As we ticked off the second month of the year, I can’t help asking what is going on with our weather. It has truly been quite unpredictable since January. We’ve had a lot of cloudy days with high humidity, only to see the sun come out behind the clouds for a while, before the sky closes again for a quick thunder shower. But then again, if everything in life was predictable, how boring would that be?
I mentioned in my previous reports that we were planning to do some work at the lodge and we started at the beginning of the month. First up was the dining room. We took out all the wooden door frames and replaced them with aluminium frames. These new doors have made quite a difference. The frames are not as wide as the original wooden ones and allow a lot more light into the room. We are very happy with the end result! We also gave one of the Luxury Suites a revamp. We closed Zebra Suite for a few days and this allowed us to also replace the frames with aluminium. While it was closed, we repainted the room and did some more work to it. It looks brand new! Over the course of the next few months, we will be renovating all the rooms and we are very excited about this venture.
This month we did not see much of Morné, our head ranger. You might ask why? Well, the poor man had to have a knee operation. Morné has been struggling with his knee for some time, after he injured it a few years ago while we were playing touch rugby on EP airstrip. As time passed, the problem worsened and his doctor confirmed that he needed an operation to repair some badly damaged ligaments. I am happy to report that the operation was a huge success and that he would be back at the lodge by the end of March. We wish him all the best with the recovery. Should a hippo chase us in the future, he might just be able to keep up now! In the interim we were joined by a familiar face. Stephen Pieterse, who also used to be head ranger and later manager, re-joined the team for two weeks to help out with game drives. I believe that Steve enjoyed to be back at EP and enjoyed his time here. We would like to thank him for helping out when we needed an extra ranger. I will be driving from middle March until Morné returns and am also looking forward to spending some time in the bush, sharing this beautiful area with our guests.
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 joyful days! At the lodge we had a couple of birthdays. On the 1st Morné celebrate his birthday. If you read our newsletter, you would know that as head ranger here at EP, Morné writes all the Rangers Reports, informing you of all the ins and outs that happened in the bush the past month. Morné has been with Elephant Plains for seven years now and we hope to still have him on staff for many more years. On the 2nd Morné’s tracker, Derrick, celebrated his birthday. As many of you, who have been on drive with these two, would know Derrick is a brilliant tracker and can follow animals deep into the bush. Next up was one of the faces that you would definitely remember if you’ve visited EP before, our barman Walter. He celebrated his birthday on the 7th, as always with the biggest smile possible on his face! Marlet celebrated her birthday on the 24th. As she spends her weeks in Nelspruit with Etienne jnr. being in school now, we did not see her, but I am sure that she had a lovely day spent with family and friends.
This month we employed another staff member. With the lodge being so busy, we thought that it would be a good idea to get an extra person to help out in a few areas, as needed. Marie van Wyk is a very hard working person that will go a long way here at lodge. She was brought up on a farm, so the bush is no strange place for her. She and her sister used to have a chicken farm that supplied some of the high market shops here in South Africa with chickens. She then went to Cape Town to try and see if she would be able to make it away from farm life, but needless to say she is back where she is happy and what better place to be, than the Sabi Sand! We also appointed a new maintenance manager, Hendrik Snyman. He started with a bang and we are very happy with what he has achieved so far. We hope that both of you would fall in love with the lodge, like all of us have and that you would enjoy working here for many years to come!
This month’s trap cam picture is two Waterbuck females, drinking water at Rampan. The name Waterbuck pretty much says it all. They like to stay around large areas of water and most times you will find them standing in the water itself, feeding on water cabbage. They are attractive antelope, with a massive white ring on their rump and a lovely, soft face. They do, however, carry a strong smell about them, as they have many glands on their legs. From being in and out of the water, they have a tendency to smell like a wet dog on a hot summer’s day! Overall, they are the (somewhat smelly) teddy bears of the bush, with their soft faces and shaggy coats.
I now hand you over to our Head Chef, Linda van Heerden, for her delicious recipe of the month. Chicken Milanese is a refreshing option for a hot summer’s afternoon lunch.
