The final countdown has arrived… just one more month until we welcome the new year. With the bush now once again wearing its bright summer colours, we are looking forward to an eventful summer! Game viewing has been amazing and with all the new babies that were born during this month, there was never a dull moment. We also ended the month with a few very welcome cool days and rain. The forecast going into December shows some very hot days. If you are visiting us during the next few weeks, please be sure to pack your hat and sunscreen. Each year November, we have a “birding day” at the lodge where our staff members form a team to compete against our next-door neighbours, Arathusa Private Lodge. This has become a yearly tradition, with the winning team being awarded a birding trophy. This is always great fun! The competition does not have a lot of rules and the main goal is to identify as many different bird species as possible, between 05:00am and 07:00pm. So, between these hours, if you see or hear it, you can claim it! Last year, Elephant Plains won the competition. This year, we were unfortunately defeated by 4 species, but we accepted our second place with great pride. With the birding trophy displayed in our reception area, we are already looking forward to next year, when we can hopefully once again engrave our own name on the plaque, as the 2018 winners.
This month we started a big maintenance project at the lodge, behind the scenes and a few feet above the ground… We are giving our thatched roofs a little makeover. What does this all include, one would ask. Well, think of it as going to the hair salon for a cut, colour and blow-dry. As thatch roofs age over the years, the top layers of grass start to rot and they take on a pale, black appearance. Sometimes a roof can also develop a small leak, due to our resident vervet monkeys sometimes pulling out blades of grass, while playing on their self-discovered jungle gyms. Firstly, a special brush is used to remove all the rotten pieces and straighten the grass back into place. Just like brushing your hair. On some of the places, bundles of grass are also replaced where needed, to cover the thinning spots. Lastly, the edges are neatly pushed back into place, leaving the roof looking brand new. It is quite amazing to see the contractors in action. What a big difference a good brush can make! We are done with the main lodge area and the majority of the rooms. Just a few more strokes and all the roofs will be good as new again.
With the active hyena den on our property, it is hard to resist the temptation to spy on them. The trapcam was placed at the den and in a very short period of just 4 days, the memory card was completely filled up with 2700 pictures. We now have a very good idea of what their daily activities are: eat, play, sleep, repeat. This month we had only one birthday at the lodge. Helen celebrated her special day on the 29th. Helen is part of our lovely team of housekeepers, keeping our lodge in tip top condition. Happy birthday Helen, I am sure there will be many more to come! To all our readers who celebrated their birthdays during November, we hope you also had a fantastic day, filled with happiness and laughter! This month, sous chef Yolandi, shares a mouth-watering recipe. Red Velvet Cupcakes are perfect for that special afternoon tea with family and friends.
Red Velvet Cupcakes
160 ml Cake flour 100 ml Castor sugar 1.25 ml Salt 5 ml Cocoa 1.25 ml Bicarbonate of Soda 100 ml Sunflower oil 60 ml Buttermilk 1 Egg 15 ml Red food colouring 1.25 ml White vinegar 1.25 ml Vanilla
50 g Soft butter 60 g Cream cheese 250 ml Icing sugar 2.25 ml Lemon juice/ a little squeeze of a lemon to taste and/or 2.5ml vanilla
Preheat your oven to 180°C. Prepare your muffin tin by lining each hollow with a paper case. In a bowl, sieve together the dry ingredients (flour, castor sugar, salt, cocoa and bicarb) and set aside. In another larger bowl, mix all the wet ingredients (oil, buttermilk, eggs, food colouring, vinegar and vanilla). Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and combine. Spoon into your cupcake cases, filling each to 3/4 full. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. In the meantime, prepare your icing by beating the butter and cream cheese together with a wooden spoon until well combined (about 3 minutes). Gradually add the icing sugar, beating all the while, until it forms a smooth icing. Adjust the consistency by adding a little more icing sugar if required. Then add the lemon juice and/or the vanilla to taste. Makes 6 Large Cupcakes. Serve and enjoy! As our next report will only be sent out in early January, I would like to wish each and every one of our readers a joyful Christmas and only the best for 2018. Whether you have a holiday planned, or are just relaxing at home with the family, do make the best of every second and travel safe! All the best till next month Tersia Fouché
Note from the webmaster: We’ve been working on upgrading the Big 5 Blog the past few months, and for this reason we have not been able to publish our regular manager- and ranger reports. We apologise for this but hope that you will enjoy the flood of news that has reached you the past two days, as we catch up with all the outstanding newsletters.
And so we have reached the halfway mark for 2017! Hot summer days are something of the past and we are enjoying crisp winter temperatures! This month, we placed the patio heaters back into the boma and guests are also enjoying the blankets and hot water bottles on game drives. Temperatures have been dropping day by day and we are now in the full swing of winter.
