Yawn!

It’s a lazy and hot Friday morning at Kuzuko Lodge. The sun’s already baking down without a cloud in the sky. The pride spots a kudu and the two female take the lead in the hunt. It’s a patient wait watching it through the spekboom as it stands browsing unaware. Then the chase is on. Adrenalin pumping. Excitement. Hunger. Fear. Everything happens so fast yet everything else stands still. The kudu stood no chance as she gets taken down in a cloud of dust. The boys move in first to eat their fill but the ladies doesn’t wait very long. Tummies full. Eyes heavy. Time for a nap. Yawn.

My Kuzuko cheetah experience

Kuzuko Lodge in the Greater Addo Elephant National Park is one of my favorite lodges to visit.  Because its on the Karoo side of the Zuurberg mountains the animal sightings may be slightly less than on the coastal side, but I have had some magnificent encounters and combined with their lodge and service it has been a recommendable experience every time.  A Karoo Heartland Marketing Association meeting brought me back to Kuzuku and during my stay I got to do one of their activities I haven’t been able to do before, their cheetah experience.

As our luck would have it we found the two cheetahs right next to the fence on a kill so we quickly hopped off the vehicle and approached on foot to a safe distance.  Well, safe is perhaps not the right word.  Let’s rather say a comfortable distance for the cheetah.  Kuzuko’s cheetah aren’t tame but they have learnt to tolerate the presence of humans and allow visitors to get fairly close to them without entering their space.  Our ranger kept us behind him at all times and you could see he had an eye on them constantly just in case.

Seeing them this close while on foot is so much better than sitting on a game drive vehicle or looking at them through a fence.  The lifted their heads for a look at us once or twice but otherwise didn’t even bother about us.

Kuzuko may charge an additional fee for this activity which goes towards the Kuzuko Foundation to assist funding their Wildlife Rehabilitation efforts, assisting them in their endeavours to preserve Africa’s wildlife legacy.
 
Disclosure: I stayed at the reserve as guest of Karoo Heartland and Kuzuko Lodge.  I received no further remuneration and keep full editorial control over the post.

Antelope skull

A game drive through a reserve with predators are all about watching live game but more often than not one would encounter the remains of not so live game.  During our sundowner stop on a game drive at Kuzuko Lodge I found this lone skull out in the open very interesting.  Probably a kudu skull as there was a kudu horn lying close by, I can only imagine how he came about his end.  Must have been quite a sight out in the open like this.

Succulent flowers at Kuzuko

Succulents always surprise me with the beautiful flowers that they produce specially when they grow in dry and arid areas.  The flowering succulent in the picture was growing next to the path to our room at Kuzuko Lodge in the northern part of the Addo Elephant National Park.

After reading the post, Alan Fogarty of Alan Tours helped me out a bit with the name:  Crassula ovata or Kerky bush, Beestebul, iPhewula also commonly known as the “Botterboom”

Mock charge

On a recent visit to Kuzuko Lodge in the greater Addo Elephant National Park we had some amazing sightings.  The afternoon game drive started with a close up sighting of their two male lions before we encountered a herd of elephants in a valley close to the lodge.  The matriarch put up a spectacular mock charge what with flapping ears, stamping of feet and the shaking of a poor little bush.  Unfortunately I didn’t have me camera at the ready and missed the whole performance.  Shortly later we did have this young bull look at us with a bit of attitude and a skew camera angle gave me very much the same effect as if it was the matriarch in the picture. 

Game sightings at Kuzuko Lodge

What is the difference between visiting a game reserve and a zoo?  At a zoo the animals are kept in enclosures with little freedom and visitors are guaranteed to see them although the sightings include walls, buildings, fences and cages.  At a game reserve you will see the animals in their natural environment and as they are free to roam throughout the reserve but there is no guarantee to see them.  So which would you rather do?  Personally I would take my chances and rather see them in the wild, even if there is a chance of not getting a sighting.  Before visiting Kuzuko Lodge I read a couple of comments on TripAdvisor from people complaining that they didn’t get to see the lions or elephants or big herds of this or that.  Its times like that when I want to scream at the computer screen for somebody to wake up and realise its a game reserve and not a zoo.  Anyway, off we went to Kuzuko with the possibility of getting some stunning sightings or none at all.  I am happy delighted ecstatic to say that we had some amazing sightings on our two game drives and here is the proof. 
 