Start by making the salsa. Cut the onion, sweet peppers and tomatoes into small blocks, season with coriander, salt, pepper and garlic. Mix the thyme, oregano, oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper for the marinade and place the chicken breasts into this. Arrange the chicken breasts onto a baking tray, allowing to marinade for about 2 hours. Bake for about 20mins. Once the chicken is cooked, allow to cool, slice into slices across the breast. Arrange the chicken onto plates, with some of the salsa over the top. Serve chilled with some honey and mustard dressing.
Honey mustard dressing:
Mix together well.
Serve and enjoy!
Well, that’s all from my side this month. Have a good one!
Here’s to new beginnings in 2014! I truly hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday time with family and friends and that you returned home safely, rested and ready for 2014!
This is the first January in a few years’ time that I don’t have to mention how we got flooded during the month. I thank my lucky stars that all went smoothly and the drastically heavy rains chose to give us a breather this year. However, there were still two days during which we received some very good rains. The main Manyeleti River did not come down in flood, but the smaller Pungwe River was in flood for a few hours the one morning. It was a bit tricky for a 4×4 to go across, but it was doable. There was just one problem, though… We had two sets of guests that were driving sedans and wanted to leave early the morning. But there was no way that they would have been able to cross in their low vehicles. So we sat it out and gave the swollen river time to calm down. At 9:30 we decided that the smaller cars would now be able to be towed through. Devon and I towed the cars through the river in reverse, so as to prevent water pushing up into the engines and air filters. Both cars got across easily and with no hassle. The month of January was also quite hot, with some days where temperatures reached into the middle 40 °C.
The sightings have reached a point of almost becoming unreal during the past few months. Our January guests were once again treated to various lion, leopard, wild dog and cheetah sightings, to name but a few. I don’t want to speak to soon, but it seems as if there might be one or two cheetahs that are possibly considering making part of our traversing area their home, which would be awesome! The reason I am saying this is because we have been viewing them more regularly than in the past. So let’s hold thumbs for this! On one of the morning drives, our vehicles had just left the lodge when they bumped into the Breakaway pride of lions and all their cubs, feeding on a zebra kill on our airstrip. There is no better feeling than to start your drive with a bang, then knowing that for at least the next two days, feeding lions are going to be a stone’s throw away from the lodge!
This month we will be saying goodbye to Braam, who was our maintenance manager. His passion has always been to get involved with anti-poaching, so he is leaving us to pursue his dreams in that field. We would like to wish him good luck with his future endeavours. Anti-poaching is a very important part of the industry and I do hope that he will be happy with his new career path. We have not yet found a replacement for Braam, so you will have to stay tuned to next month’s report to see who gets to fill his shoes.
With the trapcam picture for this month, I thought that I would show you a night time shot. The trap cam has an infrared light with a motion detector. This is so sensitive that it can even pick up movement at night. We always get great day time shots of diurnal animals, but have not yet posted a night time shot of a nocturnal animal. Well, here we go! The trap cam picture of the month is of a hyena drinking water late at night. Hyenas have the reputation of mostly being scavengers. Well, that’s not true at all. Hyenas have loads of stamina and strength in their front shoulders. They also hunt down their own prey by running them down, until the prey cannot go anymore. Once they get hold of the prey, they would start tearing the animal into pieces. I know that this sounds very harsh, but when you come to think of it, it’s quick and relatively painless to the animal, unlike being suffocated over a couple of minutes. Lions are known to take up to 30 minutes to suffocate a buffalo. I hope you enjoy this trap cam photo of the month!
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! At the lodge, we had no birthdays this month.
I now hand you over to our Head Chef, Linda van Heerden, for this month’s delicious recipe.
200g Button Mushrooms, sliced
½ Onion, diced
1 tbsp. Thyme
1 tbsp Garlic
2 tsp Butter
1 tbsp Olive Oil
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
½ French Loaf
3 tbsp Basil Pesto
Parmesan Cheese for garnish
Fry the onions in the butter and olive oil mixture, until they are just tender. Add the mushrooms, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. Sauté until the mushrooms have cooked and all the liquid has evaporated.
Slice the French loaf into 1 cm slices, brush with garlic oil, then toast in the oven until it is golden.
Spread the basil pesto over the bruschetta, and spoon the mushroom mixture over this. Using a vegetable peeler, make parmesan shavings. Drop the shavings on top of the bruschetta. Add a rocket salad that has been dressed with salt, pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Serve and enjoy!