Although the bush can get very dry and pale during the winter months, there is a rainbow of colours around the lodge. The bougainvillea bushes and aloes are in bloom. The gardens are painted with strokes and blotches of orange, pink, red and yellow. The aloe flowers also attract the most amazing birdlife, making them just a little more special.
This month we started a new maintenance project at the lodge. Our old bar is getting a makeover. The structure as it stands today was built in 1993. This building used to be the original bar and dining area. Nowadays the old bar acts as the games room, where guests can relax and enjoy a game of foosball, table tennis or pool. Hendrik and his maintenance team have already made loads of progress. The floor and walls have been stripped and covered with a fresh layer of paint. Old lights have been revamped for an authentic look and are shining a bright new light. Watch this space! Our fresh new look, with a few exciting additions, is coming in July…
In order to be a qualified guide at Elephant Plains, the guides need to pass an advanced rifle handling assessment. This is known as ARH in our industry. The qualification is valid for three years. This month, Morné and Louis and Dawie Lombard reached the line where it was once again time for them to renew their ARH qualification. This assessment is made out of multiple range, speed and accuracy shooting. It consists of a simulating hippo charge, accuracy and timed shots on two different buffalo targets and general aiming skills. Morné, Louis and Dawie all passed their assessments with flying colours. The examiner was very impressed with their shooting skills. Congratulations guys! To fire that many accurate shots does not lie in everyone’s barrel!
Last month, our trapcam was back at our resident hyena den, just west of our airstrip. I am now convinced that their favourite early morning activity is to lie around in the shade, doing as little as possible. What happens at night is another story, though. Busy bodies move around the den from dusk to dawn. The biggest count we’ve had at the den is 28 individuals and the range from old, to young, to very small black pups.
Staff birthdays were few and far apart at the lodge this month. We celebrated only two birthdays during June. Remember celebrated his birthday on the 7th. Those of you who have visited the lodge recently would know him as the bubbly personality at front of house, assisting during check-ins. We are so proud of him. He started off as a waiter, then a barman and now he is a real busy body in our reception, keeping all the ladies on their toes. On the 26th Dudu celebrated her birthday. Dudu is part of our housekeeping team and also makes a big difference in the scullery, never missing a spot on a plate or glass. I hope you both had wonderful birthdays. To all our readers who celebrated their birthdays during June, I hope your day was filled with happiness and laughter.
I am very excited to announce that we will soon introduce our new menus. The chefs are hard at work, mixing and matching several options to get just the correct dishes paired and in place. So far, so good. With some final touches and adjustments to make, our new menus will soon be complete. Watch this space.
This month, head chef Mia, shares a recipe for some deliciously Éclairs. Be careful when baking these, you might just over-indulge!
250 ml Boiling water
125 ml Butter – cut into blocks
2 ml Salt
4 Large Eggs
500 ml Fresh cream
75 ml Icing sugar
1 ml Vanilla
300 ml Icing sugar
75 ml cocoa
15 ml soft butter
30 ml water
Put the water and butter in a pot and bring to the boil.
Add the flour to the water mixture.
Stir until the dough forms a ball. Remove from the heat and mix for 1 minute.
Let the mixture cool for about 5 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time and mix after each addition.
Pipe the dough onto a well greased baking pan. Leave some space in between for the éclairs to expand.
Bake at 220°C for 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 180°C and bake for another 25 minutes.
Prick each éclair when it comes out of the oven, let it cool.
Whisk the cream until soft peaks, add the icing sugar and vanilla. Fill each éclair with the cream mixture.
For the chocolate topping, sieve the icing sugar and cocoa together. Add the butter and boiling water until the correct consistency.
Spoon mixture over the éclairs, serve and enjoy!
Makes about 30 small eclairs.
Serve and enjoy!
All the best till next month
Winter has arrived and the bush is wearing its winter attire once again! We have the blankets and hot water bottles back on the game drive vehicles and game viewing has been spectacular! The trees and grass are not as lush anymore, which gives you a better view of all the amazing wildlife living around us. We’ve had a wonderful month at the lodge with guests from all over the world. If you have some last minute safari plans, be sure to contact our reservations office for some last minute availability during our winter special rates. Come and enjoy an evening around the fire in the boma with us and witness the most beautiful night sky Africa has to offer!
In the middle of May Etienne, Marlet, Anel and I once again took on the journey to Durban, to attend the annual Tourism Indaba. Our stand, tastefully decorated in crisp white and wicker, drew a lot of attention and we received loads of compliments. Thank you to each and every one who visited our stand. We met with loads of our well-known agents, but also got to meet a few new and upcoming ones. I am sure we will have many more years of good business relations with all of them.
