On their last visit to South Africa our team stayed at Majeka House, an 18-room luxury hotel with a restaurant and spa in the wine town of Stellenbosch near Cape Town. The family friendly property, owned by a husband and wife team, provided excellent comfort oriented accommodations with many pluses such as complimentary WiFi in the room, secure parking, work-out facilities, and a heated swimming pool. Click here to read more about our team’s stay at Majeka House.
The view from a vineyard side table at Buitenwarchting Restaurant
In 1981, the Mueller Family took a leap of faith and bought, sight unseen, Buitenwarchting, a farm on the outskirts of Cape Town. Over time the family moved from their German homeland to South Africa and dedicated their resources and enthusiasm into rebuilding the wine estate and later adding a restaurant. On their most recent visit to South Africa Elena and Gary discovered Buitenwarchting Restaurant for the first time. Click here to read about their exceptional dining experience at Buitenwarchting Restaurant.
Article and photos by Josette King
In the mainly roadless wilderness of the Kalahari Desert (“thirstland” in local Setswana language) that covers roughly two-thirds of Botswana, adventure usually begins with a bush plane flight into the middle of nowhere. On this particular day, the flight was taking me on a southeastern heading from the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans toward the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, a semi-arid immensity the size of Switzerland located in the center of the country. After one soporific hour in the steamy cockpit, gazing at some of the flattest, emptiest landscape I had ever seen, I did a double take. We were starting our descent toward a green-forested expanse neatly slashed by a long airstrip. Wasn’t the center of the Kalahari to be the most barren destination of my entire itinerary? It would be, but that was an adventure for another day.
For now, I had arrived at Haina Kalahari Lodge, an intimate luxury retreat nestled in a private conservancy abutting the northern border of the game reserve. An unexpected heavy rainstorm the previous week had injected exuberant life into the land. The trees were bursting with green buds and the trumpet thorn bushes were filled with the white and purple flowers that gave them their name. Impalas, kudus, oryx and and steenboks feasted on new grass, and big cats feasted on antelope. Giraffes kept at a cautious distance from the fray. The conservancy was home to a resident pride of large, vocal Kalahari lions, the males with their distinctive black-tipped mane. Most game drives produced at least one lion sighting. Cheetahs were stealthier, allowing me only an occasional glimpse.
The lodge was a haven of contemporary luxury and casual atmosphere, graced with the some of the latest in modern conveniences, such as reliable satellite WiFi Internet connection in the main lodge and solar-generated electricity throughout the property. The superbly appointed oversized guest tents were sited for total privacy, making all the more enjoyable their large, front veranda and rear glass enclosed indoor showers overlooking the bush. With this winning combination of creature comforts and nearby game, I was fleetingly tempted to remain within the conservancy for the duration of my stay at Haina.
But the harsh wilderness of the Central Kalahari Game Park was only a drive away, especially Deception Valley, where a river had meandered some 16,000 years ago. More recently, it had been the site of the camp were American Zoologists Mark and Delia Owen had lived in tents for seven years in the 1970’s while conducting research on Kalahari lions and brown hyenas. For me, it became the destination of a fascinating day-long drive in a landscape punctuated by distant mirages, birds silently gliding on the faintest of hot air updrafts, and the occasional antelope standing stock-still under the sliver of shade from a desiccated tree. Click here to read more about my visit at Haina Kalahari Lodge.
By Elena del Valle, photos by Juan Cooper
The terrace at Isandlwana Lodge
There were books, audio recordings and souvenirs at the gift shop
Dalton Lindizwe Ngobese, our Zulu guide
Our visit to the eastern area of Africa’s southernmost country was scheduled initially around game viewing and later expanded to include battlefield and spa properties. We immediately liked the KwaZulu Natal area’s friendly people and the hilly and at times mountainous landscape as well as the understated game viewing. As we completed the safari portion of the trip we wondered what to expect at our next stop, Isandlwana Lodge.
We arrived at the 15-room luxury lodge built on the side of a hill in the heart of KwaZulu Natal early in the afternoon of a chilly spring day in the company of Manager Andre Broerse, an affable young man. As we drove up the Isandlwana hill, the property, touted as a must stop for history buffs, especially those with an interest in the Anglo Zulu War and its battlefields, which was hardly noticeable from a distance, mushroomed into a handsome structure.
Anglo Zulu War A Personal Interpretation and The Stories of the Anglo Zulu War by Robert Gerrard
Soon we met the hotel staff including Dalton Lindizwe Ngobese, our Zulu guide, and Robert Gerard, the in-house historian and Anglo Zulu War expert and author of several books on South African wars, including the 125-page Anglo Zulu War A Personal Interpretation and The Stories of the Anglo Zulu War sold at the lodge shop. The morning after our arrival we and four other guests joined him for the first of two battle discussions in a daylong program.
