During the penultimate week of December 2023, Travel & Things undertook a Lowveld road trip that included 3 Sun Destinations properties. Umkumbe Safari Lodge Riverside was the first.
For those who are interested in lodge names, Umkumbe means White Rhino in Shangaan.
That being said, it seems scientific types are referring to this species as square-lipped, rather than white. Firstly it is descriptive and secondly, it makes for easy identification seeing that both White and Black rhinos are grey.
As an aside, the black rhino is now referred to as the hook-lipped rhino.
This post is not about rhino identification but more about what this relaxed and laid-back lodge offers visitors from both near and far. While I was in camp, there were visitors both local as well as international.
I had driven up from Hazyview so my journey was not that long, however, a wrong turn at the beginning of my journey (totally my fault) added an hour to my trip and the sound of the trickling water in the fountain at the entrance was a welcoming one.
The air was filled with the sounds of several bird species and those, together with other bush noises assailed my senses as I stepped out of my car.
The garden was well laid out and reminded me of an English country garden that had been transplanted into the middle of the African bush.
As a result, the lodge makes a great first impression.
Indigenous art to break the neutral colours of the lodge buildings. A feature that was certainly noticed and appreciated.
This could be referred to as the ‘heart’ of the Lodge. It is certainly where many of the guests gathered before and after meals as well as when returning from game drives. Lounging in the pool you overlook the seasonal Sand River, where you might be lucky enough to spot some of the Big 5. (Aside from antelope and bird species, I got to see both lions and elephants from the safety of this deck).
To the left of the pool is the dining area with a boma behind the fence that forms the backdrop for the buffet-style meals that guests get to enjoy.
Umkumbe offers delicious breakfasts, light lunches and, in the evening after returning from an afternoon game drive, a full 3-course dinner.
Guests relaxing before lunch.
I got to know this couple from the USA after asking permission to post this picture and it turned out that we were in the same game-viewing vehicle for the duration of my stay.
They came to see our wildlife and taste our wine…and both tasks were undertaken with passion and enthusiasm.
This indoor space accommodates a lounge, an intimate dining area and a pool table. The latter is a first for me.
Seeing that the weather was almost perfect, this space was utilized infrequently by the guests, but I did notice that the owner ate lunch here while I sat and worked.
This outdoor seating area is where guests and guides gather before heading out on both morning and afternoon drives. There is a tea/coffee station here that keeps guests caffeinated during their stay and in between meals. It was only on my final morning that I found a container of cookies! At least I got one opportunity to taste the baked goods prepared by the kitchen staff. In hindsight I am glad that I discovered them so late in my stay as they were delicious could have easily become addictive.
Looking at the accommodation from the main building.
The Superior suites on the left all have decks that overlook the river, allowing guests to enjoy private game viewing before joining for meals or drives.
All the rooms are named after animals, the one that I stayed in was Zebra. I knew this because much of the soft furnishing had a zebra theme. It was only later that I noticed the ‘Zebra’ nameplate on the side wall.
Like the gardens, the lamps reminded me of a street scene in Victorian England.
It seems that Nyala is the most common antelope species that will make a lodge ‘home’.
I imagine that they feel protected from predators by the almost constant activity and the lights.
But they are wild animals and need to be treated with caution and respect.
The interior of my Zebra Superior suite…
Everything that a visitor can want and more! I was able to sit on the sofa and watch the passing game when the weather decided not to play along.
Or, when waking up in the morning, I could have a mini safari from my bed before getting ready for the morning drive.
I do have to admit that I am partial to an afternoon nap and being in a lodge just adds to that ‘decadence’.
From the privacy of the deck at my superior suite, I was able to see the Sand River and watch the various game species that came to slake their thirst or eat the lush vegetation that grows on the river banks.
It is amazing just how enormous the male Nyala is compared to the tiny female on the left.
Did you know?
A bull Nyala can grow to 110 cm, while females can reach 90 cm.
Males weigh 98–125 kg, while petite ewes tip the scales at around 55–68 kg.
Beauty after the rain.
A visit to the bush is not only about looking for species with teeth and claws, it can be an immersive experience if you are aware of your surroundings and take a moment to enjoy what is at your feet.
This is always the highlight of a lodge visit for me.
An outdoor shower is an experience that every guest should try…even in the dead of winter. The bathroom in my suite boasted a bathtub aside from the toilet and basin.
The Boma at night. Like the outdoor shower, a Boma dinner is a must.
This is most often where international tourists get their first taste of meat prepared on a braai. And don’t let them fool you into believing that a barbeque and a braai are the same. They most definitely are NOT.
There seem to be a plethora of stories about the word Boma and its meaning. The most common being…
The roots of the word boma date back to pre-colonial Africa and lie in the languages spoken in the African Great Lakes and was used to describe an enclosure for livestock, a stockade, a small fort or a government office, normally built out of branches.
The word is borrowed from Swahili, where it means an enclosure, a military or police outpost.
A popular myth told to tourists in the African Great Lakes states that BOMA stood for ‘British Overseas Management Administration’ or ‘British Officers Mess Area’ during the colonial era in Africa. I can debunk that myth for you right now as no entity such as the ‘British Overseas Management Administration’ ever existed
Bomas have become known as gathering places for guests where tales can be told, the crackle of a fire can be appreciated and good food and conversation is a given.
This is what my bed looked like before I went to dinner…
And when I returned, this is what awaited me.
Time to slip under the mozzie net and settle down for the night. Ensconced in superb linen and with the sound of the bush as the soundtrack, I wrote this before slipping into the arms of Morpheus.
“In the heart of the wild, where moonlight weaves its gleam,
A humble guardian stands a net, a silent dream.
Beneath African skies, where stars above entwine,
A vital shield unfurls, a refuge so divine.
With breath held in the night, a symphony unfolds,
No roar of lion’s might, just whispers that it holds.
A net, a quiet hero, draped in twilight’s grace,
Ensures the dance of dreams in this wild, vast space.
Underneath its veil, where shadows softly play,
The whirr of unseen wings kept safely at bay.
Amidst the rustling leaves and nature’s lullaby,
The net, a gentle fortress, where dreams can safely lie.
Buzzing whispers silenced, the moonlit sky a canvas clear,
A haven ‘gainst the night, a protector drawing near.
So, in this realm untamed, where stars their stories share,
A humble guardian rises, casting dreams in the air.
In South Africa’s embrace, where the wild and dreams unite, the mosquito net stands sentinel, a keeper of the night”.
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