With winter creeping up upon us, we see more and more activity at our waterholes. This month, the trapcam was placed on the road next to Leeukuil pan. There was a lot of traffic on this specific road during the time we had the camera up. We captured this beautiful waterbuck bull, gracefully moving towards the pan.
We welcomed a new but somewhat familiar face at the lodge this month. Dawie Lombard joined our ranger team just before the month said its last goodbyes. Dawie actually gained some practical experience at Elephant Plains in 2009 as a young student guide, fresh out of EcoTraining. It’s great having him back at the lodge and almost feels as if he never left, but just went on a very, very long holiday. Welcome back Dawie!
As always, we had some staff birthdays to celebrate. I celebrated my birthday on the 3rd and just the following day, Oom Etienne Swart had his special day. Although Oom Etienne lives in the Free State, his birthday is still special to us. To all our readers who celebrated their birthdays in May, I hope your day was filled with happiness and laughter!
Our recipe for the month is a creamy chicken sensation. These chicken phyllo cups are very easy and great for lunch. If you prefer to make a big pie instead of the single portions, just line a big pie dish and fill with the creamy chicken.
Creamy Chicken Phyllo Cups
1Kg Chicken breasts, cut to small pieces
Salt and pepper
Garlic & Herb spice
1 cup Frozen peas
1/2 cup Chopped spring onions
1 Roll Phyllo pastry
Melted butter to brush
Fry chopped spring onions in oil till soft. Add the chicken and fry till cooked but not dry. Add the frozen peas and fry till soft.
Spice with salt, pepper and Garlic & herb spices.
Make a basic white sauce, about 500ml, and add to the chicken.
To make the Phyllo cups
Cut Phyllo pastry in 10cm x 10 cm squares. Layer 3 sheets on top of each other. Place the pastry squares in a muffin pan and brush the sides with melted butter. Bake for about 5 minutes at 180°C till the sides are brown. Set aside to cool down.
Once cooled, fill the phyllo cups with the chicken mixture.
Makes 12 individual portions
Serve and enjoy!
All the best till next month.
Wild photo of the month by Paul, Sue and Mark Johnstone
April was another perfect month at the lodge. The bush and surrounds have changed a bit after the rain we had. The trees and grass transformed from a pale brown, to green overnight. One can still see that we are heading into winter, but the fresh green colours out in the bush were a huge relieve. At one stage, I was getting a bit depressed with the winter look that came too soon. Game viewing was magical and we had many groups at the lodge. They enjoyed the daily sightings.
African wild dogs by Louis Liversage
Now that winter is creeping up on us, we have changed our daily schedule at the lodge. We have moved our morning game drives 30min later, now departing at 06:00 and the afternoon drives depart 30min later, at 15:30. With daylight changes, we need to also change our schedule to ensure the best possible game viewing experience for all our guests. The morning game drives start off quite chilly, but then heats up towards the end of the morning drive and the afternoon drives are the direct opposite. You do not feel the need for a jacket at first, but just as the sun sets behind the mountains, a warm fleecy jacket is more than welcome! For those who will be visiting the lodge in the next month or two, please remember to pack those scarves and gloves. Should you not have space, you can also buy them from our winter stocked Curio Shop!
It is that time of year again, show time! April and May are two very busy months in the tourism calendar. The World Travel Market took place 19 to 21 April in Cape Town and our lodge was again represented by our marketing representative, Samantha Chatham at her Somewhere South stand. Soon Etienne, Marlet, Anel and myself will travel to Durban, to attend the annual tourism show, Indaba, on the 16th, 17th & 18th of May. The show is held at the International Convention Centre in Durban and we are very excited to present our wonderful product once again. During our time there, we make the most of every second, to meet up with all the familiar faces in the industry. We enjoy spending some face to face time with our agents and to also get to know new and upcoming agents and tour operators. If you are attending Indaba this year, feel free to visit our stand at any time, ICCG02. Hope to see you there!
This month the trapcam was placed at Bushcamp Pan. We caught this small tower of giraffe one afternoon. They are often sighted on our driveway towards the lodge. The young ones can get very curious sometimes. It almost looks like this one spotted the camera and posed for a family portrait with its mother.
