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Magic of Makalali

Some of the best sightings SA reserves can offer. Charismatic field guides. And charming bush textures. An authentic African experience awaits …

A Land Cruiser’s engine roars into action. Hippos groan. Buffaloes grunt. These are (some of) the sounds of Africa. They surrounded us recently as we sat at a waterhole in the 26 000-hectare Aha Makalali Private Game Reserve near Hoedspruit.

What was that? A lion growling? No, it was someone’s stomach grumbling … time for sundowners. It wasn’t long before we were standing with a cool G&T in one hand, a stick of dry wors in the other. Aware of the wildness around us.

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On our first afternoon game drive we’d already spotted two of the Big Five and, during our short stay, we’d go on to see a further two of these big game animals, as well as a pack of wild dogs hunting impalas.

We couldn’t possibly take credit for spotting the game first – the field guides and trackers are excellent (they tell us they ‘eat their carrots’) and they’ve a great sense of humour. When the message ‘We want to see a spotted leopard,’ reached our field guide during a game of broken telephone, he laughed heartily and joked, ‘Oh, you want to see a spotted leopard? Today we were going to look for a plain one!’

We learnt tourism group, Tourvest is educating even more field guides through a fully-sponsored course at the Tourvest Field Guide Academy, based at the reserve.

The field guides make sundowners far from ordinary. On our last evening, lanterns were set up in a circle at a spot in the reserve. A gin bar to one side. Comfy cushions scattered in the middle. It was ‘Bush TV’ at its finest. Impalas and wildebeest grazed a little distance away, while daring black-backed jackals crept close to the snack table, hoping to score a piece of biltong. They didn’t! As darkness fell, we heard an unfamiliar sound … another of the Big Five!

Yes, we’re bragging … but with some of the best game viewing South African reserves can offer – trust us – it’s tough to leave the game drives. But the bush adventures continue at Makalali. You can choose to stay at the Main Lodge or River Lodge – both are set in the reserve without a boundary fence which fuels your authentic African experience. The décor, design and textures at these lodges scream bushveld, and swimming in any of the pools becomes a game-viewing experience. We watched warthogs wallowing in the mud near the Main Lodge pool.

At night, an African tale and piece of sweet fudge were placed by our turned-down bed. One night, we found a little decorated box with a cute handmade pottery animal inside – ours was a zebra and there are six others in the collection. This lovely keepsake was crafted by artists from Gala Star – a company that enables underprivileged people to improve their lives by making art that’s sold in the tourism market.

The luxurious rooms at the main lodge are hotel-like and cosy with a spacious bathroom … and an outdoor shower. You can get two rooms with an inter-leading door – handy for families.

Planning a romantic getaway? Book for the River Lodge. Perfect for a honeymoon! And fret not when they don’t give you a key for your room – you don’t need one! The rooms’ design and decor are charmingly bona fide bushveld – think a mosquito net-draped bed, cosy fireplace and comfy seat on the veranda. And you’ll probably feel very, very clean because who could resist a splash in the oh-so-appealing outdoor shower, indoor shower and bathtub overlooking the reserve. The bathrooms are so impressive, they have a bay window seating area, for goodness sake!

A bush holiday isn’t really complete without dinner in a boma … try the sweet home-made bread and the venison meat dishes which have a uniquely African touch – think kudu potjie or crocodile sosaties. It’s definitely a ditch-the-diet kind of holiday … in-between brekkie, lunch and dinner there are pre-game drive snacks – like decadent choc-chip cookies in the mornings and afternoon high tea – as well as bush coffees and sundowners in the reserve.

In short … when the toughest part of your day is dodging wayward hanging branches as your field guide seeks a terrific sighting, you know you’re in a magical place.

Make a booking 

Main Lodge superior rooms from R4 520 a person sharing, for a maximum of two people a room and one child under the age of three in a cot. There are inter-leading rooms for a maximum of two people per room. Children over the age of two will need their own bed, and are charged at 50 per cent of the adult-sharing rate. River Lodge suites from R6 225 a person sharing with a maximum of two adults per suite. There’s one family suite for two adults and three children under the age of 12, charged at 50 per cent of the adult-sharing rate. These rates include all meals, two game drives daily and a one per cent tourism levy, but exclude conservation levy.  Details: 010 442 5888, aha.co.za and [email protected]

* Compiled by Daniella Graham

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