One can never know everything, and this is especially true for our wildlife around Makweti Safari Lodge and in the Welgevonden Game Reserve. The only way to evolve as humans is to constantly maintain the mindset of beginner’s mind, always being open and receptive to new ideas and information.
This is the exact stance that Makweti’s Neil Davison maintains as he sets about his daily work on the reserve. There is always something new to learn through observation, but also sometimes through discussion.
The following is a conversation that took place in February around a new and very rare sighting in Welgevonden that Neil was fortunate to capture. Enjoy the read!
“In February on a morning drive around Andres Pan I came across a bird I have not seen before. I identified it as a Eurasian Hobby, but was not completely convinced. I managed to get a photograph of the bird and decided to send it to Jonathan for verification as it would be an interesting sighting for the area for myself.”
Jonathan Swart is a Research Ecologist for Welgevonden Game Reserve. He came back to Neil with a positive response, also thinking that it was a Eurasian Hobby, but to be sure, he decided to send it to renowned ornithologist, Warwick Tarburton for confirmation.
Warwick was only too pleased to get back to Jonathan and Neil with his feedback.
Thanks for the e-mail and the interesting record. It is a Eurasian Hobby, yes, not yet fully adult as shown by the undertail coverts being mainly white, not chestnut. Seems from SABAP2 that it occurs very sparsely in the Waterberg whereas it was a regular summer visitor to the Nyl floodplain when we lived there.
Would Neil mind if we added his photo to the Waterberg website? And if he’s happy with this I’d need to have his surname to add to the photo.
Not only is that a first for Neil, but also for the reserve itself. What an honour to experience something so exciting!
What Does Makweti Mean?
The name “Makweti” refers to the woody tree with the succulent branches and leaves that is characteristic in and around the camp and is better known as the Bushveld Candelabra, or Euphorbia cooperi. It is believed that the local or traditional name in this region for the Euphorbia cooperi tree is “Makweti”, a Sepedi-derived name. Sepedi is one of the 30 recognised dialects of the Northern Sotho language group, which is widely spoken in the northern and western areas of South Africa.
The camp is built in an area of the Welgevonden Game Reserve that is referred to as the “Makweti Gorge”. This gorge lies north of the camp and is the area we look onto from our breakfast deck down towards the Taaibos River Valley. This was covered in our blog on the Makweti Tree in March 2018.
What Type Of Vegetation Is Found On The Reserve?
Makweti Safari Lodge falls within the Welgevonden Game Reserve in the Waterberg Region of the Limpopo Province of South Africa. This game reserve forms part of the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, which predominantly consists of vegetation known as savannah bushveld. The biosphere reserve is dominated by different bushveld types characteristic with mountainous savannah. The Welgevonden Game Reserve, which has vegetation dominated by sourveld bushveld and mixed bushveld falls within the core region of the 654,000ha Waterberg Biosphere Reserve. The biosphere reserve is home to 5,500 species of plants of which 43% are endemic to Southern Africa. It represents a considerable area of the savannah biome in Southern Africa, and is the only UNESCO-recognised Savannah Biosphere Reserve in the world.
The savannah biome is 1 of 7 recognised biomes of the world, and forms a large portion of Sub-Saharan Africa. Savannah is typically characterised as an African biome as the wide variety of mixed bushveld in savannah accommodates a multitude of herbivore species that form large grazing and browsing herds.
What Animals Come Close To The Camp?
We share the camp with a variety of local resident species of mammals, reptiles and birds. The resident Vervet Monkey troop are frequently seen and encountered. The Rock Hyrax or “Dassies” live among the rocks in which the camp is situated.
From time to time these resident species are visited by a variety of other mammal species found on the reserve. Sitting at the Indaba Lounge, overlooking the waterhole, one will witness the daily interaction between warthogs, impala, Burchells Zebra, wildebeest, kudu and chacma baboons. These regulars to our bushveld pub form the core of the groups of mammals seen at Makweti.