We encountered Kuzuko’s two male lions, Kalahari and Matt, on both game drives.  On the afternoon drive they were having a siesta in the shade of a bush and it didn’t make for the best pictures, but the next morning we found them in the open with full bellies after making a kill during the night. 

With the sun rising behind him Matt even showed off his blazing back lit mane, moving into position in a sunny spot to get some heat on a cold winters morning. 
 
We encountered a herd of elephants in a valley not far from the lodge on our afternoon drive and they put up a really good show for us.  First one of the youngsters didn’t see the rest of the herd move off and when he realised he was left behind he threw a proper tantrum, stamping his feet and screaming as he ran after them.  The ranger strategically positioned us a short distance later so that the herd could move past.  It was here that the matriarch decided to mock charge us, giving us a good ear flap and trunk up while nearly trampling an innocent tree nearby.  

The elephant sighting was made even more worth while when the big bull, Saracen, made an appearance.  He had a quick interaction with the rest of the herd before strutted his stuff as he made his way past us. 

Kuzuko has two male cheetahs whom the rangers call Batman and Robin.  These two spotted superheroes were a little bit more elusive as we drove around looking for them on the morning drive.  We stopped a couple of times in the area where the ranger knew they were but with no luck.  Until somebody looked back and noticed that they were coming down the road right behind us.

Although the two cheetahs aren’t tame, they are used to people to the degree that Kuzuko offers game walks to go and find them.  Unfortunately we didn’t have time for this activity during our stay, but it was super awesome to see them as not all the reserves around Port Elizabeth have them and I don’t get to see them as often as some of the other animals.

The Cape Buffalo is normally the one member of the Big 5 that people get the least excited about on a game drive.  It doesn’t mean that seeing them is any less special than seeing any of the other four though.  Kuzuko has a small herd of buffalo after their numbers took a huge knock from the lions during the big drought that ended last year.  The buffalo is kept in a separate section of the reserve while their number go back up.  Only then will they get released back into the rest of the reserve where there are predators again. 
 
We encountered the buffalo on our morning drive shortly after finding the cheetahs and while watching them one of the old ones got so close to the vehicle that he could scratch his neck against the side mirror.  One couldn’t ask for more close up than that.

During both game drives we also saw a number of antelope species, zebra and even a porcupine.  I’m not going to post pictures of every specie we saw, but I want to highlight the fact that Kuzuko is one of only a few reserves that is home to the endangered Cape Mountain Zebra which we saw on both the afternoon and the next morning. 
 
We also saw and heard a number of bird species with the KidZ loving the Pale Chanting Goshawk.  Unfortunately I couldn’t get a picture of it.  What I did get a picture of was a Spotted Eagle Owl sitting on a rock against a cliff.  Not everybody would agree, but seeing it was one of the highlights of my visit.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve been fortunate to visit a couple of game reserves and have seen all the other animals on a couple of occasions.  Who knows?  What I do know is that it rounded off our visit and all our game sightings perfectly.   

Yawn and Snarl – World Lion Day

Today is World Lion Day.  It’s the first global campaign to celebrate the importance of the lion world wide.  People tend to be very aware of the plight of animals like the rhino, the gorilla and the African penguin due to their vulnerability, but very few know that it won’t take much for the lion to be in the same situation.  The king of the jungle is probably the most iconic of the animal species and have over the ages fascinated man, guarded our temples, adorned our flags, decorated our coins and been a symbol of strength. 

