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March 2016

Guest Experience Highlight: Terry Lewis

By Game Drive, Rhino River Lodge, Safaris, Sightings

Terry and his wife recently came to spend a night with us at Rhino River Lodge. He captured our attention when he posted the lovely photos he took during his stay to Facebook. We thought we would take the opportunity to share some of those photos with you along with a little bit of their experience at Rhino River Lodge.

Terry and his wife are locals, coming to us from the Durban area only about three hours away. Terry explains how he “discovered” Rhino River Lodge, “Our kids were all going to be away on the Friday night so I searched the internet for a place in Zululand that we could grab for one night. I have been to Zululand Rhino Reserve before so I am aware of the area and the history, but I had not stayed in the south of the reserve before. So I searched on Rhino, and by chance ended on your site. The online booking is a MUST as I took a chance and booked. We families follow really busy schedules while our kids are at school, so getting away for one night is really a treat for us. Being so close to Durban, one night is a good option as we can do it easily, and still drive through Hluhluwe-Imfolozi on the way home.”

 

We asked Terry what his favorite sighting was during his stay with us…”We were spoiled with Lion, Wild Dog, Buffalo calf, Zebra foal, Rhino calf. All were special. The most appreciated was the wild dog. We have never been so close and had so much time with a pack. They are in such good condition. But we also had some time to explore the dung beetle. I appreciated Alex (our Ranger/Guide) really made an effort to show us the stuff that we wanted to see. He is really enthusiastic, and has already learned a lot of the local knowledge of the bush.”

 

 

When asked if he had any special memories from his stay Terry shared “As a couple we were able to enjoy a private weekend away, and partake in an activity that interests both of us. So our memory is the overall experience at a reasonable price.” That sounds like a great memory indeed!

Terry shared some great advice for first time safari travelers “My advice to first time safari goers is that the only way to really see game in a short time is to go to a private lodge as the rangers have a network that know the area. So a lodge like Rhino River Lodge is perfect for that.  A small digital camera is perfect for holidays, but if you want decent animal pics you need a good zoom, even a digital zoom will do. Another bit of advice is to pack clothing for all seasons, and you never know how cold those nights will be on the game drive.”

All-in-all Terry and his wife had some really wonderful game viewing, especially for a one-night stay. Our sincere thanks for sharing the photos and their feedback with us. We can’t wait until we get to have them back to stay again!

Staff Feature: Clair DeScally

By Rhino River Lodge

If you have stayed with us over the last two years or so, then chances are, you have met Clair. Clair is our lodge manager, and while she may be young, she is filled with enthusiasm and is a fantastic manager, with both our staff and with our guests. Clair is also engaged to our ranger Kyle. Here Clair shares a little bit about herself with us…

What brought you to Rhino River Lodge?
A colleague of mine heard of an opening at Rhino River Lodge and put our names forward. We were then in contact with Dale for an interview and because he sounded so nice over the phone I didn’t hesitate! When driving through the reserve to get to the lodge I kept thinking about how exciting this adventure would be living and working in a big 5 game reserve and then met with Dale…He was so genuine and down to earth, I figured I hit the jackpot with bosses and from that moment on I was sold! I have been here for almost 2 years now and have never looked back!

What is your favourite part of your job?

The quality control part of things where I have to occasionally taste the lodge food! Hahahaha, no I’m kidding! There are so many reasons not just one, I am a people person though and through  – so meeting new people everyday from all over the world. I keep learning new things from each of them and making friends as I go along. I am most happy when guests leave happy, but doing small gestures for our guests and seeing their shocked yet ecstatic faces when they see it is so rewarding and by far the best feeling.  I have also always had a passion for animals so as a bonus is getting to partake in things in the reserve occasionally, with helping animals and of course joining on the Game drives.

What is your favourite part of living in the bush?

There are so many different perks to living in the bush so it’s difficult to put my finger on one…..The most obvious ones that come to mind is firstly the peacefulness. Coming home after a days work sitting on the porch with a glass of wine and hearing nothing but birds and crickets (and occasionally the lions). Having the wildlife walk through my “garden” and being able to walk amoungst the wildlife and to be able live this incredible experience with my partner is the cherry on top. Another worry off the list is that the only Road blocks I have to worry about are animal ones. Lastly all the unexpected encounters with wild life in your house!    

