Deep in the lush bushveld of Welgevonden Game Reserve, perched at the edge of a spectacular gorge, and overlooking a meandering river, lies an exquisite sanctuary called Clifftop Exclusive Safari Hideaway . I recently got to experience this lavish five-star retreat with my family.
I had heard much about the private Welgevonden (meaning “well-found”) Game Reserve before, but it was my first visit there. The 38,200ha malaria-free reserve lies in the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve in Limpopo Province and adjoins Marakele National Park. Just under three hours away from Johannesburg, it is one of the closest Big Five Game Reserves to the City of Gold.
The reserve is spectacularly beautiful with rugged mountain terrain, interspersed with winding rivers, deep valleys and gorges, and grassy plains. It is also home to over 50 mammals including the Big Five and over 300 bird species.
We arrived at the reserve’s East Gate where Larrie, our game ranger was waiting to transfer us to the lodge in a 4X4 safari vehicle. Our wildlife sightings began immediately, when we spotted a dazzle of zebras - which we would see a lot of in the coming days, along with a myriad of other animals and birds. We ascended the steep cliff until we arrived at our mountain hideaway, which towered over the breath-taking landscape.
At the lodge, Tania, the manager, welcomed us and showed us around the public areas. The pristine silver, white and grey shades, and natural wood and stone features created a sense of serenity, with the sound of the river below providing a soothing backdrop. Comfy sofas and swinging wicker chairs, private nooks and cosy fireplaces, were strategically placed for optimal relaxation.
An infinity pool stood at the edge of the cliff while, upstairs, a swinging bed was another indication of the understated luxury. It was evident why the lodge won an award for Best Hotel Interior at the African Hotel Awards.
We stepped onto the white outdoor deck and instantly fell in love with the view. In front of us were rocky cliffs with jagged precipices. Far down below us, the Sterkstroom River weaved through the lush valley. On a sandy patch, inscribed in stones, was a sign welcoming us to Clifftop. We could hardly contain our excitement at the prospect of traversing this spectacular landscape.
After a delicious lunch of grilled fish and salad, we were shown to our rooms where we just had time to freshen up quickly before our afternoon game drive. The camp is unfenced, adding an element of thrill and adventure to ones stay, and we enjoyed the feeling of being truly in the wild, while still revelling in the lap of luxury.
There are eight sumptuous stand-alone suites, each one secluded from the others. They are decorated in the lodge’s signature tones with natural fixtures like tables made from tree trunks and huge pebbles, and towel holders made from distressed tree branches. The rooms are spacious and have large bathrooms with stone bathtubs, huge beds fitted with electric blankets, lounge areas, plush bath robes and slippers, a complimentary mini-bar and a coffee station.
There are indoor and outdoor showers. Best of all, each room has its own private deck with a plunge pool, a comfortable outdoor lounging area and amazing views of the gorge.
My kids loved relaxing on the deck in between game drives while I enjoyed the leisure reading material provided, and the dramatic views. At night, a bed time story would be left along with a sweet treat on our beds. In-room massages were also available but unfortunately, time did not permit us to take advantage of them.
Game drives were fun and involved a lot of skilful driving from Larrie, amid the uneven terrain. They were longer than normal game drives, but safari addict that I am, this is something that I’d never complain about. I’d stay out in the wilderness all day if I could! We saw a diverse range of wildlife, including lions, cheetahs, rhinos, hippos and elephants. And when it became chilly, as it tends to do on game drives, we were provided with fleece-lined ponchos to keep us warm. My kids loved snuggling up in them, and so did we.
After the evening game drives, we returned to a decadent four-course dinner while morning game drives were followed by a hearty breakfast, and then a light lunch. Meal locations were varied for every meal and were beautifully decorated. The food was delicious and we were always eagerly awaiting the next meal. Our fellow guests said that they were there especially for the food!
Oupa, our private butler, took great care of us at meal times while Tania and Larrie looked after us the rest of the time. The service here is attentive but unobtrusive - just as it should be.
Rates include accommodation, three meals and two game drives a day. Gate entry fees are excluded. Children 13 years and older are permitted at the lodge and occupy their own room. Weddings, conferences and special occasions are also catered for.
Mobile reception is intermittent at the reserve - depending on which network you’re on. Wi-fi codes are available at the lodge, but we didn’t bother with them. We spent our two days disconnected from social media, the internet, and the outside world but it was a welcome escape from reality and we loved it. Welgevonden was well-found indeed and Clifftop Exclusive Safari Hideaway pays a fitting tribute to its unique beauty.
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