between Nelspruit and Komatipoort delayed us by a good 40 minutes.

Ngwenya Lodge

The chalets we were allocated are set around calm dams, while other chalets overlook the Crocodile River, which also forms the southern boundary of Kruger National Park. Water Monitors frequent the bush around the dams and are quite habituated to people, loping around the chalets in the hope of picking up morsels of food. Much smaller in size but just as reptilian are the colourful lizards in the gardens and around the chalets.

Ngwenya Lodge, Komatipoort

Ngwenya Lodge - View from chalet
Ngwenya Lodge – View from chalet
Water Monitor, Ngwenya lodge
Water Monitor, Ngwenya lodge
Lizard, Ngwenya lodge
Lizard, Ngwenya lodge
Lizard, Ngwenya lodge
Lizard, Ngwenya lodge

Bird life is plentiful and I was able to list 70 species during our stay, including a few in Kruger itself, despite not having much birding time in between the social activities. Bright yellow Village Weavers and Lesser Masked-Weavers are most prominent in front of the chalets where a number of the trees next to the water are bedecked with their carefully woven nests.  The calls of Dark-capped Bulbuls, White-browed Robin-Chats, Green-backed Camaropteras and Sombre Bulbuls are heard throughout the day and act as a gentle wake-up call in the mornings.

Lesser Masked-Weaver
Lesser Masked-Weaver
Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Ngwenya lodge
Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Ngwenya lodge
White-browed Robin-chat
White-browed Robin-chat

A walk around the lodge gardens mid-morning added many birds to the list with Violet-backed Starlings showing their spectacular colouring in the top of the trees and the sound of African Reed-Warblers emanating from the waterside bushes. Trees are a mix of indigenous and exotic with Fever trees being quite prominent. At the hide overlooking the river it was fairly quiet on the mammal front, with just a lone African Buffalo wading in the river.

Violet-backed Starling
Violet-backed Starling

Numerous birds in the water and riverside bush boosted my list by a dozen in 20 minutes with specials such as Lappet-faced Vulture circling above, Water Thick-Knee patrolling the water’s edge in search of a meal and a Black Crake showing briefly among the exposed rocks.

Black Crake
Black Crake

A Taste of Kruger

Social interaction with the Van Dyks and their guests from Canada and Belgium took place over brunch and dinner and gave us all the chance to find out a little about them, their homes and family. They were all keen to see some of Kruger Park, being so close to the Crocodile Bridge gate, and I offered to do a game drive on the Tuesday afternoon from 3 pm which was taken up by some of the group, knowing that we were all due to do an organised game drive the following morning in Safari vehicles with guides. Between the 2 drives we were lucky enough to see all of the “Big 5” – in fact the Wednesday morning game drive accomplished that on its own with the help of the guides who communicate with each other and share special sightings. The Tuesday afternoon drive was almost as successful, chalking up 4 of the Big 5.

African Lion, Kruger NP
African Lion, Kruger NP
African Lioness, Kruger NP
African Lioness, Kruger NP
African Elephant, Kruger NP
African Elephant, Kruger NP
African Buffalo, Kruger NP
African Buffalo, Kruger NP
White Rhino, Kruger NP
White Rhino, Kruger NP

Two separate sightings of Lion, plenty of Elephants, a large herd of Buffalo and Rhino spotted at a distance, kept everyone on the edge of their seats during the drive and just as we were due to turn around and head back to Ngwenya our guide had a radio call during which I heard the word “Ingwe” and immediately knew we were in for a special sighting. Our guide didn’t say a word but headed at speed in the direction of Lower Sabie camp then past it to the bridge over the Sabie river where a magnificent Leopard was lazing on a rocky ledge, unconcerned by the many vehicles jostling for a good view of this most impressive of the big cats. After moving into a good viewing position, we spent some time watching him rolling around and yawning, then we headed to Lower Sabie for a comfort break and from there back to Ngwenya.

Leopard, Kruger NP
Leopard, Kruger NP
Leopard, Kruger NP
Leopard, Kruger NP
Hippo, Kruger NP
Hippo, Kruger NP

Plenty of other game was seen on the drives, including the ubiquitous Impala but also numbers of Giraffe, Zebra, Wildebeest, Warthogs, Kudus and a few Waterbuck with their distinctive white ring on the backside – many had youngsters in their group especially the Warthogs which seemed to have had a good crop of babies, which looked a bit like very large rodents. The bush and veld were looking beautiful after the first summer rains, but the dense bush does make it more difficult to spot animals even when close to the road. The game drives were thoroughly enjoyed by all, even ourselves who have done so many drives in Kruger, never tiring of visiting this special part of South Africa.

Giraffe
Giraffe
African Warthog, Kruger NP
African Warthog, Kruger NP
Chacma Baboon, Kruger NP
Chacma Baboon, Kruger NP
Burchell's Zebra, Kruger NP
Burchell’s Zebra, Kruger NP
Vervet Monkey, Kruger NP
Vervet Monkey, Kruger NP

With the focus on game, the birding took a back seat, but I managed to keep the list ticking over with some of the typical Kruger Park birds that did not need stopping to ID them – Pin-tailed Whydahs were active near the gate and Rattling Cisticolas were making themselves heard at regular intervals, while Bateleurs and White-backed Vultures soared overhead. Francolins and Spurfowl occupied the road edge and scattered as we approached, their features distinct enough to easily make out Swainson’s and Natal Spurfowl as well as Crested Francolin as we passed by.

Yellow-billed Hornbill
Yellow-billed Hornbill
Red-backed Shrike
Red-backed Shrike

Canadians do the Braai

Come Wednesday evening and the visitors decided they would do the braai – this time at the lodge’s boma. We had to admit as proud South Africans  that they did a great job and we enjoyed juicy steaks with salads and traditional pap – now if only we can get them to pronounce “pap” correctly (as in “pup”)

Canada shows us how to braai!
Barry, Frank and Jan show off their braai skills
The braai
The braai
The braai
The braai
Last advice from Father of the Bride?
Last advice from Father of the Bride?

Then it was time to say goodbye for the time being, until the big event on Saturday.

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