Elephant also frequent the camp looking for fresh water. Our waterhole supplies regular drinking water, but our swimming pools are also highly sought after. The pools found at chalets 2 and 4 are the number one choice for many elephant bulls.
There is a resident leopard in the mountains around Makweti, whose territory extends east of the camp and north into the Taaibos River Valley. She is shy and seldom seen, but we have caught her on camera and will often find her tracks on the road coming into camp. Jessica has been privileged to hear her on occasion on the hills behind the house.
Other night visitors who come into camp when all is quiet include brown hyena, honey badger, porcupine, civet and rhino.
How Many People Work At Makweti?
We have an excellent team who work diligently to ensure our guests have the most amazing experience possible. We are privileged to work with such committed people and are proud of their achievements on a daily basis. We have been featuring our staff in our People Of Makweti blogs, so keep an eye on who is next.
Our team comprises of lodge manager couple, 2 x guides, 1 x administrator, 1 x head chef, 1 x assistant chef, 2 x kitchen assistants, 4 x housekeepers and 2 x grounds and maintenance gents.
A total of 15 exceptional employees!
How Big Is The Reserve?
The Welgevonden Game Reserve measures 36,000 hectares in total. This equates to 88,920 acres or 360 km2. The reserve falls within the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, which is 654,000 hectares large in its entirety.
Welgevonden Game Reserve falls within the core of the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, which is 104,000 hectares large. The Waterberg Mountain range is 14,500 km2. By comparison, the world-renowned Kruger National Park is 19,485 km2.
How Old Is Makweti And Welgevonden Game Reserve?
In 1987, the concept of a game reserve was born. With the commitment of the private sector in South Africa and local farm land owners, the Welgevonden Game Reserve was proclaimed a conservation area in 1993. Pienkes du Plessis, the owner of the original farm “Welgevonden” had the initial vision of this ambitious conservation idea.
“I wanted to remove all traces of human activity from this landscape and reintroduce animals that had been lost to the area over time due to humans.”
In 1993, when the reserve was proclaimed, the internal fences between the farms were removed, conservation and land management activities were implemented, and a unique conservation area started to re-establish into its original state.
Shortly after the reserve’s official proclamation, development of the tourism model for the reserve was established, and in 1994 Makweti Safari Lodge was built, being one of the first lodges developed on the reserve.
Makweti Safari Lodge has remained a key player since, contributing to conservation initiatives and the promotion of the reserve and area as a whole for its significant ecological value as well as socio-economic significance.
Have All The Animals Always Been On The Reserve?
Yes and no. Of the 50 mammal species found on Welgevonden Game Reserve, all of them are indigenous and naturally occurring in this region.
In the early 1800’s, many species were hunted mercilessly with pioneers moving through this region. By the early 1900’s, many species were extinct from the area. On re-establishing the area to conservation status, key species were re-introduced into their natural environment. These included elephant, lion, white rhino and many general game species. Species such as kudu, klipspringer, impala, brown hyena and leopard would have occurred here naturally during the previous farming era, although in low numbers. Being protected under the conservation practices of the reserve, their numbers have grown considerably.
Although historically, many species would have been found here seasonally, moving into more fertile low-lying areas around the Waterberg range in the drier Winter months, they are now found all year round on the reserve where they are protected.
Spotted hyena were never re-introduced into the reserve as part of the Reserves Predator Management Plan, however, nomadic individuals from surrounding areas in the Limpopo, have re-established a small population within the reserve, regardless. This is exciting, as it shows that the conservation practices are allowing mammals, birds, reptiles and insects to move back into previously occupied areas on their own.
In November 2018, black rhino were re-introduced into the reserve, the first black rhino to walk in these hills for over a hundred years.
Why Does The Soil Differ In Colours In Some Areas?
The soils on the reserve are mostly based from sedimentary sand-stone rock, and as a result are relatively infertile, unable to hold the nutrients usually found in more clay or loamy soils. The Waterberg Massif has an abundance of iron and magnesium within it, which lends its colour to the resulting soils on the reserve. When exposed to water and oxygen, the iron in the rock and soils begins its oxidising process, resulting in the beautiful rich orange and red hues. Similarly, magnesium in its oxidising process results in the purple colours found in some areas.