In a way, our stay at the lodge reflected our arrival, developing from a distant view to a close up perspective. Thanks to Dalton and Robert our knowledge of the Zulus and the Anglo Zulu battles of the area, as related by the Anglo side, slowly grew, blossoming into genuine appreciation for the experience and the detailed descriptions that brought history to life for us during our two-night visit. Click here to read more about our stay at Isandlwana Lodge
By Juan Cooper
Abraham Ramonwana, our guide at Tuli Safari Lodge
A leopard during one of several sightings
After a five hour drive from Johannesburg we arrived at Pont Drift, the border post where Abraham Ramonwana, our ranger, was waiting; he welcomed us to Botswana with a kind smile. Our native guide had enough knowledge and love for the Tuli Block, to make us feel safe and comfortable from the beginning. From the South African border we drove through the dry Limpopo River to the Northern Tuli Game Reserve, an extensive 78,000 hectare area, owned by the people of Botswana as well as private landowners and local communities. We were there to experience the Tuli Adventure Trail, a five night program offered by the Tuli Safari Lodge.
Our first stop was Nokalodi Tented Camp, located in a lovely spot just a few meters away from the Limpopo River, next to a beautiful sandstone cliff. An ancient nyala berry tree provided the perfect setting for a boma, the place where we gathered for meals and fireside time. As we arrived at the camp, we noticed staff singing to welcome us in their native songs.
Some safari vehicles had canvas in the rear and top
A klipspringer eyes us from atop a cliff
Two elephants visited the nyala berry tree in our boma
The excitement began right away. When we were just settling in our tents, Abraham called us to hop in the Land Rover for our first encounter with one of the Big Five (leopard, lion, rhino, elephant, and buffalo), a young leopard eating a freshly hunted impala under a tree. This impressive scene was the perfect welcome for a safari beginner like me. It allowed me to rapidly discover the magic of the bush. After a night game drive, in which we saw hyenas, owls and several antelopes, we went back to Nokalodi for dinner and to rest in the comfortable Meru-style tents.
Days two and three were full of intense and gratifying experiences. We went on bush walks and discovered how special the flora is, thanks to the explanations of our ranger. We climbed the sandstone hills and were rewarded with extraordinary views of the reserve; and felt the breeze full of unique scents that reminded me I was in Africa. One afternoon while we were in the boma, we had an unexpected visit to the camp; two curious and hungry elephants came to the nyala berry tree that provided shade to our boma to feed. They seemed to be so relaxed that Abraham let them stay near us for a while, providing a perfect moment to take photos and safely enjoy the elephants up close.
The confluence of the rivers was an ideal spot for brunch
Another special experience we had was an excursion to the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers, a scenic corner were Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe meet. On our way there we saw colorful birds like the lilac breasted roller, antelope like wildebeest, springbok, impala and kudu, and others like baboons, vervet monkeys and crocodiles. The confluence of the rivers was an ideal spot for a generous brunch which we thoroughly enjoyed while watching the gorgeous landscape.
A shower at Tuli Safari Lodge
There was also a bathtub in the suite
As the bush is always active, the night drives were intense moments when we looked for nocturnal animals like cats (leopards, lions, and servals), jackals and hyenas during the game drives. These adventures became more thrilling with the sounds of the bush, the clear skies and shinning stars.
An afternoon bush walk during which we could see details that we missed from the Land Rover like skulls, footprints and birds, led us to a hide, a place from which to see wild animals while remaining unseen, where we would spend the night. A vibrant sunset was the backdrop for a perfectly served dinner before we jumped into bed with a spotlight in hand so we could look for animals from the top floor of the wooden structure. The next day we arrived at the place we had most anticipated visiting on our trip, the lodge. It was like an oasis in the middle of the desert, with beautiful gardens, vervet monkeys in the trees, and steenboks and warthogs eating grass. The suites were spacious, clean and luxurious, and my bed was perfect for a well deserved rest after all those adventures. There was also a swimming pool, cozy bar, dining room and lounge to sit and chill.
In the following game drives we saw leopards twice more, as well as hyenas, giraffes, elephants, and many African antelopes and birds. For me the Tuli Adventure Trail was a breathtaking experience from beginning to end. With a perfect location, wonderful flora and fauna and the most charming staff taking care of us, I felt at home in the middle of the bush. Click here to read more about our visit to the Tuli Safari Lodge.