Yawn and Snarl is Matt and Kalahari at Kuzuko Lodge

Place of Glory – the KidZ edition

Going anywhere with the KidZ in a car, and that includes the local supermarket a couple of blocks from home, more often than not result in a back seat battle of some sorts.  When those back seat battles start to take on epic proportions and I’m forced to stop in a cloud of dust on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere to threaten them that I will be kicking them out the car and leave them just there, then you know this dad has had enough.  But enough of our domestic driving problems.  What were we doing on a dirt road and where were we going, the travel minded amongst you ask?  We were heading towards the 5 star Kuzuko Lodge situated in a concession area in the northern section of the Greater Addo Elephant National Park.  It was the first time we’ve taken the KidZ to a major game reserve and lodge and that was probably why they were so hyped up in said back seat in the first place.

The lodge is situated on top of a hill with beautiful views across the valley covered in Karoo bushveld.  Guests are accommodated in 24 luxurious chalets, each with its own private deck.  It was on this private deck I sat just before bed time looking up in awe at the milky way overhead, seen like you don’t see it in the city.  A great white line across the sky made up of millions of twinkling stars.  But I digress.  The spacious chalets feature an en-suite bathroom with bath and walk in shower, all the other amenities that normally come standard with such a lodge (in this case also with free WiFi), a twin or double bed and a foldout couch for children with a maximum of two children under 12 years of age allowed per chalet.

From the reception area we were whisked to the lodge in a game viewing vehicle and after a welcome drink had a quick tour of the facilities before being allowed to settle in and relax.  The KidZ loved the view from our private deck but it didn’t take long for them to discover the Wii connected to the big plasma television in the main lounge and they were out under our feet, joining a couple of other kids in a game of Wii tenpin, golf and tennis.

Three o’ clock meant it was time for the pre-game drive  high tea which was so much more than scones, crumpets and cucumber sandwiches.  To be honest, I would rather have Kuzuko high tea than a full on lunch any time.  The Wii was like magic for us as the KidZ had to sit still and eat if they wanted to go back playing, but a magic trick it sure was. Eat you here, eat you there and poof… they were gone.  Ok, so I’m not one who’s big on televisions at game lodges, but this one was keeping the KidZ busy, giving the Damselfly and I some time by ourselves.  But if you want to relax you go to a spa, which Kuzuko has one of by the way as well, and before we knew it it was time for our afternoon game drive.

Ranger Romeo met us at the open land cruiser with the Damselfly and Drama Princess taking up the middle seat and Chaos Boy and I going on the back, often bouncy trampoline seat.  Romeo did warn us that it’s behind the wheels, but I would endure the little bit of extra bounce for the benefit of having an uninterrupted view (and photo opportunity) behind me in case of a good sighting.  After a couple of Cape Mountain Zebras and Kudus, our first Big 5 sighting presented itself.  Kuzuko’s two male lions, Kalahari and Matt was having a siesta in the late afternoon sun.  There was a moment of panic by Drama Princess which we thought was because we got too close to the lions, but turned out to be the vehicle taking a bump through a ditch.  The lions themselves didn’t scare her at all.  A brilliant sighting like this early on boded well for the rest of our stay
 
Romeo was the perfect ranger.  He’s knowledge was outstanding but he didn’t bore us with all the details unless we wanted to know.  Ours weren’t the only children on the vehicle and he switched from giving us serious info to joking with the kids, mixing it up just enough.  Then word came through, although it sounded like he knew it already, that another member of the Big 5 was hanging out in a valley on the other side of the lodge. So off we went hopping along the uneven road to look for the biggest of the Big 5, Loxodonta africana, or the African Elephant.

The herd was making their way down the valley when we found them.  One of the highlights of the drive happened next.  A young bull browsing a little way away from the rest of the herd didn’t see them move off and suddenly found himself all alone.  He threw a bit of a tantrum and went running down the road after the others.  Made me think of the kiddies rhyme about the piggies with the 5th piggy running “wee, wee wee” all the way home.  Romeo slowly made his way around the herd for us to get a better view – in the process “treating” us to a mock charge by the matriarch – and for the next 20 minutes or so we sat and watched these magnificent animals go about their peaceful way.  We even had Saracen, the local dominant bull, give us a walk by.