How Many Key Species Are On The Reserve?
A game census is conducted most years around September, with a primary goal of establishing trends in animal populations, rather than to give a definite number of the species on the reserve. The numbers of each animal indicate changes in the ecological process within a seasonal change. For example: it indicates the success of animals birthing each year.
What’s in a number? Knowing the actual number of the species is of little ecological significance but following the trends year on year provides interesting insights into animal population dynamics, which are influenced by disease, drought, floods, rainfall and predator activity.
Currently on the reserve we have estimates of the following key species:
- Elephant * 130+
- Lion * 10
- Leopard * 25
- Cheetah * 15
- Hippo * 10
- Giraffe * 70+
- Zebra * 2,100+
- Impala * 1,500+
- Wildebeest * 1,800+
The rhino population is monitored closely and although we have a healthy population, figures are held secret to ensure their survival. The current rhino poaching situation in Africa is more than concerning and significant measures are always being taken to ensure these species are well protected.
What Is The Best Time Of Year To Visit Makweti?
The answer is simple – any time! Although the seasonal changes are noticeable, there is no single best time of year to travel to Makweti. Finding game in all seasons is a challenge we relish, and this makes it so much more exciting than having anything guaranteed.
Spring and Summer bring on the best in terms of the vegetation biodiversity, with plants flowering and fruiting and the reserve in vibrant, green splendour. Summer is a birder’s paradise with many migrant species returning to breed or simply overwinter in our warm climates as there’s an abundance of food available.
Winter brings everything we love about it: log fires, warm blankets, hot water bottles and the hearty fare that our Winter menus offer. The long Winter morning light provides great photographic opportunities and the wildlife look forward to the warm midday and early after sun as much as we do.
So, when is the best time to be Makweti? All the time.
- Words and photographs: Neil Davison
- Personal observations by the author on Welgevonden Game Reserve
- All the colourful guests who have passed through our doors
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 tbsp paprika
- 1 1/2 tbsp ground ginger
- 1 tbsp turmeric
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 shoulder of lamb
- Trimmed and cut into 5cm / 2 inch chunks, about 1.1kg / 2 1/2 lb meat in total
- 2 large onions, grated
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp argan oil
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 570ml tomato juice
- 2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
- 115g dried apricots, cut in half
- 55g dates, cut in half
- 55g sultanas or raisins
- 85g flaked almonds
- 1 tsp saffron stamens, soaked in cold water
- 600ml / 1 pint lamb stock
- 1 tbsp clear honey
- 2 tbsp coriander, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1. Place the cayenne, black pepper, paprika, ginger, turmeric and cinnamon into a small bowl, and mix to combine. Place the lamb in a large bowl and toss together with half of the spice mix. Cover and leave overnight in the fridge.
2. Preheat the oven to l50 degrees C / 300F / Gas 2.
3. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp of argan oil in a large casserole dish. Add the grated onion and the remaining spice mix and cook over a gentle heat for 10 minutes so that the onions are soft, but not yet coloured. Add the crushed garlic for the final 3 minutes.
4. ln a separate frying pan, heat the remaining oil and brown the cubes of lamb on all sides. Add the browned meat to the casserole dish. De-glaze the frying pan with 470ml / 1 pint tomato juice and add these juices to the pan.
5. Add the remaining tomato juice, chopped tomatoes, apricots, dates, raisins or sultanas, flaked almonds, saffron, lamb stock and honey to the casserole dish. Bring to the boil. Cover wth a fitted lid, place in the oven and cook for 2 hours or until the meat is meltingly tender.
6. Place the lamb in a tagine or large serving dish and sprinkle the chopped herbs over your dish.
Serve with pride, because it’s going to be a delicious dish! Best enjoyed with friends and family.
PS: If you use the metric system, use this conversion calculator to determine the different measurements.
