We were about to embark on our first game drive at Kapama Private Game Reserve, when our ranger Rassie asked us what we’d like to see – as rangers normally do. Having seen all of the Big Five, wild dogs and cheetahs multiple times, I half-jokingly said that I wanted to see the pangolin. As any seasoned safari-goer knows, the probability of seeing this shy and elusive, highly trafficked, nocturnal creature is minimal. We’d never seen one in all our years of safaris!
However the following evening, as daylight morphed into dusk, Rassie stopped the Landrover on a dusty track, telling us that we were about to see something very special. There, crouched in the bush, was the critically endangered armoured forager. It was such an incredible sight and we marvelled at it for as long as we could, baffled as to how people could be so heartless as to kill them, before we had to make way for other guests.
But then, Kapama Private Game Reserve aims to please – it’s that kind of a place. From the moment you arrive till the time you leave, you’ll find yourself impressed often. Whether it’s the magnificent entrance foyer, the swanky accommodation, the mouth-watering food or the incredible sightings, everything here is top-notch.
One of the largest privately owned game reserves in the country, Kapama Private Game Reserve is a 15 000 hectare sanctuary separated from Kruger National Park by fences. Having just returned from the latter, where we had some incredible game-viewing, we were slightly disappointed to hear this. Our expectations of wildlife sightings were low, especially when our game drive began with a talk on impalas, probably the most common animal in the South African bush. We couldn’t have been more wrong.
By the end of our two-night stay, Rassie and our eagle-eyed tracker Thabo had showed us two leopards, three lion prides (including a mating pair), many hyenas with pups, a genet, a civet, a snake, vultures eating an impala, and the rare pangolin, along with the rest of the Big Five and hippos. It was one of our most exciting safari trips ever.
There are four diverse lodges at the reserve, each with its own charm, and we stayed at Kapama River Lodge. Named after the Kapama riverbed along which it is positioned, it is the largest and most social lodge at Kapama, perfect for young couples and families, as well as groups of friends. Uncharacteristically large for a safari lodge, at first glance it appears more like a five-star city hotel, but just look outdoors, and you will be reminded of the wilderness paradise you are in.
There are 64 suites at River Lodge, and our expansive family spa suite was perfect for a family of four. A wonderful fusion of old Africa décor complemented by modern luxuries, it had an open-plan main bedroom and living area, a separate section for the kids’ beds, and multiple balconies.
There was ample storage space which also held a Lavazza coffee machine, a complimentary mini-bar, bathrobes and slippers. A welcome platter of decadent macarons, brownies and chocolate-covered strawberries awaited us.
The huge en-suite bathroom had double basins and a bathtub overlooking the bush.
Wide and airy African-themed communal areas blended seamlessly with nature, featuring natural stone finishes, rock art and tree trunk pillars. Several swimming pools were scattered around the sprawling property, including the one at the fabulous spa, which overlooks a waterhole that attracts wildlife alongside the resident hippos. There's a gym too!
Mealtimes at Kapama were something we eagerly looked forward to. A generous pre-morning safari spread, hearty breakfast, two-course lunch, afternoon tea and cake, and three-course dinner, as well as drinks and snacks on game drives equated to a lot of food. The diverse menu had many options, which were helpfully denoted to indicate whether they contained alcohol and allergens, and the food was delectable, made with seasonal local produce.
The main meals were served at the open-sided thatch boma around a fire or the adjacent open-air deck. Florence, our waitress, was assigned to take care of us throughout our stay, and she did a great job, dispensing friendly conversation along with the food.
Kapama River Lodge has managed to combine the comforts of a five-star urban hotel with the benefits of a stunning bush setting. And judging by the steady stream of visitors it attracts, it’s a winning combination.
Kapama Southern Camp
We also visited the smaller family-orientated Kapama Southern Camp, which is styled more like a safari lodge with thatched suites leading onto private patios where you can indulge in wildlife-spotting. The villas there have private pools.
Good to know
* Children of all ages are welcome at Kapama River Lodge, Southern Camp and Karula. My son loved it.
* Rates include accommodation, all meals, local beverages and two bush activities daily, but exclude conservation fees. See the current rates and specials here.
* Covid-19 protocols are in place including temperature checking and screening on arrival.
* Complimentary wi-fi is available.
* Kapama Private Game Reserve is approximately 5 hours from Johannesburg.