There are few more exciting ways to start one’s day – a 5am outdoor shower followed by hot coffee and muffins then an early morning game drive. The radio cackles into life as the network of rangers across the reserve begin communicating with each other. We hear the word Makhanyane repeated frequently and we set off at high speed to find them – yes, the elusive endangered wild dogs that the 75000-hectare malaria-free Madikwe Game reserve is famous for. We come across the beautiful painted beasts feasting on the head of a wildebeest and watch transfixed as they tear it apart. It is a huge pack. Several have eaten their fill already and are dozing contentedly under the trees. They seem unperturbed by us.
We were staying at Jaci’s Safari Lodge , which is one of the most child-friendly safari lodges in South Africa – perfect for us as we are accompanied by our children. Over 5-year olds are permitted to go on the normal game drives and those under 5 are taken on their own shorter “jungle” drives. They are made to feel special and are taken on activity walks which include a visit to the games room on the premises and the tree hide. Our family is paired up with an American family with children of similar ages and the kids have great fun together. The motto at Jaci’s Safari Lodge is that children are celebrated here – not just tolerated – and Jaci’s has gone as far as creating a board game especially for them.
Jaci’s award-winning accommodation consists of two lodges situated close to each other – Jaci’s Tree Lodge which boasts a number of wonderfully secluded lodges built on stilts high among the trees and Jaci’s Safari Lodge which comprises luxury tents. We stayed in the latter. The interiors are built in stone and decorated with vibrant splashes of colour. Coffee table books featuring Jaci’s Lodges and quaint parchment guest books filled with ecstatic comments from local and international visitors are scattered across the room. The tents stay open during the day to allow guests to admire the view of the trees shading the Marico River and maybe spot a thirsty animal or two. Sometimes, the bushbuck would walk past our tent and peer inquisitively at us.
It is tranquil and peaceful. There are no TV’s, no cellphones due to intermittent mobile reception, nor any other form of artificial noise to shatter the peace. It is worth mentioning that Jaci’s Nare Suite was once named one of the Top 10 Suites in the World by the UK Sunday Times.
The public areas are gloriously African. The swing bridge that one crosses when entering and leaving the lodge makes one feel like Indiana Jones. The main lodge where the informal check-in and check –out processes take place with a refreshing mocktail in your hand is a wonderful explosion of colour. This is also where meals are usually served. Fuschia pinks, fluorescent limes, and electric blues work skilfully together to give the lodge a glorious heart and soul. One can relax on the comfortable sofas or the deck overlooking the river and forget all else.
The tree hide at Jaci’s Tree Lodge is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It features a comfortable bed on which you can lie back and enjoy the view. It is wonderfully close to the waterhole it overlooks, and we had a delightful time watching a frisky herd of magnificent elephants at play. There is also a well-equipped tented gym where you can watch the wildlife as you get fit, and swimming pools where you can cool off from the merciless African sun.
Safari days started with a pre-sunset light breakfast then an early morning game drive which lasted around three hours by which time we had built up an appetite for the brunch to follow. The rest of the day is at leisure until high tea in the late afternoon which is followed by a sunset game drive.
A three -course dinner awaits at the lodge where staff try to vary the dinner venues and menus. Our first dinner was around a fire in a lantern-lit boma and food was cooked in potjies on the fire. The enthusiastic staff surprised us by singing for us as we enjoyed our calamari starters. On the second night, the rain forced us to dine indoors. Special occasions are celebrated and we were fortunate to be able to celebrate my sons eighth birthday at Jaci’s. Staff baked a special birthday cake for him and sang for him – another example of their warm hospitality.
The game drives were always action-packed. We saw several lions, rhinos, jackals and other magnificent animals – up, close and personal. The rangers were knowledgeable and brave. They would get us as close to the animals as they possibly could, without compromising our safety. We would eagerly await our next game drive…and it would not disappoint. One thing is certain – there is no better “In Africa” feeling than being in the bush and if that bush happens to be the game-rich Madikwe Game Reserve and your abode happens to be Jaci’s Safari or Tree Lodge, then you are in for a real treat.
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Read about my latest visit to Jaci’s Safari Lodge here.