The early summer rains have left the reserve looking spectacular this year. The rivers are in full flow, the floodplain areas in the central parts of the reserve are filling, and the flora has responded to this with great enthusiasm. The Makweti camp hasn’t been this lush or in such glorious splendour since February 2017, and the healthy diversity of plant life is amazing.
We are fortunate to stay in a camp that boasts a wonderful diversity of the trees found in the Waterberg region. Within the small footprint of Makweti, some healthy specimens are revelling in the Summer rain.
Kudu Berry (Pseudolachnostylis maprouneifolia)
The Kudu Berry is well known on the reserve. Usually about 4 – 6m in height, it can grow to 12m in areas with favourable conditions. It is recognised by light grey bark, which is fissured into segments of squares or rectangles. The leaves are ovate, sometimes curling inwards. Yellow petioles are clear at the base of the leaves. The flowers are small, greenish-white with a faint musky smell. It is best recognised by its fruit, particularly this time of year, but usually from May onwards. The small spherical fruit is green with faint white spots, falling off the tree whilst still green and ripening on the ground to a yellow-brown colour with a wrinkled exterior. These trees are monoecious representing male or female flowers on a single tree.
Just outside the reception area is a magnificent specimen of the Kudu Berry tree. It creates a green archway as you approach the Indaba Lounge from the main lodge area and provides valuable shade. This deciduous tree is a welcome relief for the Summer heat, but allows warming sunlight into the office during the Winter months.
It is browsed on by kudu and elephant and the Vervet Monkeys are often seen playing in it, raiding the tree of its abundant fruit. There are many specimens of the species in the camp, particularly around chalets 4 and 5.
Traditional uses of these trees include the following:
- Bark extracts are used to treat upset stomachs
- Smoke made from burning roots is inhaled and used to treat pneumonia
The tree’s name is derived from the fruit being popular with kudu. The Vhavenda people used to use an infusion of the bark and leaves to wash traps they set to catch kudu and other antelope for their meat and pelts.
This tree is a also favoured host for the larvae of the butterfly species Abantis paradisea better known as the Paradise Skipper.
It is an attractive tree all year round. In Summer it is lush and green and in full foliage, but it will change into a fiery wonder in Autumn or Winter, displaying a multitude of earthy colours.
Lavender Fever Berry (Croton gratissimus)
These trees are synonymous with rocky ridges and are in abundance within Makweti. They are a small shrub or tree with discoloured green and white leaves, although sometimes a bright orange leaf emerges too. The leaves themselves are striking features with silvery undersides and an aromatic scent when crushed. The flowers are small cream, golden-yellow in colour and occur in long spikes up to 15cm long. The flower buds develop in the rainy season, remaining closed and conspicuous during the dry season as rusty brown spikes. The flowers open at the first rains of the following rain season.
The tree provides browsing material for antelope and livestock. Elephant wondering into camp will often stop past chalet 4 and feed on the Lavender Fever Berries growing alongside the boma perimeter. There is a magnificent Lavender Fever Berry growing outside the kitchen on the pathway to chalet 3, with numerous specimens growing tall around the deck of the main lodge.
Traditional uses of these trees include the following:
- Leaves, dried and crushed were used by the San people as a perfume
- The charred and powdered bark is used to treat bleeding gums
- Cold leaf infusions are used to treat eye ailments in animals
- In Namibia the trees are used as stock feed for cattle where areas are very dry
The trees are beautiful and with their striking leaves and general pleasing shape and aroma, they are used more and more in gardens. The scientific name of this tree means “most pleasant” as a result of its overall character and scent.
This tree is a favoured host for the larvae of the butterfly species Charaxis candiope candiope. better known as Emperor Butterflies or Leafwing Butterflies, of which there are many varieties.
Pride of the Cape (Bauhinia galpinii)
This striking shrub is prevalent all over the camp, and Makweti boasts many beautiful specimens.
You cannot miss them when walking to the main lodge from the Indaba, as they flank the pathway all the way down. Chalet 1 and 2 have an abundance of them growing along their pathways too.
