Going anywhere with the KidZ in a car, and that includes the local supermarket a couple of blocks from home, more often than not result in a back seat battle of some sorts. When those back seat battles start to take on epic proportions and I'm forced to stop in a cloud of dust on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere to threaten them that I will be kicking them out the car and leave them just there, then you know this dad has had enough. But enough of our domestic driving problems. What were we doing on a dirt road and where were we going, the travel minded amongst you ask? We were heading towards the 5 star Kuzuko Lodge situated in a concession area in the northern section of the Greater Addo Elephant National Park. It was the first time we've taken the KidZ to a major game reserve and lodge and that was probably why they were so hyped up in said back seat in the first place.
The lodge is situated on top of a hill with beautiful views across the valley covered in Karoo bushveld. Guests are accommodated in 24 luxurious chalets, each with its own private deck. It was on this private deck I sat just before bed time looking up in awe at the milky way overhead, seen like you don't see it in the city. A great white line across the sky made up of millions of twinkling stars. But I digress. The spacious chalets feature an en-suite bathroom with bath and walk in shower, all the other amenities that normally come standard with such a lodge (in this case also with free WiFi), a twin or double bed and a foldout couch for children with a maximum of two children under 12 years of age allowed per chalet.
From the reception area we were whisked to the lodge in a game viewing vehicle and after a welcome drink had a quick tour of the facilities before being allowed to settle in and relax. The KidZ loved the view from our private deck but it didn't take long for them to discover the Wii connected to the big plasma television in the main lounge and they were out under our feet, joining a couple of other kids in a game of Wii tenpin, golf and tennis.
Three o' clock meant it was time for the pre-game drive high tea which was so much more than scones, crumpets and cucumber sandwiches. To be honest, I would rather have Kuzuko high tea than a full on lunch any time. The Wii was like magic for us as the KidZ had to sit still and eat if they wanted to go back playing, but a magic trick it sure was. Eat you here, eat you there and poof... they were gone. Ok, so I'm not one who's big on televisions at game lodges, but this one was keeping the KidZ busy, giving the Damselfly and I some time by ourselves. But if you want to relax you go to a spa, which Kuzuko has one of by the way as well, and before we knew it it was time for our afternoon game drive.
Ranger Romeo met us at the open land cruiser with the Damselfly and Drama Princess taking up the middle seat and Chaos Boy and I going on the back, often bouncy trampoline seat. Romeo did warn us that it's behind the wheels, but I would endure the little bit of extra bounce for the benefit of having an uninterrupted view (and photo opportunity) behind me in case of a good sighting. After a couple of Cape Mountain Zebras and Kudus, our first Big 5 sighting presented itself. Kuzuko's two male lions, Kalahari and Matt was having a siesta in the late afternoon sun. There was a moment of panic by Drama Princess which we thought was because we got too close to the lions, but turned out to be the vehicle taking a bump through a ditch. The lions themselves didn't scare her at all. A brilliant sighting like this early on boded well for the rest of our stay
Romeo was the perfect ranger. He's knowledge was outstanding but he didn't bore us with all the details unless we wanted to know. Ours weren't the only children on the vehicle and he switched from giving us serious info to joking with the kids, mixing it up just enough. Then word came through, although it sounded like he knew it already, that another member of the Big 5 was hanging out in a valley on the other side of the lodge. So off we went hopping along the uneven road to look for the biggest of the Big 5, Loxodonta africana, or the African Elephant.
The herd was making their way down the valley when we found them. One of the highlights of the drive happened next. A young bull browsing a little way away from the rest of the herd didn't see them move off and suddenly found himself all alone. He threw a bit of a tantrum and went running down the road after the others. Made me think of the kiddies rhyme about the piggies with the 5th piggy running "wee, wee wee" all the way home. Romeo slowly made his way around the herd for us to get a better view - in the process "treating" us to a mock charge by the matriarch - and for the next 20 minutes or so we sat and watched these magnificent animals go about their peaceful way. We even had Saracen, the local dominant bull, give us a walk by.
With the sun heading towards the horizon at a leisurely pace, Romeo drove us to an open area where approaching animals could be seen from a distance for our sun downers. With cold drinks for the kids, beers for the adults and snacks all around, the African sun set over the horizon in brilliant oranges and yellows. My favorite time of the day and my favorite part of the game drive. A time to really take in the surroundings, enjoy the smell of the veld and watch the end of another day. With dusk turning to darkness, Romeo turned the nose of the land cruiser back towards the lodge and we all knew that dinner was calling.
Dinner was a scrumptious affair of four courses for the adults and, impressively, a separate menu specially catering for children. The main menu started with an entreé of roasted tomato soup and followed by a starter of Bobotie or Green Salad. The main meal was a choice of Karoo Lamb Shank (which I had and I nearly chewed my lips off, mouth watering stuff), East Coast Sole or Blue Cheese Chicken. Dessert, for those who still had space was Tiramisu or Bread and Butter Pudding. The KidZ's choices off the kiddies menu were pizza - ham, biltong and cheese - for Chaos Boy and grilled hake and chips for Drama Princess. I had a taste of the fish and kinda wished I could have had a full portion of it while Chaos Boy wasn't going to share his pizza with anybody. Not even for a taste. Kudos to Kuzuko for catering for children separately.
Never being one to miss a game drive, and I'm happy to say that the clan all felt the same way and we got up early the next morning for the 7am morning game drive. Word was that the lions made a kill during the night and that they were still in the area so we headed straight in their direction, this time with Chaos Boy riding shotgun and being on the lookout for anything and everything.
Once again we weren't disappointed with Kalahari and Matt sleeping off their meal in the morning sun with Matt only getting up when we blocked his sun. Like before Romeo maneuvered the vehicle so that we could get some striking photographs before heading on in search of another big cat. This one being the world's fastest land mammal. The cheetah. Kuzuko has two male cheetahs, Batman and Robin, both who wear radio collars for when guests go on cheetah walks and they need to be found quickly. We didn't make use of the signal to find them, preferring to do it the hard way. Ironically enough they seem to have found us rather then the other way around as somebody looked back and saw them casually strolling down the track after the vehicle.
Our last major sighting and the third of the Big 5 to be spotted was Cape Buffalo. Probably the most underestimated of the Big 5, buffalos live in herds and can be extremely dangerous when threatened. The buffalo was also the animal we got to see the closest with one old bull literally rubbing himself up against the land cruiser's back bumper.
The game drive was followed by a hearty breakfast back at the lodge, but this also meant that our visit was nearly over. The KidZ gulped down their food and went to play a last game of Wii sport while we were in no hurry to leave behind this little spot of paradise, taking our time and enjoying the view, trying to imprint it on our minds. Then it was time to go, pack our bags, say our goodbyes and head on to our next destination.
Kuzuko showed that they can proudly carry the right to be called a Place of Glory. Visitors and guests can look forward to a stunning lodge and suites, designed for comfort and don't look over the top like some lodges I've seen before. The food is good and the rangers, in our case Romeo, knowledgeable, friendly and, like the rest of the lodge, accommodating and patient with children. One word of warning though. Don't come to Kuzuko expecting to see huge herds of animals. Kuzuko is situated in the southern part of the arid Karoo which means less water, less grazing and subsequently smaller groups of animals. It doesn't mean that the quality of the sightings we has was less. On the contrary, the sightings along with the unique beauty of the Karoo meant that we left happy and with some stunning photographs. As for the KidZ, they want to know when we'll be going to a game reserve again.
Disclosure: We were invited to Kuzuko Lodge and stayed on a complimentary basis while our transport and drinks were for our own account. I received no additional remuneration to write this post and all views expressed are my own.