Wow! The end of the year has come and gone. I truly hope that everyone had a fantastic Christmas and New Year’s, filled with love and lots of laughter! On behalf of all the staff at Elephant Plains, I would like to wish you a fantastic 2014, with lots of happiness and good fortune. The saying goes “end it with a bang” and that’s exactly what we did. The year 2013 did end with a massive bang, with game viewing being off the charts. Our guests were spoiled with amazing sightings, including different lion prides, cheetahs, wild dogs and mating leopards… But not just one pair of mating leopards, some of our guests saw three different pairs mating. Rangers often work for years without seeing mating leopards and we got to see three different mating pairs in a just over a week’s time. What a privilege. We also had the wild dogs around the water hole in front of camp once again and a kill just behind our lodge one night. I truly hope that they will now stay around so that they can den somewhere within our traversing area. That would be so amazing. To top off a great month of game viewing, our guests got to see a very relaxed pangolin, feeding in the open. Normally a ranger would only ever get to see pangolins once or twice in their career. Imagine what a special sighting this was. Not only seeing a pangolin, but also being able to watch him move around while foraging.
With all the rain, the vegetation has turned into a wall of greenery. The grass is long, the water holes are full and as a result, all the animals are in a great condition. With the baby boom we had last month, there are hundreds of little ones running around the bush, which in itself makes for great game viewing.
The lodge itself is also looking good. During winter time we water the grass to keep all the gardens up to standard. But in summer, all the goodness contained in the rain water just makes such a big difference, so the gardens are looking extra lovely. The longest day and shortest night has come to pass on the 22nd of this month, meaning that we now slowly start the countdown back towards the shortest day and the longest night in June. But there are still lots of long summer days left to enjoy and we have plenty of fun to look forward to.
Christmas day started off overcast and cool, but by nine the sun came out in full force. The day itself was amazing. Our guests had a relaxed day around the pool, with Walter pouring cocktails for them. Although the humidity was very high during afternoon drive, it was the first Christmas in years that it did not rain. Christmas dinner was a festive affair. Tersia was in charge of the decorations and the whole area was transformed into a lovely pallet of reds, whites and silver. Chef Annika made sure that the dinner was a highlight of the evening and her mini Christmas cakes were to die for. I am sure that all the guests that spent Christmas with us would agree. For New Year’s, Lanette was responsible for the decorations. Candles and fairy lights created a lovely ambiance. The braai menu was delicious and our guests celebrated until well after midnight!
During December, we welcomed a new member of staff. Amanda Truter joined our team and will be doing accounts, as well as relief reservations. With her bright, bubbly personality she has settled right in and we hope that she will enjoy working with us. I sometimes wonder if wanting to work in the African bush is in your DNA… Some of our staff members have been working out here for more than thirteen years, with no urge to return to city life. Yet there are some that would not be able to stay in the bush for more than a week. Some people need to feed off of the rush of a city, or as they call it, the “buzz”. But for bush people, the only buzz that we enjoy isn’t man made. It’s the roar of a lion on a cold winter’s night, the excited begging ritual of the spotted hyena and the low, deep grunts of a leopard on your lawn at one ‘o clock in the morning. No matter how many times you hear these night time sounds, they will always give you goose bumps, confirming why you belong out here and not over there. So it just goes to show, whether it’s in our DNA or not, we all have our differences in life and that’s what makes life just that much more interesting.
To all our guests who celebrated their birthdays this month, we hope you had a fantastic day filled with love and laughter. May your future hold many more happy and joyful days! To have your birthday close to Christmas must be great and hopefully you all received gifts twice this month! We had two birthdays this month, one being the youngest staff member at the lodge. Who am I talking about? Well, Martin Swart of course. He is really a sweet little guy and when he’s around us in the office, he always has a smile on his face. The big man celebrated his first birthday on the 11th of December and we were treated to a Jack Russell birthday cake. On the 24th Linah celebrated her birthday. She is one of the cleaning ladies who make sure that the rooms are spotlessly clean and what a great job she does! I hope both of you had fantastic birthdays.
This month’s trap cam picture was taken at Kraaines, one of the waterholes just west of our airstrip. In the early hours of the morning, we normally find some of the herbivores resting on the airstrip next to this waterhole, as they would often spend the night on the airstrip. Because the airstrip is a large open area, it is a safe haven for these animals. Sleeping in an open area, the animals have a 360° view of their surrounds and would be able to see when a predator tries to sneak up to them from the tree line. Once the predator has been spotted, they would all sound the alarm, alerting each other of the predator. So this month’s photo is of some impalas and zebras coming off the airstrip to have their first drink of water after the long night.
I now hand you over to our Head Chef, Linda van Heerden, for her delicious recipe of the month. These cupcakes are evil, as it’s really hard to stop eating them once you’ve started. I know that a lot of guests have asked for this recipe, so here it is.
Line a muffin tray with cupcake cups. Mix all the dry ingredients together, then mix all the wet ingredients and then combine the two mixtures. Divide the mixture into the cupcake cups, and bake for 15-20mins, until a skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool.
Bring all the ingredients to the boil until it starts to thicken slightly. It should be a dark, caramel colour. It will take around 15 – 20mins. Beat the 1 ½ cups of cream until stiff, and then spoon half of the sauce into this and beat until it is all incorporated. Keep the other half of the caramel sauce for garnishing later on. The caramel cream should be stiff.
Beat the butter for around 2 mins, then add the icing, and beat until combined, adding a little milk at a time and add the vanilla. Spoon into a piping bag.
Using an apple corer, make a hole in each cupcake and fill the cavities with the caramel cream. Then pipe the icing over the top, covering the hole that was made. Use the extra sauce to drizzle over the top of the cupcakes.
Serve and enjoy!
Well, that’s all from my side this month and for the year 2013. We are looking forward to a brilliant 2014. Have a good one!