A roaring lion was our alarm clock. Giraffes played hide and seek. And fireflies surrounded us on a game drive. The beauty of the African bush is the backdrop of Abelana River Lodge, which is nothing short of luxurious.
The bush fever hit when we were on our first game drive and we spotted a giraffe in the middle of the road, barely a few metres from us, standing tall and proud as he gave us a cautious look. There’s just something captivating about the feeling of exclusivity on a safari and having this prominent creature with long beautiful eyelashes look straight at you.
We arrived at the entrance of Abelana River Lodge in Phalaborwa all hot and bothered from the long drive … but that feeling quickly subsided as we walked through this gorgeous lodge and caught sight of the infinity pool, which overlooks the Selati River and straight out into the reserve. It was then we knew this trip was going to be something special.
The river is home to an abundance of wildlife and a variety of bird species. You may even be lucky enough to have a giant kingfisher land on the edge of the balcony of your room. And as for rooms, there was no need to call dibs on any of the 20 newly rebuilt rooms … they all face the river so the view is incredible.
Imagine waking up at 4am to the sound of a lion’s roar. Gosh, did that awaken the inner beast in us! To top that off, on our very first day we saw hippos splashing and wheezing away from our balcony, and we spotted some beautiful birds from our private outdoor shower. Yes, being naked in nature is a thing … and it’s a sure way to start your day feeling refreshed.
If that doesn’t get you going, the bush coffee at Dube Dube dam on your early morning game drive will. We were already buzzing by the time we stopped for a cuppa, just minutes after we’d spotted a glorious grey heron soaking up the sun.
The safari game drives are just amazing … to think, you could easily be the only vehicle exploring more than 15000ha at any given time. It’s a complete authentic safari experience.
The giraffes stole the limelight on this trip … we spotted them all around the reserve, and they put on quite the show … ambling, chewing bones for calcium and attempting to hide behind trees to try to camouflage themselves – their version of hide-and-seek!
After a three-hour game drive, you really work up an appetite and Abelana sure knows how to put out a breakfast spread, including hot meal options … we never say no to eggs Benedict!
There’s so much to choose from – the main area of the lodge has indoor and outdoor dining areas, lounge, beautiful bar and a pool. We could easily spend the whole day sipping rock shandies and cooling off in the infinity pool, listening to the calls of nature and the trickle of running water while gazing at the river. It’s seriously tranquil. Or maybe escape and lounge on the bedroom’s balcony with a good book.
The afternoon game drives are just as stunning as the morning ones. Vic, our field guide, was so knowledgeable … there was no question he couldn’t answer. Not to mention that he has eyes like a hawk … he didn’t miss a thing, not even a chameleon crossing the road went unnoticed.
This reserve is home to the Big 5 with a rich diversity of fauna and flora. The bush is thick and lush, and the terrain is varied.
We were all particularly set on spotting a lion throughout the trip, especially after waking up to his roar on the first morning, but unfortunately, he had a way of hiding from us.
We were thrilled to see all sorts of other animals, like zebra, waterbuck, wildebeest, impala … the list goes on. We even crossed paths with two cheeky elephants who came over to say hi. The afternoon drives carry on until after sunset. One memorable moment happened as we headed back to the lodge. Our guide stopped in the middle of a bridge and turned off the vehicle. As we kept dead still, in pitch-black darkness, with just the reflection of the water and the stars above, we saw flickers of light surround us as fireflies circled the area. It was magical.
Back at the lodge, the soft lighting combined with the contemporary and African-influenced decor set a warm and welcoming tone. On the first night, while we wined and dined in true VIP style, we chatted with CEO, Ian Beauchamp, who told us the lodge is committed to sustainable tourism, and he and his team work with the Mashishimale community to create jobs for them while conserving and protecting the wilderness. After all, abelana means ‘to share amongst each other’.
The food is another highlight, and every night you can expect something different, either an à la carte menu, a set menu or a braai with a wide selection of salads. All meals throughout the trip were well portioned and beautifully presented. The coconut and butternut soup with crispy butternut shavings was a real hit.
A staff member will safely escort you when you retire to your exquisite and spacious thatch en-suite room for the night, should you encounter a hippo.
Returning at night can be rather romantic. As you enter, you will find a bed covered in draped netting lit by gorgeous hanging lampshades – making this the perfect spot to bring along that someone special. Not to mention the bathroom with his-and-hers basins, long-hanging mirrors and an open-plan shower – all in plain sight of the river. We particularly enjoyed sleeping with our sliding door open and mesh door closed, making it easy to fall asleep to the sounds of nightlife in the private reserve.
Just when we thought we’d experienced it all, we were taken on an hour-long safari to the Abelana Safari Camp on the south side of the reserve which is among distinctive rock formations. We had one of the most memorable sundowners high up on a deck on top of ‘The jewel of Abelana’ as it’s known by some. We sipped away as we watched the sunset and even spotted impala drinking water over 100m down below.
This campsite is completely off-the-grid and can accommodate eight people in four luxury tents. Perfect for intimate get-togethers and guests looking for a more rustic stay. We’re told that if you’re lucky, you might even see a leopard walk around the camp at night.
On our last day, the reality of going back home sank in, but to our surprise, we could reminisce over a lovely bush spread of tasty snacks, fine wine and G&Ts in all sorts of flavours. When we returned to the lodge, the boma next to the river was lit and the braai was on the go. As the night was still young, we couldn’t resist one last dip in the pool.
Our three-night stay was a real treat … and it ended on a high when we finally spotted a lion on the early morning drive before we headed home.
If you’re looking for long-lasting memories among the beauty of the African bush, then look no further than Abelana Game Reserve.
One night’s stay at Abelana River Lodge in an air-conditioned suite with en-suite indoor and outdoor showers is R7500 a person a night sharing. This includes all meals, teas and coffees, morning and afternoon/evening game drives with qualified guide and tracker and an optional walk.
Details: 061-952-4302, [email protected] or abelanagamereserve.com
Text: MEGAN BRETT Photos: ABELANA GAME RESERVE & MEGAN BRETT.