Monday, August 3, 2009


This report follows on from “Flight to Nelspruit “.

Taking off from Nelspruit airfield in a westerly direction, as is standard practise, we needed to circle around and cross the active runway in order to travel southeast. We had no sooner found our track when we crossed the R40, which goes southerly from Nelspruit to Barberton. We were heading for the Krokodilpoortsberge, south of Nelspruit and all within the KMIA CTR. It is a 10min flip to the institute so we kept low level and (conveniently) forgot to contact KMIA.

We were looking for a disused runway close to the Jane Goodall Institute, which was to be our landing spot. (pre-arranged with lodge, see below). We found it on the side of a hill. The runway has been closed but it must have made for interesting landings when it was still open. It is flat on the top and bottom with a steeply sloping middle with probably 100ft difference in height from one end to the other. We were basically able to maintain altitude as the ground came towards us at the hanger end of the runway. The rotor blades were still turning when the landrover arrived to pick us up. A very friendly young Irish volunteer, Murphy, was there to help us with our luggage and drive us the kilometre or two to the Umhloti Lodge.

It seemed we had parked in the middle of nowhere, but we were in fact already in the private reserve. The Chimpanzee Eden has been constructed in the forest in the heart of this reserve. The Umhloti Lodge offers 5 star accommodation adjacent to the Chimpanzee Eden (walking distance). As the lodge was hosting a motor vehicle adventure group, we had been upgraded to the stunning and spacious honeymoon suite. This has a private entrance and opens onto the gardens. The main adult chimp enclosure is less than 500 m away and drew us back time and again to watch these fascinating creatures.

The lodge is decorated in an African theme and has lovely large wooden decks looking towards Nelspruit, where drinks and meals are served (weather permitting). However, if you want lunch, and we were peckish after an early start, you need to walk down the hill to the Junglicious restaurant. This is attached to the large information and interpretive centre where day visitors start their tours. The restaurant serves breakfasts and lunches with a lovely outdoor seating area, which overlooks the juvenile chimp enclosure. These youngsters keep the diners well entertained with their antics – somersaults, clapping, chasing and tree climbing. They can make a weary traveller feel inspired with their zest for life and each other.

The Chimpanzee Eden is open 7 days per week from 9 am to 4 pm for day visitors from surrounding lodges and areas. They offer tours hourly between 10 am and 2 pm that take visitors around the perimeter of the semi wild enclosures and to specific viewing decks. One can observe the chimps behaving much as they would in the wild and see the family and social bonds they form. These chimps have mostly been rescued from cages or the pet trade in Angola, Mozambique or Sudan. Each has its own special story about their past and rehabilitation process. They are extremely well cared for in this sanctuary and much to our surprise, they go inside each night into their sleeping quarters. We heard strange calls the first night from some excited chimps.

The chimpanzees are let out from their night quarters at around 7 am to forage for their breakfast, which is left on the ground and in trees. So if you are resident, you can tumble out of bed to see this. The noise of the chimps will probably wake you anyway! Their 10 am “tea” is some more fruit during the public tour and this is repeated again at 2pm. They are creatures of habit and start gathering by about 3.30 pm. This is before their dinner and entry to the night quarters at 4pm. Unfortunately there are no viewing areas of these night quarters, but they sleep with hay and are protected from snakes, cold and disease. Due to their upbringing, they are often not bush wise enough to know how to cope with all these factors, which they should have learnt from their family groups. One quickly learns to identify some of the chimps with their specific style of behaviour and various personalities. Nikki, a large male, is a true character and loves interacting with the public (through the electric fence!)

Our weekend flew past and we were fully occupied learning about the chimps from the knowledgeable staff. We also wandered around a bit and saw impala, vervet monkeys and baboons. Apart from the odd chimp sound, which you get used to, it is peaceful and very relaxing. It is a bit cooler on this hill than in the Nelspruit valley. It is well worth a visit even if not for the night. Plan it as part of an Mpumalanga Lowveld tour!

Information Summary:

  • Website reference
  • E-mail for information :
  • Telephone for reservations and permission to land : 013-745-7406
  • Runway co-ordinates : S25 34.0 E30 60.0
  • 163nm one way
  • From lodge back to FAGC = 1.8 hours booked on charter hobbs

The airfield is in the top left of the picture with the access road curving around the hanger end (high end) of the runway. Umhloti lodge and the Chimpanzee Eden is in the bottom right of the map.

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