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Magical Mdluli

Traversing a bumpy road on the southern border of the Kruger National Park is always a highly anticipated adventure, especially when the end destination is Mdluli Safari Lodge. Mellissa Bushby tells us more about her recent trip into the heart of tranquillity.

Mdluli Safari Lodge is accessed via a tree-lined private road after you enter the park through the Numbi Gate. On arrival, you are greeted by the super-efficient and incredibly friendly team members at the reception, who advise you to park your car and check-in. We were assisted by Audrey Malomane, whose warm smile and friendly manner immediately made us feel at home.

Petite and bubbly operations manager Lisa Soine was on hand to personally welcome us. Lisa, a woman who clearly loves what she does (and really, who wouldn’t? The place is magnificent!), explained the story behind Mdluli to us while our luggage was being offloaded onto a golf cart, ready to be taken to our tent.

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Just below the reception area, a rather large statue of a distinguished gentleman with his hand outstretched awaits guests, as if personally receiving them into his home. Which, in a way, he is, as is explained to us by Lisa and her husband Etienne. “This is Inkhosi MZ Mdluli, whose vision was to see the Mdluli community benefiting through employment, education, and communal development,” she tells us. After a long land restitution journey, this dream was realised, resulting in the Mdluli community having the freehold title of 850 hectares of land inside the borders of the Kruger National Park.

The lodge was established with the purpose of sustainably developing the infrastructure and lives of the Mdluli community, which receives financial, social, and economic benefits from the daily running of the lodge. Unfortunately, the chief has passed away, but his legacy is alive and well in his son Inkhosi MI Mdluli, who picked up where his father had left off.

Apart from generating numerous other business opportunities, such as beading and artwork, the lodge itself employs nearly 200 men and women, 90% of whom are from the local community. “This is something we are very proud of,” Lisa smiles. “Our chief is a huge part of our success story. Our staff are completely invested in the success of Mdluli; we are like a family here.”

She proudly shows us the beautiful beadwork displayed on the walls, all created by local craftspeople, as well as the wire artwork that runs across the entire back wall of the restaurant. “This is something interesting,” she explains. “At first it seems to be an abstract sculpture, but it is actually a representation of the granite rock that we have on the property, just behind the lodge.”

Interesting indeed; we jump at the offer to see the granite rock after offloading the luggage and unpacking. At Mdluli, you can walk to wherever you are going within the camp or you can opt for a ride. You cannot drive your car to your tent, but the pathways are wide enough for a casual stroll or a golf cart, the main mode of transport. Luggage is taken to your tent and offloaded, and from there it’s up to you. We chose to hop on the cart; who doesn’t love a jaunt on one, especially through indigenous bush?

The tent itself is beautiful, a welcome respite from the midday heat, and with a lovely view over the surrounding bush. An envelope with Mellissa and family greeted us when we unlocked the door, propped against a silver ice bucket with two glasses and a bottle of excellent red wine; tempting indeed and a lovely touch.

The attention to detail inside the tent is impressive, from the white bedecked bed, a rather massive affair with a voluminous, delicate mosquito net draped over the corners, to the strategically placed – and plumped – cushions. The outdoor shower was particularly intriguing, and I promised myself that before I left, I would make use of it, with its quirky, vintage-style bronze taps and open-air appeal.

Apart from the view, the deck boasts a pod chair, hotly contested between the kids. Not that I blame them; who can resist the gentle, swaying motion of a hammock-style chair on a long, lazy afternoon? I guarantee it will keep you within its embrace far longer than you expect, especially with an ice-cold beverage in hand and the wind sighing through the trees. It was tempting… but the stunning, azure infinity pool I spotted earlier beckoned, and besides, it was time to explore a bit.

The pool didn’t disappoint. The water was icy cold at first but soon warmed up to an enticing temperature. After rather a lot of splashing about (that was the kids) and gazing over the edge into the surrounding grasslands, picturing the romance of a bygone Africa (that was me), time – and sunsets, alas – waited for no one. It was time to dry off and to head out for a trip up to the famous rock with Lisa.

This specific area in the Kruger is well-known for its granite rocks, especially around Pretoriuskop Rest Camp. They were formed around 3 500 million years ago when molten rock pushed its way up through the crust of the earth. The wire artwork on the back wall of the restaurant immediately makes sense; little swirls of rock, small, unformed boulder shapes, and hollow cups of stone all tumble together in an amalgamation of shape and form unique to the earth.

Walking up the rock and looking over the camp was an incredible, breathtaking moment, the view forever compelling me to stay, to sit down on the warm granite, and to soak in the last rays of the sun and the wisdom of the world that surely dwells in the trees that stretch into infinity before me. I turned and watched the sun as it slowly sank behind the canopy of trees. This is the ideal spot for a sundowner, perhaps a G & T, to celebrate the aforementioned romance of a bygone time.

After heading back to camp, we returned to our tent to anticipate dinner, which was to be held at the boma. In the restaurant, weekend dinners are usually held under the stars, weather permitting. Fires are lit, lanterns ignited, and Out of Africa-style chairs placed in the soft sand. Braziers burn high as the night sounds surround the camp and the meal is served under the watchful gaze of the Milky Way. The food was well-prepared and there is something for everyone to enjoy. Lisa and her husband, Etienne, kept a watchful eye on the proceedings, making sure everyone was well-fed and happy. It’s the perfect end to the day. Except in our case, it wasn’t quite the end.

We took a leisurely stroll along the pathway back to our tent while the children ran ahead. After the day’s excitement and a hot shower, it was time for them to wind down a bit before wandering off to the world of dreams. And it was time for me to open the bottle of red, climb into the pod and sway quietly in the cool air, listening to the earth sigh and the trees whisper their night-time secrets to one another.

At times like these, life makes perfect sense, as it always does in this ancient land of wonder and enchantment, among nature. Here, the earth seems to share a few of her secrets and reveal a little of her mystery. The Mdluli clan certainly has a treasure here, but then I suspect they’ve known that all along.

Details: 087-980-0431, [email protected] or
www.mdlulisafarilodge.co.za

Author: Mellissa Bushby

Photographs: Lorne Bushby; and Mdluli.

WIN!

We are giving away one night’s accommodation for two adults, on a dinner, bed and breakfast rate, and it includes a game drive.

To enter, send an email to [email protected] with “Mdluli” in the subject line to reach us by noon on May 28.

Please note: Rate will exclude the KNP conservation levy, community levy, beverages and any other personal items.

The prize is valid for six months. Good luck!

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