Well, that’s all from my side this month. Have a good one!
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!
Wow! What happened to the year? At first we were counting down the days till we would receive our first cold winter spell. Then before you know it, the winter season has come and gone at lightning speed. Now summer is in full swing! You need to come and see for yourself how beautiful the area looks after all the rains we have received. Every day now you can see the vegetation becoming denser. Everything is brilliantly green, with bright flowers starting to bloom on some of the trees. With summertime, all the babies arrive. It seems to happen overnight! Most of the impala, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest and warthogs have little ones running around with them. All the attention seems to be set on the herbivores and their young. One can just drive a few hundred meters from camp and be entertained for hours on end. I was on drive again for a few days this past month and as always it was brilliant to be driving and to see all the new animals. To see baby animals take their first stand, or run for the first time is priceless. The funniest is to see a red billed oxpecker land on a baby herbivore for the first time – they get such a fright that they take off like a rocket! They have no idea yet why this feathered animal would land on their head and that it is actually a friend, only wanting to help rid them from all the parasites. The one morning drive my guests and I were almost lucky enough to see an impala giving birth, but she slowly walked into the tree line and disappeared to give birth in privacy. Some of our rangers were luckier, though. They saw a zebra giving birth on our open area in front of the lodge! Guests sometimes think that we see such amazing sightings every day. Well, we do get to see amazing sightings, but some of these sightings, like a zebra giving birth, we might only get to see once a year, or sometimes once in our lifetime. Most of the time it’s about being lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. What a privilege.
Once a year we have a lady that comes and inspects the lodge. You might ask who and why? Well, Lisa Dunn is from the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa and her task is to come and check that our service and facilities are all up to standard and to find out what our plans for the new year might be. As most of you would know, Elephant Plains Game Lodge is a four star game lodge. I am proud to say that she did a thorough inspection of the lodge, from top to bottom and was very happy with what she saw. She mentioned that the lodge was very well kept and that the gardens were also looking great. There is a lot of planning and hard work that goes into the upkeep of a lodge, but we always do our best and it really makes you proud when someone notices this hard work. We are excited about a few minor changes that we are planning to make during next year. You will need to come and see for yourself what these changes are!
We will be seeing a new face around the lodge next month. Lanette van den Merwe has been appointed as our new Spa therapist, as we will be saying goodbye to Eve Viet. Eve has decided to go and work on a yacht out at sea and to travel the world. We wish her all the best with her new adventure! Lanette is from Johannesburg, but she wants to place her roots back into the African bush, where she loves to work and we are sure that she will learn to love Elephant Plains as much as we all do. We have also said goodbye to Marlé Erasmus who has decided to go back to Nelspruit where she can work closer to her family and friends. We are still looking for a lady to replace her and hopefully by next month we would have found the right person to take on the position for relief receptionist and accounting.
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! We had only one staff member who celebrated her birthday this month. Feitah Mathebula has been working at Elephant Plains for the past nine years. She started as a cleaner, who then later took on the role of looking after Etienne Jnr. Now that he is all grown up, she is babysitting Martin. With her kind soul and big smile, she is helping to raise the kids at EP. We hope you had a wonderful day. May there be many more!
This month we placed the snap cam at Rampan. We got a nice photo of two small baboons in a tree and a hippo in the water.
I now hand you over to our Head Chef, Linda Van Heerden for her mouth watering recipe of the month. It is a Cranberry and Pecan Nut salad, ideal for those hot summer days under the African sun.
(serves 6 side servings)
Wholegrain Mustard Dressing
Bring the orange juice to the boil and pour over the cranberries. Set aside to cool down. Cut the pecan nuts into threes. Arrange the lettuce onto a platter. Then sprinkle the rehydrated cranberries and pecan nuts over this. Make the dressing by mixing the wholegrain mustard, olive oil and vinegar. Pour over the salad. Serve and enjoy!
Well! That’s all from my side this month. Have a good one!