We also had some birthdays at the lodge this month. On the 3rd Simon celebrated his birthday. He is one of the gardeners who keeps the lodge surroundings in tip-top condition and assists with general day to day maintenance. On the 13th, Etienne had his big day. The love and pride Etienne has for the lodge is bigger than anything I have ever seen. He is an inspiration to all of us and a wonderful boss to work for! Short on his heels was Janine, who celebrated her birthday on the 18th. Janine is well known in our reservation department. Then, last but not least, Joyce celebrated her birthday on the 30th. Joyce is one of our cleaners who makes sure that her rooms are always comfortable and cleaned to perfection. Happy Birthday to all of you! I hope you had wonderful birthdays and may you enjoy many more at Elephant Plains! To all our readers who celebrated their birthdays during April, we hope you also had a fantastic day, filled with happiness and laughter!
As we are slowly moving into winter, the recipe for this month is perfect for any occasion. Should you need something quick to add to an afternoon tea, or are planning a dinner,Vinegar pudding will never let you down. Although the name sounds a bit strange, you will be pleasantly surprised!
210 g Flour
100 g Butter
20 ml Apricot jam
200 g Sugar
250 ml Milk
5 ml Bicarbonate of soda
For the Sauce
250 ml Water
200 g Sugar
50 ml White vinegar
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Mix together the flour, sugar, butter and bicarbonate of soda.
In a separate bowl, beat together milk, apricot jam and eggs.
Lastly add the milk mixture to the flour mixture.
Keep the dough aside and finish the following sauce:
Bring to boil in saucepan the water, sugar and vinegar.
Pour sauce in an ovenproof deep dish. Pour the dough into the sauce and bake in the preheated oven, for about 45 minutes or until light brown in colour.
Serve with warm custard.
Makes one large or 12 individual puddings.
Serve and enjoy!
All the best till next month
Wild photo of the month by Alan and Gaynor Castle, UK
We are already through the first quarter of the year and the days just keep coming! March is the month where you first notice the season changing but with the high rainfall we had, the bush is not yet transforming to its normal winter appearance. With the abundance of grass in and around camp, we are seeing a lot more Bushbuck and Nyala antelope inside the camp. They visit us to feast on the green grass around the buildings, knowing that this area inside the fence is a safe haven for them, where they can even peacefully enjoy an afternoon nap during the day.
Hyena mother and babies by Morné Fouché
With all the rain and strange weather patterns, the animals also went a bit out of their normal daily routine, that we are accustomed to. Now, you might wonder what needs to happen for a ranger to freeze in his steps with a dumbstruck expression on his face? Being in the middle of the African bush, you never know what could happen after dark. We were minding our own business at home one evening, when we got a frantic call from Neil. At first I was unsure about the message I received over the radio, but after the second reply, it was quite clear. A young male leopard caught a wild dog, which he hoisted into a tree inside the lodge area. Luckily for the dog, the leopard lost his grip and dropped the dog. Unfortunately for the wild dog, on his way down through the branches, his foot got stuck. As if this entire situation was not bad enough, this whole scene played out right next to the swimming pool, just after dinner. We had to calmly first escort all the curious guests and staff away from the action as the leopard was still in the tree above the wild dog, with the rest of the pack circling close by to find their missing team mate. So, how do you get a dangling wild dog out of a tree? Neither Morné or myself had an answer to this question. Luckily, the leopard decided to move away, out of the tree and over the fence. The wild dog saw his gap and with some last bit of energy pushed himself up to free his foot. I am not sure if the expression of relieve was more prominent on Morné or the wild dog’s face! Luckily the wild dog had no serious injuries and quickly moved away from the area, in search of his pack. What a night!
This month the trapcam spent a few days at Bushcamp Pan. We normally catch the bigger animals on the move, but this Saddle Bill Stork decided to also show off his features. We celebrated some special staff birthdays at the lodge again. On the 6th, Yoldah celebrated her birthday. Yoldah is part of our housekeeping team and one of the friendliest people I know. On the 23rd Sidness had her special day. Sidness spends a lot of time in Nelspruit with Etienne Jnr and little Martin, but she still visits the lodge over school holidays and weekends. On the 26th Etienne Jnr celebrated his birthday. Ranger Louis celebrated his birthday on the 28th. Happy birthday ladies and gentlemen, I am sure you all had wonderful days. To all our readers who celebrated their birthdays during March, we hope you had a fantastic day, filled with happiness and laughter. Our recipe for this month is a mouth-watering mushroom risotto, by head chef Mia. With a rich and creamy flavour, it can be served as a starter, or a side dish.