This species is a low-growing tree or shrub that is a vigorous climber, favouring hot areas of the country, mostly in the north and north-eastern parts of South Africa. It has become a popular garden species, and specimens are now seen all over the country. They are drought-resistant and able to tolerate poor soils.
Easily recognised by its leaf that is divided about ¼ of the length of the leaf and its almost heart shape appearance. The flowers are a bright salmon to brick-red colour, with paddle-shaped petals that are clustered at the ends of the branches.
Traditional uses of these trees include the following:
- The flexible branches are used for basket weaving and construction of roof trusses for grass and other huts
This shrub is a favourite host for the larvae of another butterfly species from the Charaxis Genus, Charaxis jasius saturnus, commonly known as Emperor Butterflies or Leafwing Butterflies. They are also known to breed on these shrubs too, laying eggs on the leaves.
Words and photographs: Neil Davison
- Personal observations on Welgevonden Game Reserve and other Southern African Reserves
- Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa, Braam van Wyk, Piet van Wyk, Struik Publishers, Cape Town, 1997
- Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of Southern Africa, revised and update by Meg Coates Palgrave, Struik Publishers, Cape Town, 2002
- Photographic Guide to Trees of Southern Africa, Braam van Wyk, Piet van Wyk, Ben-Erik van Wyk, Briza Publishers, Pretoria, 2000
We love introducing you to the people of Makweti, so that you can get a feel for who is standing behind the scenes, making all the magic come together! If you’ve visited us before then you will know these people, and will hopefully enjoy finding out more about them.
May we introduce Colin Smit; this is his story.
I was born in Zimbabwe, Harare (then still Rhodesia, Salisbury) in 1973. My mother was a tennis coach while my father was a school teacher. He had the dream of becoming a yacht skipper and actually built a thirty two foot ferro-cement sloop in our back garden. It was shipped to Durban, from where my father sailed it to Mauritius. It was here that my mother, brother and I joined him. We sailed to the Seychelles together, no mean feat for a mother with two children younger than two years old!
We lived in the Seychelles until I was six years old, at which time my parents separated. My mother met and married a farmer in the Eastern Cape and so the path towards my lifestyle became paved. My brother and I visited The Seychelles every so often, and then Mauritius once my father had moved there, probably paving the way to my brother’s lifestyle – that of a yacht skipper, just like our dad.
I went to boarding school, which was a big shock initially, but I came to enjoy it more once I’d made friends with the other farm kids. We’d regularly leave the school (illegally!) to explore the undeveloped land behind it. There we collected snakes and chameleons, and found as many birds’ nests as we could. I can’t remember wildlife actually being a passion then, but I do remember enjoying being “out there” immensely.
I wanted to be a veterinarian after school but failed my final maths exam and so ended up in the army in 1991. The discipline I learned there stood me in good stead. After working for two years (as a builder with my father who had returned to South Africa in 1989) I studied construction. Immediately after I qualified, however, I returned to the farm to work with my step-father. Having a direct influence on the wellbeing of the farm animals developed the love for the outdoors I had begun to feel when I was younger. After qualifying as a professional hunter I was almost happy.
My parents had to sell the farm and in 1999 I had to leave. Thanks to my experience gained while hunting I managed to get a job as a guide, something I thought I’d do until I could find a proper job. Twenty years later (I’ll never forget starting at Shamwari Game Reserve on 1 September 1999) I still haven’t left the industry!
I started as a low order jeep jockey, qualified to conduct walking safaris, became a deputy head guide and also trained my junior peers during the years I spent at Shamwari. I became part of the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve conservation team in 2008 where I met my Kenyan wife. We moved to Kenya in 2009 where I managed lodges and undertook walking safaris for Governors Camp. In total I spent six years in Kenya, working in one of the most beautiful places on earth. The people, many illiterate but mostly of an incredibly accommodating disposition, made the stay most memorable and in fact almost spiritual. It was clear to me I’d made the right choice choosing a career in the outdoors.
