We heard the leopard call. It was a distinctive sound not unlike that of wood being sawn. He was marking his territory. Then we heard the baboons anxiously barking to each other, warning of the leopards proximity. We sat in our stationery Land Cruiser, surrounded by the star-studded black night sky, our ears pricked for more calls from the master of camouflage. It was scary but exciting at the same time. Max, our expert field guide, shone his powerful spotlight around and we scanned the area for a special pair of feline eyes but we didn't see them. Slightly disappointed, yet still elated that we had heard the leopard, we returned to our luxurious abode, Madikwe Safari Lodge .
That night at dinner in the bush boma, one of our fellow guests, a Swiss gentleman, assured us – no, he practically guaranteed us - that we would see it the following day because he believed in his good fortune. Of course we were skeptical. The following evening, soon after we had left for our game drive, Max, who constantly amazed us with his bush acumen and keen eyesight, spotted the leopard sprawled on a rock on the mountain. Even better there were two, a gorgeous male and female, and they had been mating. It was the crowning glory on our amazing day of game-viewing. We watched them for a while and then left.
A short while later we found a magnificent male lion feasting on a dis-embowelled buffalo. He hungrily ripped out pieces of the buffalo and with his bloodied face, devoured them. Earlier that day we had seen a pack of 14 wild dogs, a pair of teary-eyed cheetah brothers, spotted hyena cubs and much more.
Then Max drove us up a hill to the edge of a cliff where another surprise awaited us. Whereas normally we’d stop for sundowners at a clearing and he would serve us drinks, here Alan, the lodge’s extremely hospitable General Manager, was waiting for us, drinks and gourmet snacks laid out, and lit lanterns hanging on the trees. It was a great spot to enjoy the sunset view from – had we been there a few minutes earlier. But we enjoyed the treats and the conversation nonetheless.
When we returned to the lodge, we were welcomed with lemongrass-scented moist towels and informed that we would be having a pool-side dinner by lantern-light that evening. The lodge’s policy is to ensure that guests have dinner at a different venue every night. After our delicious feast, we returned to our room where yet another wonderful treat awaited us.
We found a trail of crimson rose petals and tea-light candles leading to a drawn bathtub where more rose petals were floating over the soap suds, and slippers and bath robes had been laid out. I was constantly amazed at the level of attention and detail that the management and staff went to, to ensure that guests were kept happy and boredom was kept at bay. Not that there was much chance of that. And the guests certainly looked contented.
Madikwe Safari Lodge is owned by the renowned More family, pioneers in luxury wildlife tourism in South Africa. It is a collection of three unique lodges perched on the side of a mountain in Madikwe Game Reserve. Due to its elevated position, one can spot it from quite a distance away when approaching the lodge and it always made me feel as though I was returning home.
We stayed at Lelapa, which means “family”. As the name suggests, it is the lodge’s family offering and has 12 deluxe suites. Kopano, means “small gathering”. It comprises only four suites with a common area. The isolated setting makes it perfect for romantic getaways and honeymoons. The exclusive Dithaba Lodge also has four suites and is convenient for groups of friends or families. Dithaba means “mountain” and it sits slightly higher up on the mountain than the other lodges. The views of the reserve from this lodge, especially the terrace, are incredible.
All the lodges are built with natural elements in organic colours to blend in with the environment and make one feel immersed in nature. In fact, they blend in so well that a pack of wild dogs recently chased an impala through the lodge’s entrance lobby into the boma where they shred the poor antelope to pieces, in full view of the awe-struck guests.
Our suite was huge, with a bedroom, a lounge, a bathroom overlooking the wild and a separate shower area covered by a spiral roof.
As it was a family suite, it also had a bright and cozy separate bedroom with bunk beds for two kids. Unfortunately, my kids were not with to experience it but they would have loved it. A fully stocked complimentary minibar, and a beverage station with pretzels and biscotti are provided.
Another unique feature here, was the blackboard which housekeeping staff used to communicate with guests as housekeeping is usually done while guests are on game drives. Our housekeeper would leave friendly notes for us on the blackboard in the mornings and on turndown. A Gym-In-A-Bag, which is a compact workout system, is provided in the rooms.
The huge deck in front of our villa faced the bushveld and had an outdoor shower, a plunge pool and sunbeds to relax on. I often saw elephants ambling past, on their way to or from the waterhole, by the swimming pool.
The swimming pool here is no ordinary pool. Surrounded by green grass, it looks like an oasis in the bushveld with uninterrupted views of Madikwe’s signature plains. It has a small waterhole right in front of it, separated only by a small horizontal electric fence. It also has an all-day DIY slush machine (a kid’s dream) and pool noodles for the kids to play with.
As I sat at the pool enjoying my lunch, a herd of around 40 elephants approached the waterhole in a cloud of dust, drinking water and having mud baths. I was barely 4 metres away from them and could barely contain my excitement. It certainly was a front-row-seat experience.
A typical day at the lodge consists of a wake-up call at 05h30 am (depending on the season), followed by a light breakfast and a three-hour game drive. Guests are given personalized stainless steel water bottles on their first game drive which they take home with them when they leave. This is to reduce the use of plastic bottles which are harmful to the environment.
Brunch is served after the game drive, then lunch. High tea is served before the evening game drive then dinner on one’s return. During game drives, there is a drinks and snacks break too. I’m certain that I picked up a good few kilograms while staying here. In between the elaborate meals and exhilarating safaris, guests can enjoy bush walks, in-room massage treatments, swimming or just enjoy the beautiful views. I must admit that adjusting to my daily life after all this royal treatment was like dropping to earth with a thud.
Young safari enthusiasts will be entertained and educated at the Eco-House, where there are loads of activities (like arts and crafts), live creatures (like tarantulas) and remains of creatures (like cool skulls and horns) to keep them occupied. Field guides will take them on bush walks, teach them bush skills like dung-tracking and nurture their love of the bush in other ways too. In fact, Lelapa Lodge is one of the most child-friendly safari lodges I’ve ever been to.
Madikwe Safari Lodge was voted one of Travel + Leisure's Top 10 Safari Lodges in Africa 2016. It is easy to see why. How will I remember my time there? As a kaleidoscope of special memories and experiences.
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