It’s been many years since I visited Bonamanzi Game Reserve, a 4 000 hectare refuge on the western edge of St Lucia lake. A lot has changed since then.
And very nice changes they are too. The recent revamp – completed under the watchful eye of general manager Marlene Dean – includes a new conference centre and upgraded facilities. Conferences and weddings are increasingly popular here as it’s an easy drive from Durban.
The tree houses are what first drew me here decades ago. It’s a treat to be lulled by nature in a tree house, waking to birdsong or watching bush babies scuttling in the trees at night. But it’s for its birdlife that Bonamanzi is best known.
Bonamanzi has over 395 recorded bird species, 29 of which are on red data list. Not many can boast that.
A number of factors contribute to the high number of species sighted: uniqueness of habitat, fauna and flora and the freedom you have to walk within the reserve. These, as well as Bonamanzi’s role in the history of the region and the presence of important marine fossil records, led to its recognition in 1995 as a Natural Heritage site.
The Hluhluwe River runs through this slice of Eden, and the reserve shares its border with St Lucia, a world heritage site. Not surprisingly, leisurely boat cruises are a popular way of experiencing the reserve, but there are of course game drives and the aforementioned walks.
Bonamanzi has many antelope species, elephant, rhino, buffalo, leopard, hippo, crocodile, giraffe and more. It’s quite common to find a herd of impala sleeping outside the cottages, nyala beneath the tree houses and skittish warthog families ambling around the camps.
There is a variety of accommodation, ranging from campsites for R110 per person per day, to various levels of self catering (serviced/unserviced, aircon or no), to lodge accommodation at Lalapanzi.
You can mix and match self catering with restaurant meals. Lalapanzi restaurant is a stone’s throw from the self catering Tree Lodge – three tree houses joined together with private living areas, aircon, DStv and the works.
If you want something a little more secluded and exclusive, luxury Dinizulu Lodge will set you back R4 755 a night. It is off the beaten track with accommodation for six in three separate thatched huts with en-suite bathrooms. There’s a spacious lounge and dining area, bar, modern kitchen, entertainment deck, and a swimming pool overlooking the Dinizulu lake.
Optional catering can be organised or you can dine at Lalapanzi restaurant. The restaurant and pub have an Out of Africa theme and chef Gerhard Coetzee is impressive.
We settled in at Lalapanzi camp, enjoying the beautiful view over the watering hole from the verandah of our en-suite, thatched chalet. The swimming pool next to the restaurant would be my option in the sweltering summers, or perhaps the raised lounge and bar area.
We turned in early with full bellies as we had an early morning date with head ranger Rebecca Zandvliet. Our drive illustrated the three adjoining eco-systems: coastal grassland, tropical forest, and woodland, that make Bonamanzi special. Just beautiful.