Just when we thought we could pack away our warm clothes, we got hit with a massive cold front. It is no surprise that one can always make conversation about the weather – there is always something to say about it! We had temperatures of 43°C the one day and it plummeted to 14°C the next, while raining. Oh, what lovely rain we had! I am glad that the rain we received did not come with aggressive lightning, though. On the Friday night the temperature was still 32°C at 23:00, with a very warm wind behind it. Should we have received a lightning strike under these circumstances, we would have had our hands full. But all ran smoothly and the clouds moved over from the south like a thief in the night. It started raining softly at 02:00 in the morning without a rumble of thunder, or flash of lightning. Soft rain is a lot better than a cloud burst. At least we know that all the rain we received settled nicely into the ground, injecting fresh moisture into all the plant roots. With a cloud burst, the rain pours down rapidly and ends up running off. This is known as sheet wash, with very little water seeping into the ground. The three days of drizzle we received definitely kick-started the vegetation! I always try to remind myself to carefully watch the vegetation each day, trying to spot the exact moment when it starts turning green. But time and again after the first summer rains you wake up one morning, finding that the bush has transformed overnight from the dull brown colour, into a lively tapestry of green! Nature is truly amazing.
Our rangers did their Advanced Rifle Handling assessment this month. Every two years, we get an evaluator that comes to the lodge to examine the shooting capability of our rangers and trackers. Let me tell you, these guys can shoot! It’s not easy at all. The first part of the shoot is very basic and you have fifteen seconds to complete it. You are blindfolded and have to load five rounds from the pouch on your belt into the magazine of the rifle without dropping any rounds. Once you’ve completed this you have to unload the rounds from the magazine and place them back into your belt pouch, again without dropping them. Should you drop a round, you would fail the exercise. Then comes the grouping at 15 meters. On your own time, you need to fire three shots at one target that has a circumference of 7cm. Next comes the 15, 10 and 5 meter groupings where you have 11 seconds to shoot once at each of the targets, attempting to hit them all in the bull. After this exercise come the harder ones. At a 10 meter target, you are given three rounds in the magazine and three in your pouch. The trick is that one of the rounds in the rifle is a dummy. So while shooting the three rounds at the 10 meter target, you will at some stage hit the dummy round. You then need to eject the dummy round as quickly as possible. Once all the rounds are finished, you then need to reload the three rounds from your pouch and fire a fourth shot at the target, ending the exercise. The second last exercise is to shoot at two buffalo targets, having to hit the brain. You have a target at 12 meters and one at 8 meters. The brain is as big as a lady’s fist. Even if your round skims the line, it will not count. This is quite tricky when you have the clock running against you. The last exercise is a target of a lion on a sled that is pulled towards you at high speed. You have to give a whole list of commands to your “guests”, shout at the lion, then drop to one knee and shoot a brain shot. Once that has happened, you have to keep group control and investigate the target. Only once you know your target / lion is dead and you have made your rifle safe, can you call out to end the exercise. I am proud to say that our guides did really well!
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!
With this month’s Trapcam photo, we were lucky to catch a lovely herd of buffaloes, while drinking water at Bushcamp East. We first tried something different by placing the camera facing down Bushcamp East Road. In the past we’ve had some lovely footage of animals patrolling the area, while walking along the road. You would be surprised as to how many animals walk the roads to travel from point A to point B. Most times, your territorial animals walk on roads, as they make great boundaries. Other animals walk on roads as there are no trees or obstacles in their way. We once had Salayexe and her previous cub caught on camera like this. But our luck was out this time around! Murphy’s Law: all we had were hundreds of photos of game drives vehicles driving past, so we quickly repositioned the camera so that it faced the water and voilà! A lovely breeding herd of buffaloes.
I now hand you over to our Head Chef, Linda van Heerden, for her delicious recipe of the month.
Mix the dry ingredients together and then add the nuts. Mash the bananas and add these and the carrots to the flour mixture. Beat the eggs into the oil and add to the dry ingredients, making sure to beat well. Pour the mixture into a greased Bundt cake tin. Bake at 180 °C, for about 20-30 minutes until the mixture is cooked and a testing needle comes out clean. Allow to sit in the tin for 5 minutes and turn it out onto a cooling rack.
Cream the butter and icing together, then add the cream cheese and vanilla. Spoon the icing onto the carrot cake and garnish with pecan nuts.
Serve and enjoy!
Well, that’s all from my side this month. Have a good one!