What is your best memory at Rhino River Lodge?

Well that’s an easy one. The hyena dart that took place! Hyenas are my absolute favourite animal and one of the other rangers had spotted one with a snare around her neck. Because it was human interference that cause the injury the reserve chose to dart the hyena and remove the snare. She was denning on Rhino River Lodge property and after the vet staked out her den for two nights. On the 3rd night he radioed and said he had darted her and she had run off into the thick bush. Dale offered for me and other staff members from the lodge to join him and assist in finding her. As hyenas are nocturnal animals we were looking for her in the dark, after about 40 minutes of looking for her from the vehicle, Dale suggested we all got off the cruisers and started looking for her on foot. Me being me, I didn’t hesitate and just got walking-not wearing anything close to bush shoes (only a pair of pumps) and no proper torch (only the flash light from my cell phone). Kyle and I went in a different direction to the others to cover more ground. Eventually Dale had said I should get back onto the cruiser and check if I can see her again so Kyle was escorting me back to the road where I would find the vehicle and, low and behold, we found her “sedated”  under a tree! Once the reserve manager got to our location, she placed her hand in front of the hyenas mouth to check that she was still breathing. Kyle picked her up by her head and shoulders and someone else picked her up from the back, as the hyena’s bum touch the back of the cruiser because the vet was already operating on her. She awoke and stood right up with her head and mouth about 3 centimetres from Kyles face! She was very groggy so she fell back asleep and the vet gave her a top up of sedative. Finally the vet got the snare off that had grown into her skin but luckily the wounds were superficial. She was then taken off the cruiser and treated for her wounds and left  to wake up. It was by far the best experience I’ve had in my life (let alone just at Rhino River Lodge) and I will cherish that memory forever!   

                                                            

What should guests coming from abroad know about South Africa?

That not everywhere is South Africa is the wild bush-not everyone in South Africa needs to watch out for Lions when checking their post or watch out for Crocodiles when taking a swim! They should know that there is so much diversity in South Africa, so much to experience and learn about. For example, South Africa being a rainbow nation, its not because of colour – its about the vast amount of different cultures that are irrevocably, absolutely mind blowingly amazing and should they get the chance to experience it  first hand they should. Along with local or traditional cuisine, try the food from the side of the roads – it will blow your mind. And lastly our heritage sites, not necessarily our World heritage sites that are posted and advertised everywhere, but the little hidden gems and sites that South Africa possesses.

If you could give guests coming for their first safari three tips or suggestions, what would they be?

          Pack for every season and occasion, you never know what could happen in Wild South Africa.

 

          Slow down, you not going to be here forever, so soak up everything you can! Soak up your surroundings, the sounds, sunsets and sunrises and just appreciate them through your eyes sometimes, and not always through a camera lens – Cameras are still important but sometimes you need to just take it in fully.

 

          If it is your first time, try and not book yourself up too much, you will be more exhausted by the end of your trip then you did when you started! Pick a few things that you really want to do and do them…While you are here you can see what other things you could possibly do for your next trip and you could do some more research on the other things. We could advise you better than google could, as we have experienced it first hand most of the time. If you try and squeeze it all into one trip you will not enjoy it and appreciate it as much as you could have if your schedule was not so busy.

 

What’s cuter than a lion cub? 5 lion cubs!

By Lions, Sightings

Written by Claire Birtwhistle

Guests at Rhino River Lodge were recently treated to the most adorable sighting of five cubs and two lionesses in the Zululand Rhino Reserve. The reserve has a small population of 13 lions, making a sighting like this not only incredibly cute but also quite rare and special.