With the sun heading towards the horizon at a leisurely pace, Romeo drove us to an open area where approaching animals could be seen from a distance for our sun downers.  With cold drinks for the kids, beers for the adults and snacks all around, the African sun set over the horizon in brilliant oranges and yellows.  My favorite time of the day and my favorite part of the game drive.  A time to really take in the surroundings, enjoy the smell of the veld and watch the end of another day.  With dusk turning to darkness, Romeo turned the nose of the land cruiser back towards the lodge and we all knew that dinner was calling. 

Dinner was a scrumptious affair of four courses for the adults and, impressively, a separate menu specially catering for children.  The main menu started with an entreé of roasted tomato soup and followed by a starter of Bobotie or Green Salad.  The main meal was a choice of Karoo Lamb Shank (which I had and I nearly chewed my lips off, mouth watering stuff), East Coast Sole or Blue Cheese Chicken.  Dessert, for those who still had space was Tiramisu or Bread and Butter Pudding.  The KidZ’s choices off the kiddies menu were pizza – ham, biltong and cheese – for Chaos Boy and grilled hake and chips for Drama Princess.  I had a taste of the fish and kinda wished I could have had a full portion of it while Chaos Boy wasn’t going to share his pizza with anybody.  Not even for a taste.  Kudos to Kuzuko for catering for children separately.
 
Never being one to miss a game drive, and I’m happy to say that the clan all felt the same way and we got up early the next morning for the 7am morning game drive.  Word was that the lions made a kill during the night and that they were still in the area so we headed straight in their direction, this time with Chaos Boy riding shotgun and being on the lookout for anything and everything.

Once again we weren’t disappointed with Kalahari and Matt sleeping off their meal in the morning sun with Matt only getting up when we blocked his sun.  Like before Romeo maneuvered the vehicle so that we could get some striking photographs before heading on in search of another big cat.  This one being the world’s fastest land mammal.  The cheetah.  Kuzuko has two male cheetahs, Batman and Robin, both who wear radio collars for when guests go on cheetah walks and they need to be found quickly.  We didn’t make use of the signal to find them, preferring to do it the hard way.  Ironically enough they seem to have found us rather then the other way around as somebody looked back and saw them casually strolling down the track after the vehicle. 
 
Our last major sighting and the third of the Big 5 to be spotted was Cape Buffalo.  Probably the most underestimated of the Big 5, buffalos live in herds and can be extremely dangerous when threatened.  The buffalo was also the animal we got to see the closest with one old bull literally rubbing himself up against the land cruiser’s back bumper.

The game drive was followed by a hearty breakfast back at the lodge, but this also meant that our visit was nearly over.  The KidZ gulped down their food and went to play a last game of Wii sport while we were in no hurry to leave behind this little spot of paradise, taking our time and enjoying the view, trying to imprint it on our minds.  Then it was time to go, pack our bags, say our goodbyes and head on to our next destination.

Kuzuko showed that they can proudly carry the right to be called a Place of Glory.  Visitors and guests can look forward to a stunning lodge and suites, designed for comfort and don’t look over the top like some lodges I’ve seen before.  The food is good and the rangers, in our case Romeo, knowledgeable, friendly and, like the rest of the lodge, accommodating and patient with children.  One word of warning though.  Don’t come to Kuzuko expecting to see huge herds of animals.  Kuzuko is situated in the southern part of the arid Karoo which means less water, less grazing and subsequently smaller groups of animals.  It doesn’t mean that the quality of the sightings we has was less.  On the contrary, the sightings along with the unique beauty of the Karoo meant that we left happy and with some stunning photographs.  As for the KidZ, they want to know when we’ll be going to a game reserve again.
 
Disclosure:  We were invited to Kuzuko Lodge and stayed on a complimentary basis while our transport and drinks were for our own account.  I received no additional remuneration to write this post and all views expressed are my own.