Adventure Articles

Drifters Game Lodge in the heart of the Lowveld's Combretum veld

Article and photos by Lynette Oxley

At the end of June, beginning July we (my partner Paul and I) visited Drifters Game Lodge (previously known as Mohlabetsi Safari Lodge) in the beautiful Northern Province of South Africa. "Mohlabetsi" originates from the name given to the river flowing through the farm by the local inhabitants and can be translated as "sweet waters". Drifters Game Lodge forms part of the greater Balule Nature Reserve which is reknowned for its wildlife variety. Many of the fences between the farms in this area are coming down, thus giving a very large traversing range (translation: you can drive all day and never travel the same road twice). This will ultimately ensure a greater variety of wildlife in Drifters Game Lodge itself. This game lodge is situated close to Hoedspruit (actually between Hoedspruit and Mica) just off the R40 and the turnoff can be easily found by -following the signs.

Picture on the right: The entrance to Drifters Game Lodge

Picture on the left: The southern yellowbilled hornbill (Tockus flavisrostris)

Tony and Alma Williamson run Drifters Game Lodge and on our arrival on late Sunday afternoon we were greeted heartily by Tony and the lodge's two border collies. Friendly staff members were soon on hand to help with our baggage. Lush greenery welcomes one at a uniquely covered entrance which leads into a thatched lapa overlooking green lawns canopied partly by large, leafy trees. Tony offered us a chilled fruit cocktail which we enjoyed sitting underneath the lapa while looking out over the lawn and the African bush beyond. A variety of birds were heard and spotted during this time and included the beautiful Burchell's glossy starling (Lamprotornis australis) and southern yellowbilled hornbills (Tockus flavisrostris).

Picture on the left: Drifters Game Lodge's garden

Picture on the right: Buffalo Hut

Rondavels at Drifters Game Lodge all have animal themes, complete with rustic paintings of the particular animals as well as its spoor on the outside. We stayed in the Buffalo Hut and found the inside to be extremely well designed and kitted out with lots of attention given to the finer detail. The rondavels have two twin beds, a writing table, a dressing table and an en-suite bathroom (shower and toilet).

Picture on the left: Inside the hut

Picture on the left: The full moon over the African Bush!

After we had settled in, we joined Tony for our afternoon/night drive in a specially adapted Series III Land-Rover. A soft, warm blanket for the cool evening air was provided and away we went. Tony pointed out several birds but our highlight was spotting a majestic African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer) at one of the watering holes on the game farm. This bird is well-known for its highly vocal call while soaring, especially at dawn. We also spotted a waterbuck ewe (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) and a juvenile close to our vehicle. It is not easy to mistake a waterbuck because of its distinctively shaggy fur and the white ring on the rump which is sometimes likened to a target. Down the road we came across a group of giraffe with a very inquisitive youngster and decided to have refreshments here, set against a full African moon. The freshly made chilli bites were especially appetising.

During our game drive we also visited the Drifters Game Lodge Bush Camp perched above the Mohlabetsi River. This is an intimate private Lodge for those who need privacy and is set in a beautiful location. This camp can sleep 8 and is rented out at per night for the whole camp. This include a permanent game drive vehicle and a guide.

On out our way back we saw a group of impala and the eyes of several lesser bushbabies (Galago moholi). This is one of only two of these tree-loving, nocturnal lemurs found in South Africa with the other being the thick-tailed bushbaby (Galago crassicaudatus). Closer to camp the bush was alive with a congregation of waterbuck, impala, wildebeest and warthog (they enjoy feeding on the lawns at night).

Picture on the right: Warthogs drinking mud (water?)

Back at camp we were joined by Alma. A visit to the trophy room before supper truly amazed us. Apparently a wood carver was commissioned for a year to do carvings for Mohlabetsi (at that stage). A magnificent dining room suite with a sideboard, a variety of stuffed animals, ostrich eggs and other nic nacs make this room truly interesting. The wood carver's crowning glory is the main roof support in the trophy room which is a kind of African totem pole carved out of leadwood.

Pre-supper drinks were served in the boma around a welcoming fire. While enjoying the sounds of jackals calling to the full moon, a couple of wildebeest and waterbuck walked past the back of the boma. Supper was served outside in the boma underneath the stars in the company of the bush.

Picture on the left: Paul and Tony enjoying the fire!

We had a delicious starter of country bean soup with seed bread, followed by chicken breast Parmesan and warthog fillet Port Natal served with savoury rice and garden fresh vegetables. This wonderful meal was ended with tipsy tart and home made toffee ice cream and filter coffee.

That night we went to bed with the sound of Tshukudu's (the next door neighbours) lions (in a breeding encampment) coughing and roaring deeply into the night. Being very tired after an eventful day we were soon asleep.

Picture on the right: On the morning game walk - Paul and Tony

At sparrows, Monday morning, Tony greeted us with lovely filter coffee, after which we went for a bushwalk. The crisp early morning air woke us up straight away and Tony pointed out and identified a variety of birds, trees and plants. The birds spotted included groups of blue waxbills (Uraegenthus angolensis), yellow-eyed canaries (Serinus mozambicus), Burchell's glossy starlings (Lamprotornis australis), grey louries (Corythaixoidus concolor) and many more. Just after we crossed paths with a big group of impala Paul spotted a pearl-spotted owl (Gaudidium perlatum) approximately 2 metres from us. This is the smallest owl in SA and apparently the second smallest owl in the world. This owl has a rounded head without the 'ear' tufts and has two black 'eyespots' in the back of its head to fool predators. During this walk we also met Drifters Game Lodge's tame spurwinged goose (Plectropterus gambensis). Apparently this particular bird was hurt and cannot fly and gets visited by wild spurwinged geese every year. This is the largest of all the waterfowl in this region and isn't really a goose but actually a duck.

After a 2.5 hour walk we returned to the lodge for a delicious breakfast served in a sunny dining room. All that was left for us was to pack up and bid Alma, Tony and the border collies farewell.

For more information

Drifters Game Lodge

Mohlabetsi Bush Camp

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