curious-lion-cubs

Claire was one of the guests who were lucky enough to experience and photograph this special sighting. This is what she had to say about it: “My partner, Wes, and I arrived at Rhino River Lodge on the Friday afternoon but were too late for the afternoon game drive and had to wait until the morning for the next one. I remember saying to Wes that if we missed any spectacular sightings I would be devastated. Little did we know that the reserve had its own special treats waiting in store for us. To say we were extremely eager to get out into the Zululand Rhino Reserve the next morning is an understatement. Meandering across the river bed and out into the bush, it was hard to believe that just the day before, at that very time, I had been fighting my way through Durban traffic. It never ceases to amaze me how one can drive for a mere few hours out of the city and suddenly be surrounded by pristine wilderness. I had three things on my list that I hoped to see: lions, rhinos and the elusive wild dogs. So, as we set out that day I kept my eyes peeled for anything that looked like a cat, a giant rock, or a spotty dog. What began as a somewhat slow start to the morning game drive, quickly escalated when our ranger, Ryan, spotted the first animal on my list. Lions! I could hardly believe my eyes. Wes and I turned to each other and grinned as just a few metres to our left, lying on the side of the road, were five lion cubs and two lionesses. Everyone in the vehicle squeaked with delight, yanked out their cameras and began frantically clicking away.

lion-cubs-snuggling

There was no need to rush though as the cubs seemed just as curious about us and proceeded to march right onto the road in front of the vehicle, as if to pose.

confident-cub-stands-tall

While Ryan quietly radioed the other rangers to alert them to the sighting, the cubs delighted us with their lion antics, much to one of the lioness’ disgust, who by now had walked off on the other side of the road and was waiting patiently for the cubs to finish performing.

RhinoRiverLodge-lion-cubs

We could see from the lion’s visibly distended bellies that they’d just enjoyed quite a sizeable meal but that didn’t stop the cubs from fighting, playing and pouncing around the place.

lion-family

At just six months old, the little lions had been under strict supervision from their mothers up until now and were only just starting to gain a bit of confidence and curiosity.

mother-lioness-and-cub

This was apparently the first time the cubs had put on such a display for guests so we felt extremely privileged to be part of their audience. It won’t be long now until these seemingly cute creatures turn into killing machines!”

cubs-playing-tag

Originally published on Africa Geographic.

Guest Experience Highlight: Ania and Imran

By Rhino River Lodge, Safaris

Ania and Imran are return guests and have become part of the Rhino River Lodge extended family. On their most recent visit, in addition to their game drives, they also participated in a rhino dart. Here they share some of their favourite Rhino River Lodge experiences and some of Ania’s lovely photos taken during their recent stay.


How did you initially find out about and decide to book at Rhino River Lodge?

My husband and I have visited South Africa a couple of times before finding and booking Rhino River Lodge. After staying at few different lodges in Shamwari Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape and inspired by Lawrence Anthony’s books we knew we wanted to see KwaZulu Natal and that’s when Rhino River came up on our radar. We checked availability and reviews of other top lodges in the area and after communicating with Clair, the lodge manager, we made our decisions. Clair was always very responsive and quick to answer any questions we had prior to booking. 
What brought you back to stay with us?
We have absolutely loved our first stay at the lodge.  Initially we spent eight nights there in December 2014. Everything from our arrival to departure was really well organised and we were looked after at all times, we always felt we had space to relax between drives. The room we stayed in was very comfortable and spacious, if we wanted to socialise with other guests we were welcome to use the main lounge area or the swimming pool at our leisure. There were animals roaming freely on the grass areas of the lodge almost every day, but what made our stay so special and influenced our decision to come back were the people. All the staff and especially lodge manager and our ranger were very friendly and genuine. We felt it was more like being on a holiday with friends rather than total strangers who we had just met. We had great animal sightings and a lot of fun on the game drives and it was with a heavy heart that we left the lodge, that’s when we knew we had to come back no matter what.
 

 

What is your favourite animal to photograph on safari?
That’s a difficult one to answer. I love photographing all wildlife really, but especially animal interactions. It can be anything from dung beetles rolling around to male kudu sparring or an elephant trying to take down a tree. In my opinion rhino and big cats always make a great photo, but the most challenging and at the same time rewarding photography is capturing birds in flight. I still have a lot to learn in that area.
 