1 litre Vegetable Stock 2 tbsp Olive Oil 1 Onion, finely chopped 2 Garlic cloves, finely chopped 250g Mushrooms of your choice 300g Risotto rice such as Arborio 175ml White wine 25g Butter 50g Parmesan cheese, grated Handful parsley leaves, chopped
Heat the oil in a shallow saucepan, or deep frying pan, over a medium flame. Add the onions and garlic, then fry for about 5 minutes until soft. Stir in the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and continue to cook for 8 minutes until the mushrooms have softened. Tip the rice into the pan and cook for 1 minute. Pour over the wine and let it boil, so the alcohol evaporates. Keep the pan over a medium heat and pour in a quarter of the stock. Simmer the rice, stirring often, until the rice has absorbed all the liquid. Add about the same amount of stock once again and continue to simmer and stir – it should start to become creamy, plump and tender. By the time the final quarter of stock is added, the rice should be almost cooked. Continue stirring until the rice is cooked. If the rice is still undercooked, add some water. Take the pan off the heat, add the butter and scatter over the cheese and half the parsley. Cover and leave for a few minutes so that the rice can take up any excess liquid as it cools a bit. Give the risotto a final stir, spoon into bowls and scatter with the remaining parsley. Serves 6 All the best till next month Tersia Fouché
Like I always say: “time flies when you’re having fun! It feels like just a few days ago, that we had our New Year’s dinner and we are already going into the second month of 2017. By now, I am sure most people are back home after the festive season. Some might be back at work and others at school. I wish everyone the best for 2017!
African wild dog by Neil Coetzer
At the lodge, we are busy as always. January was a very hot month overall and the rain we received was indeed a huge relief. We expected some action with the river, as we had good rains during the month. And yes, the Manyeleti river was flowing once again! I assume the areas outside had a bit more rain than we did, as the catchment area is situated outside the reserve. Nevertheless, the water levels weren’t very high and by the afternoon it had almost completely dried up. We still have some puddles of water in the river and the bush is quickly transforming. One can almost hear the grass growing after the rain! Another sound we cannot miss after the rain is the frog choir, which is active every evening. Toads and frogs off all different shapes, sizes and colours bundle together, making the most interesting sounds.
A small bachelor herd of buffaloes by Morné Fouché
Our maintenance team was also up and down on the roads, open areas and flood plains this month. Hendrik and his team gave the roads some special attention, slashing the grass on and around the roads. After the roads, they also slashed the grass on the flood plains in front of the lodge and the open areas on our property. These wide, open areas are a favourite amongst herbivores.
We also had a very special visitor at the lodge this month. Lisa Dunn, grading inspector from the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa spend a night with us on the 10th of January. Establishments are graded on a yearly basis, in order to renew their star grading. I am proud to announce that our grading has been approved and we are proudly wearing our 4 stars for another year!
This month, instead of a trapcam picture, I would like to share a picture of a daily occurrence we sometimes take for granted. One always see pictures of the most amazing African Sunsets. A beautiful natural canvas with intense hues of orange, to deep reds. I was amazed one afternoon by the warm yellow and deep purple-blue blanket that covered the lodge. It was almost as if the sky and clouds were fired up by millions of candles hidden amongst the clouds! I was out on the floodplains in front of the Manyeleti Honeymoon suite when this truly amazing sunset reminded me how blessed we are to live in the bush. What made the moment truly breath-taking, was that on the opposite side, a rainbow made its way into the slow fading light. What an incredible way to end off the day!
We celebrated only two birthdays at the lodge this month. First, starting the year in full celebration, was our waiter Happy who celebrated his birthday on the 1st. Then, just before we approached the end of January, on the 21st, our barman Victor celebrated his birthday. Both these young, vibrant men are seen daily in and around the bar and dining area, ensuring that our guests are served with a smile. To all our readers who celebrated their birthdays during January, we hope you also had a fantastic day, filled with happiness and laughter.
Our recipe for the month is a mouth watering one! Chef Juandré bakes the most amazing fresh breads every day. One of them is the Bacon and Blue Cheese bread for our lunch buffet. If you are a bread lover, serve this with a spread of butter and you will experience heaven on earth! If you prefer a basic country loaf, just give the bacon and blue cheese a skip.
Bacon and Blue Cheese Loaf
Bacon and Blue Cheese Loaf
450g Cake flour
30g Granulated sugar
7g Instant dry yeast
75g Blue Cheese
100g Bacon, chopped and fried
Flour to dust
Mix the flour, sugar and yeast in a bowl.
Add the water.
Add the bacon and blue cheese
Mix until soft, smooth and elastic.
Prove in a bowl covered with plastic until double in size.
Portion the dough and shape out in loafs, place on a greased tray and dust with flour.
Prove until double in size.
Bake at 240â°C for about 20 minutes until golden brown.
Turn out to cool.
Serve and enjoy!
All the best till next month