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.
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