 

You booked a private rhino dart during your recent stay with us, can you tell us about that experience?
Rhino dart was one of the most unforgettable experiences during our stay. We had seen the photos on the reserve’s facebook page of other guests taking part in a rhino dart earlier in the year and decided to ask Clair, if it’s something we could do ourselves. She got us information we needed and made all the arrangements with Dale, the lodge owner and the reserve team. We were very excited on the day of the dart. Prior to the darting we didn’t have much information about the entire process,  so finding out that it was going to be a young black rhino female that we’d be taking part in darting made us feel very lucky. Black rhino generally aren’t darted as often as the white ones so they can be more challenging to track and capture, which added to our overall excitement. On the day of the dart, halfway through our morning drive our ranger was notified that the rhino calf was found and we should head towards the meeting point to get ready. There we met the head vet Mike who was leading the operation and who briefed us in detail what was going to happen and told us about the Black Rhino Exchange Programme that the reserve is part of. Then he got in a helicopter and we jumped on the back of a truck that was following the chopper. Once the rhino was darted and down with anaesthetic, it was safe for us to get off the truck and approach it. We witnessed Mike and the team taking blood and DNA samples, notching and chipping the rhino first hand.  During the procedure Mike was answering all the questions we had and we were allowed to help out keeping the calf cool by pouring water over her. Once all the samples and photos needed were taken, we got back in the vehicle and watched the rhino being woken up with the reversal drug from a safe distance. The entire experience took just under half an hour and we were back to our game vehicle with the biggest smiles on our faces. We felt incredibly lucky to be part of the whole experience.
 
What is the best sighting you’ve had in the Zululand Rhino Reserve?
There have been so many of them. We will always remember stumbling upon a lioness with her two cubs on our first bush walk with Dale or being mock charged by a black rhino female and her calf on one of the drives with our ranger Kyle.  Least we forget the inquisitive white rhino that interrupted our coffee break at one of the morning drives, or spotting a porcupine and a boomslang on a night drive. But the most memorable one must be one of the sightings on our last visit, when we came across a coalition of four lions. We were driving up the mountain knowing they were seen in the area when suddenly the ranger stopped our vehicle and there they were. Two of the lions lying in the tall grass next to the road with the third one further away in the bush and the last one down the bank. The experience got even more unbelievable when one by one the lions started roaring and moving around. One of them stood up, stretched and walked right across the road in front of our vehicle then alongside the left hand side right next to where my husband was sitting. The cat then sat few meters down right in the middle of the road becoming an “African bush road block”. Few minutes later the other lion walked along the other side, just next to where I was sitting. I have to admit, even though I knew I was in the safety of the game vehicle, seeing the big cat so up close gave me goose bumps and made my heart beat a little faster for those few minutes.  We spent a while with those lions listening to them roaring and communication with each other and took some amazing photos. The entire experience will definitely be one of those memories that stay with us forever.
 

 

 

What is your favourite part of staying at Rhino River Lodge?

 

The two times we stayed at RRL were so different and amazing that it is difficult to point out one favourite part. Having said that, the main reason of visiting a game reserve and especially RRL, at least for me personally, is seeing the wildlife and being in the African bush. Living in London, England and leading a busy and stressful life in the city made me really appreciate the time I got to spend there. It feels like home away from home and people who work there have become good friends. The place is beautiful and is run really well and on top of all that the abundance of beautiful wildlife never disappoints. You never know what’s round the corner which makes each and every game drive even more special.  
Anything extra you’d like to add?
If few years back someone had told me I would go to South Africa and I would love it so much that I’d be back time and time again I would have probably laughed it off. But after visiting the continent and especially RRL, and having experienced its hospitality, the beautiful scenery and amazing wildlife I found my happy place. Africa has definitely captured my heart and soul and make me long to return. I feel privileged and very very lucky to have experienced it all. If it’s possible to fall in love with a place, then I certainly did fall in love with Africa. I do hope I get to come back again, there’s still so much more to see and learn… “There is language going on out there- the language of the wild. Roars, snorts, trumpets, squeals, whoops, and chirps all have meaning derived over eons of expression… We have yet to become fluent in the language -and music- of the wild.”

 

Thanks to the Qazi’s for sharing their experiences and photographs with us. What a pleasure it is having them as part of our Rhino River Lodge family.