It was a tumultuous end to 2020 for Babanango Game Reserve as we rescued a local family caught on a sand bank in the middle of the storm-swolen White Umfolozi River just two days before Christmas! Fortunately rescue came in time as Reserve Manager, Musa Mbatha and his team were able to reach the family (including a baby of 9 months and boy of 8 years old) by helicopter. Grateful thanks were received from the Mnguni family, local police and KZN amulance services.
New Year festivities may have been slightly subdued as a result of South Africa's return to a more strict lockdown level but we nonetheless saw the old year out in style and welcomed in 2021 with hope that it's going to be a great year for our game reserve and the guests we share it with.
With the focus firmly on our guests, in this month's newsletter we've decided to look at the "guest experience" here at Babanango Game Reserve and what visitors can expect. At the same time, we'd like to introduce our guiding team, led by head guide Justin Hall...
A TEAM THAT GOES ABOVE
When it comes to visiting Babanango Game Reserve, it is our guiding team that ensures guests have the very best experience possible by connecting them to the 22,000ha of African wilderness we call home, explaining how important it is to conserve and protect it for future generations.
"Let me introduce you to my team," invites Justin Hall, head guide and avid birder. "There's Lucky Ntuli, a senior guide who bakes the most incredible scones; Theobaldt Bukhosini is also a senior guide and is our ‘child whisperer’ - introducing children of all ages to the wonders of nature. Thokozani (TK) Mdluli tells the most incredible stories; and then there's our guides Xolani "X-man" Mhlongo and Rochelle Brand - the rose among our guiding thorns," says Justin.
"We also have junior guide Siyanda Mvuyana and guide-in-training Bongani Khumalo, both of whom come from our local communities," adds Justin. "Bongani has recently passed his Field Guides Association of Southern Africa theoretical exam, which is totally in keeping with the philosophies of Babanango as we uplift the local communities. We're extremely proud of Bongani and are busy working with him to prepare him for his practical assessment, after which he will be a legal guide and join the team," says Justin.
The reserve offers a wonderful diversity of both flora and fauna as well as a rich history - the rolling hills were once the training grounds of King Shaka's legendary impis and there are old copper mines to explore as well. So a visit to Babanango Game Reserve is far more than simply game viewing – it’s an all-round outdoor, environmental experience!
Morning drives are spent exploring the area in search for game. "We like to give guests a good, all-round appreciation of the reserve by driving between the lodges and to the White Umfolozi River, showing them the incredible views and interesting topography whilst looking for animals and birds," says Justin.
Babanango's ongoing commitment to conservation includes a game reintroduction programme that has seen many species released onto the reserve, like buffalo, hippo, rhino, bushbuck and steenbuck. It's something Justin and his team are very proud to be part of.
"It's good to see all these species now roaming the hills and valleys, including the hippo in our dams," says Justin. "But we are looking forward to the day when elephant and lion are reintroduced to make Babanango a Big Five game reserve," he adds. This is anticipated during the next two years.
So what's on the cards for guests at Babanango Game Reserve? We asked Justin to describe the day's activities...
"The normal day's programme, especially in summer months, begins with an early wake-up call at around 5am, with the morning drive leaving at 6am, giving you time for that all-important plunger of coffee that's waiting in the lodge's main lounge area!
"Climbing onto the open safari vehicle, experience the rush of cold morning air and snuggle beneath a fleece blanket until the sun is high enough to warm one naturally. Over the next few hours you'll discover a host of interesting things about Babanango and its amazing inhabitants, stopping on the way for coffee and muffins, before returning to the lodge in time for a hearty breakfast.
"Around 11am we usually embark on a short nature walk to identify the smaller things one might not notice on a game drive! On returning to the Lodge, there's time for a swim in the pool before lunch. The food is really worth mentioning – carefully designed platters for two covering all preferences including vegetarian and vegan options too!
"Afternoons are relaxed before meeting your guide around 4 p.m. for a late afternoon game drive. Fast forward to a spot in the sand, on the mighty White Umfolozi River, a cold G&T in hand and a story from your guide about the history of the Zulu people of the area. Then it's off to try and find the nocturnal animals on the way back to the lodge, where you'll have dinner in the open air boma. Best day EVER!”
“And last but not least,” hints Justin “We will soon be announcing another exciting activity which includes horseback safaris, enabling guests to get up real close to the animals.”
Watch this space as more details unfold!
DID YOU KNOW?
Babanango Game Reserve is renowned for its aloes, and one aloe in particular - the Gerstner's Aloe (Aloe gerstneri) - which can be found in the gardens to the right of the pool at Babanango Valley Lodge. It's endemic to a small area in the Babanango district and is considered endangered.
Aloes are prolific at Babanango, where to date at least 10 different species have been identified. Flowering at different times throughout the year, from the shorter species found in the grassland to the large ones which make the dry, browning winter landscape come alive with colour, it is a sight to behold!
IMMERSE YOURSELF IN NATURE AT BABANANGO WITH THESE SPECIAL RATES
When it comes to choosing where to stay at Babanango, guests are spoiled for choice with three wonderful accommodation options designed to immerse visitors in the wonderful African wilderness that makes this part of KwaZulu-Natal so special.
Whether it's the understated elegance of Babanango Valley Lodge, the earthy organic influences of Babanango Zulu Rock Lodge or the newly opened Matatane Camp - a 130ha fully fenced encampment with rustic charm and a back-to-nature ethos, Babanango is the perfect place to relax, restore and reboot.