I returned to South Africa in August 2017 to work at Makweti, which is where I am still today. I have also developed a love for interacting with the guests who visit us, which is a huge part of the Makweti spirit of doing things. After all, we rub shoulders with people, literally, from all four corners of the globe. What a great way to gain a broad, informed perspective on life!
If you want to make something that is as exotic as it is delicious, this is your best bet. Plus it will offer a fond reminder of the cuisine that Chef Phillip and his team so lovingly create in the Makweti kitchen. Get the recipe here and make it at home. We’d love to hear how it turns out.
Get The Ingredients
Curry Poaching Sauce Ingredients
- 3 tablespoons / 30 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 1-2 tsp Thai (or similarly hot) curry paste
- 1 can coconut milk
- Coarse sea salt to taste
- 3 large potatoes
- Salt and black pepper
- 3 tablespoons salted butter
- 6 poached king prawns (to be poached in curry sauce)
- 1 large ripe mango, peeled and cut into cubes
- 1 – 2 tablespoons fresh chopped mint
- Zest of two limes
- 6 small skewers
- Grate the potatoes into a sieve and set over a bowl
- Leave to rest for 10 minutes and season potatoes well
- Heat a little butter in a large frying pan over medium heat
- Drop teaspoons full of potato into the pan, flatten slightly with spoon to form a flat round
- Cook two or three minutes on each side until golden brown
- Remove and drain on paper towel until ready to use
Prawns And Mango
- Remove prawn shells and de-vein the prawns
- Leave the tails intact
- On a low heat, place the curry paste and coconut milk on the pan until it comes to boil. Poach the prawns until just cooked
- Cut the mango into squares small enough to fit onto the rosti
- Using a skewer, thread the pieces, starting with the poached prawns, then mango and finish with a potato rosti
- Sprinkle with lime zest, fresh mint, sea salt and serve
- Garnish with cut limes for colour
Doesn’t that sound absolutely delicious? We know you’ll love eating these prawns as much as you enjoy preparing them. Enjoy!
Wishing all our friends and followers a magical festive season and happy New Year.
We look forward to seeing you again in 2019!
Unfortunately not everyone could be present for our end-of-year family photo. Zelly, Colin, Phillip and Zenzi were on leave at the time, but they were with us in spirit.
Until next year… be safe!
It is not often these days that you will head out on a game drive or outing in the bush without coming across the unique birds that are associated with several of the larger herbivores. Hopping around on the backs of buffalo, rhino or giraffe, these little brown birds with their distinct red bills and yellow ring around the eyes are an incredibly important species in the ecosystem. These are the red-billed oxpeckers.Read More
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
A partridge in a pear tree…
We don’t have a partridge or a pear tree, but we can give you the recipe for the most delicious Pear And Almond Tart! Whip this up for the festive season and you’ll have family and friends singing your praises!
Ingredients For Filling
50g caster sugar
1 fresh egg
1 tin pear halves (410g) drained
2 tbsp milk
50g plain flour
50g ground almonds
Ingredients For The Pastry
1 fresh egg
250g plain flour
50g ground almonds
25g icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C.
Grease a 24cm round tin, preferably loose bottomed.
Make pastry by sieving the flour and icing sugar into a bowl, mix in the ground almonds.
Rub in the margarine and bind together with the egg and a little cold water to make the pastry.
Lightly knead, cover and allow to chill.
Next make the filling by creaming the margarine and sugar together.
Beat in the egg.
Stir in the flour, ground almonds, milk and essence.
Roll out the pastry and line the tin.
Spread filling evenly over the pastry.
Arrange the pear halves, with the rounded side facing up, on top of the filling.
Bake for about 35 minutes, until risen and golden brown.
Leave in the tin to cool for about 10 minutes.
Remove from tin and serve luke warm with cream or ice cream.
Let us know how yours turns out and who you choose to share it with!
We’ve said it so many times and will continue to do so… life at Makweti is never dull and no two days are the same. There’s always something to see or do and we are frequently blessed with the most incredible sightings that any wildlife lover would wish for.