Monday, May 2, 2011

Kwandwe Private Game Reserve: The place of the Blue Crane

Kwandwe Private Game Reserve:
(Great Fish River Lodge)
Situated on the banks of the Fish River and meaning “Place of the Blue Crane” in Xhosa, this reserve is home to these rare, highly endangered birds (South Africa’s National Bird)

It astounds me that the Eastern Cape is not seen as a ‘game viewing’ destination.

The majority of Gauteng inhabitants would rather go North 
than South when looking for up-market game lodges

Perhaps it is that fact that flying to Port Elizabeth is more expensive when compared to other internal destinations?

Even growing up in Port Elizabeth I was taken North to the Kruger National Park in 1966...
my first visit to a game park and the beginning of a love affair with the bush that lasts to this day.
If memory serves me correctly I only visited Addo Elephant Park twice!
But I digress...

On my recent trip to the Eastern Cape I discovered that not only is the Eastern Cape a Big 5 destination, it is also a MALARIA FREE area!

The first stop on my journey was Kwandwe Private Game Reserve.Situated on the banks of the Fish River, this was the first privately owned Eastern Cape game reserve to have free roaming lions and cheetahs!

Rather than having vast herds of game, like Impala and Wildebeeste, the reserve prides itself on diversity rather than density,
 and it is for this reason that I was able to view up to 15 species on a single game drive..
including antelope like Springbok and Oryx (Gemsbok)
Their Winter 2011 program is about to be launched...and not a moment to soon as the three days I spent there were bitterly cold!(Officially the program only launches in June, but no-one informed the wind!)

The major innovation will be the introduction of a sleeping bag type suit for guests to wear during game drives. From the way the GM Graeme Mann described them they should certainly reduce the wind chill factor during the drives (Unfortunately for me the suits had not arrived in order to test this claim!)
On our game drives, with the wind howling around our ears not even hot-water bottles and blankets were enough protection from the wind chill factor. However, we did get to see a variety of species that made up for this inconvenience...

Like getting to see Black Rhino for the first time in almost 30 years.

And cheetah so close we could hear then purring above the noise of the wind!
Currently the wake up call is at 6am followed by hot beverages and biscuits. 
The game drive usually leaves at 6.30…
For the winter program, wake up will be at 7.30 followed by a full hot breakfast before heading out on an extended drive.(hopefully warmly wrapped up in the new suits!)
Lunch will be in the form of a picnic and guests will be returned to the lodge 
before sunset and in time for supper.
After lunch, and if weather conditions permit, guests will be offered the option of an afternoon walk which will begin at, and return to, where lunch was taken.
The major differentials from other camps I have visited is the fact that Kwandwe still utilizes trackers as well as Rangers on their Game Drive vehicles. 
This allows the ranger to interact with the guests, while the tracked keeps his eyes open for the elusive game.
The reserve is 22000 hectares and the guest load when all the lodges are full is only 44!
Exciting, ongoing, community projects like those set up by the Angus Gillis Foundation, 
enable the local villages and the families to reap benefits from being situated on one of the farms that has been incorporated into the Park.


While having lunch with the GM, Graeme Mann he told me that the guest demographics were changing...
and for the better!
 “The guests were originally split 70% International and 30% local,
 however the Global economic crisis, the split is currently almost even!
 A good sign that the locals are finding Kwandwe good value for money”.

Ongoing upgrades of linens and soft furnishings keep the Lodge up to the high standards set by both &Beyond and the Relais & Chateaux group


At dinner, I did ask for some of the most ridiculous questions asked by guests:
In no particular order, they were
1] “Are these real lions”?
2] “Is that a Giraffe feeder”? Referring to the windsock at the airstrip

And my favourite... “Is this where the animals come to give birth”?
A question provoked by this sign near the park reception...

Even with the cold, the beds were warm and the food and hospitality were (&)beyond expectations.

I would recommend a visit to this part of Frontier Country without reservation!

For more images of Kwandwe,visit: 
http://picasaweb.google.com?david.batzofin

HIGHLIGHT SIGHTING: Although the Black Rhino were exciting,
 the 20 minutes we spend with this female Caracal were VERY special!

&BEYOND CONTACT DETAILS
Enquiries: 011 809 4314
General : 011 809 4300
Website: www.andbeyondafrica.com

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