Trade the city lights for starry nights at these great spots.
1. Bayala Private Safari Lodge and Camp, Hluhluwe
Part of the scenic Munyawana conservancy in Zululand, Bayala – said to be the only three-star lodge in a private Big Five reserve in KZN – punches well above its weight. I loved the comfortable and tastefully decorated suite with air-conditioning and private patio at the back looking on to the bush. Across the lawn from my haven, the lounge, bar, dining and pool areas provided every creature comfort. Dinner in the boma under the branches of a mighty thorn tree was unforgettable. Add to that wildlife sightings during game drives, bush walks with expert rangers, and marvellous birding (around 400 species recorded). It almost seems too good to be true. As with other properties in the 30 000-hectare conservancy, the emphasis at Bayala is on the ecology. Previously farm land, the 12 000 hectares comprising the Bayala section is being rehabilitated, with the aim to restore full ecological integrity and reintroduce fauna that was historically found there. With all fences within the conservancy removed, there is plenty of space for the wildlife to roam. Africa at its best.
+27 (0) 79 474 1817; +27 (0) 35 562 0498/0420; [email protected]
Words Andrea Abbott
2. Gqoyeni Bush Lodge, Hluhluwe
A trip to the bush is always a treat, but when you have a piece of wild Africa all to yourself, it’s hard to beat. Gqoyeni Bush Lodge is off the beaten track, but within the wildlife-rich Sontuli Loop section of Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. It accommodates groups of up to eight in four en suite units. A boardwalk connects the well-spaced units to the lounge, kitchen and dining area where there’s a cook that saves you the schlep of making your own meals if you bring the ingredients. An aerial walkway leads to a roofed viewing deck above the confluence of the Gqoyeni stream and the Black Umfolozi River. We spent long hours there, equipped with all the bare essentials (wine, beer, snacks, cameras, binoculars), watching the wild world go by. Occasionally, we dragged ourselves off on a drive, and once we took a walk with the field ranger. While those sorties came with the reward of great sightings, we were always more than ready to return to our private utopia.
+27 (0) 33 845 1000, [email protected]
Words Andrea Abbott
3. Lady Africa Bush Lodge, Sterkrivier
About 60 kilometres from Mookgopong (Naboomspruit), close to the village of Sterkrivier, is this stunning game farm. Our weekend started off on a high note after an easy, self check-in and spot-on directions to our luxury safari tent. We loved the privacy. The only indication of neighbours was the smoke from their braai through the trees. Our tent had an en suite bathroom with an outside bathtub, the separate kitchen is fully equipped for two, with a fridge, microwave oven and two-plate gas stove. We made good use of the braai area and fire pit (we had to smoke-signal our neighbours that we were still okay). Tracks around the farm made for splendid views of the Waterberg, and we took a break on our walk at a peaceful picnic area with tables and chairs on the banks of the Sterk River. It also gave me the chance to lure (unsuccessfully) an antlion out of its trap. There’s no dangerous game on the farm, but we often took walks trying to track down the elusive culprits of the ever-present droppings. Our treat after walks was the small, private swimming pool next to our tent.
+27 (0) 83 556 0655; [email protected]
Words Riaan Hattingh
4. Mabula Game Lodge, Waterberg
Unlike many four-star game reserves, Mabula Game Lodge has set its sights on local families. Its prices aren’t the heart-skipping rates of some lodges, and at two and a half hours from Joburg, it’s a very doable bush break for Gautengers. For families there are units with sleeper couches for kids under 12, or units with interleading rooms. All rooms surround a central green. We enjoyed delicious meals, served buffet-style at the main restaurant, and light pub lunches on the terrace. Mabula opened as a pioneering private game reserve in 1985 and it’s been through several revamps since. This is Big Five territory that supports cheetah, leopard and a Ground Hornbill conservation project too. Lions roam freely, but are kept in a separate area. An unusual sighting was five seriously plump hippos harrumphing on the banks of a dam in broad daylight. Between the safaris we cooled off in the large swimming pool or relaxed at the spa, which also has treatments for kids.
+27 (0) 11 516 4367; [email protected]
Words Lesley Stones
5. Thornybush Game Lodge, Hoedspruit
Wildlife sightings at Thornybush Private Nature Reserve have rocketed since boundary fences between the reserve and the Kruger National Park were removed to give animals free passage. “Two years ago there were only 62 elephants in the reserve, but with the last count recording 350, close encounters are practically guaranteed,” our guide Bradley Sheldon explains as some elephant swing by our vehicle close enough to sniff us with their trunks. Kruger lions have also discovered this new hunting ground, with big males swaggering in to disrupt the previous status quo. We watch three young male lions chase a buffalo into the bushes, then race out again, pursued by the angry buffalo. A fabulous base for enjoying all the action is five-star Thornybush Luxury Game Lodge. Each chalet has a private balcony overlooking the bush, a large bathroom with bath and shower, tea and coffee facilities, and a bar fridge. There’s a pool at the main lodge and a spa for some pampering. Two family units also have private plunge pools. Eight safari vehicles take guests on morning and afternoon game drives, so drives are never crowded, and you may be lucky to get one all to yourself. The 90-minute bush walk where I witnessed the smaller side of nature was fascinating.
+27 (0) 11 253 6500; [email protected]
Words Lesley Stones
6. Zvakanaka, Louis Trichardt
Gail and Al Maytham are the owners of this Soutpansberg sanctuary. Checking in on us to ensure we are comfortably settled into our thatched, self-catering chalet – the Madala’s Cottage – Gail invited us to share sundowners on the farm stoep. It is a buoyant, cheerful affair (and I get an inside scoop on the local mountain gossip). Gail is the one to ask about things to do in the area, such as the Ribola Art Route (which she advises is better to visit during the week), and a shopping trip to a local baobab skincare factory. Although just 74 hectares, this bushveld farm has a big heart. Ideal for leisurely walks, we stumbled across bushbuck and only the calls from a flock of Crested Guineafowl interrupted our rambling reverie. Zvakanaka feels totally removed from civilisation despite it being so easily accessible from the N1 (just a few kilometres north of Makhado). Perhaps it’s the soaring mountain cliffs, or the indulgent soaks in the outdoor bath set into a private forested garden that make it feel so remote. We enjoyed evenings around the fire pit. Generous bundles of non-indigenous firewood and dried baobab fruits for kindling were supplied. Small but thoughtful touches enhance the hospitality. A lime tree and rosemary provided garnish for our G&Ts, a tall jug of cold water and flower arrangements welcomed us, and there was even bird seed for the feeder that sits outside the main bedroom.
+27 (0) 84 400 4595; [email protected]
Words Melanie van Zyl
7. Rooiberg Lodge, Calitzdorp
A night in Calitzdorp, one of our Little Karoo favourites, led us to Rooiberg Lodge after we were assured dis hemel op aarde by a local we met in a coffee shop. And heaven on earth it was. In Assegaay Bosch Nature Reserve – not far from the village of Van Wyksdorp on Route 62. There are spectacular mountain vistas over the 22 000 hectare reserve. We stayed in a Luxury Chalet with heater and air conditioning – we needed neither – kitchenette, and linen that promised a blissful night’s sleep. There are self-catering chalets for two and four guests, while the six-bedroom Manor House is ideal for larger groups, and The Loft can sleep up to 50 guests. We could relax on The Deck, which is on the edge of a watering hole. The traveller-friendly rates allowed us to treat ourselves to a memorable dinner under thatch in the informal restaurant.
+27 (0) 87 802 3578; [email protected]
Words Olivia Schaffer