If you’re going to pick your way through the bush, you might want to do it with a bit of pizzazz. I’m talking heated rooms, gourmet meals, foot massages and gin and tonics; all of which should leave you enveloped in a feeling of wellbeing and supreme satisfaction.
Story by Sofia Tosolari
Being in the bush doesn’t mean you have to feel like the bush. Luxury can shield you: a protective layer of comfort and relaxation, and it is without shame that I confess to relish and thrive in such conditions. And much to my delight, luxury came packaged in a weekend trip to Imbali Safari Lodge, located in one of the Kruger Park’s nine private concessions. Two other resorts share this area, Hoyo Hoyo Tsonga Lodge and the colonial tented camp called Hamilton’s Tented Camp.
After a three hour flight with SA Airlink from Cape Town to Nelspruit and a further three-hour drive into the park itself, I allowed myself half an hour to freshen up and ‘make myself at home’ (which meant burrowing in the complimentary food parcel). Then I was ready for our first game drive, excited to make the most of this little adventure.
One of the first things I noticed about our ranger (responsible for leading all three of our three-hour drives) was the fact that he wasn’t constantly blasting into his walkie-talkie like a communist revolutionary. Every so often, he would transmit (quietly) the GPS co-ordinates of the rhino we had spotted, but nothing further. It was a welcomed relief because so often, the game drive is shared with the crackling of a transmitter, which means that by the time you arrive at a kill, there are four other vehicles and twenty other over-enthusiastic tourists pre-empting you, all chanting ‘Wunderbar’ in unified agreement. This though was never the case.
The night drives were my favourite, as the headlights of our 4×4 would jump with the contours of the road. Then as we would approach a riverbed, the air would suddenly drop 5-10 degrees in temperature as if the dementors from Harry Potter had just swept up from the earth. At this point, I would snuggle deeper into the folds of numerous blankets and ponchos; narrow my eyes against the cold wind and continue searching for game, as the stars slowly made their singular appearance.
As twilight hovered the one evening, we pulled up to a watering hole where we found a ‘banqueting table’ brimming with spring rolls, dried fruit and biltong. As usual, I requested my regular gin and tonic. Watching the last rays fall over the horizon, we dulled our chatter to listen to the irregular roar of a lion. We stood in silence, hoping to hear it again, and it came. It was powerful and slightly ominous in the dark. Of course, the caterers wanted to call it a day, and some of the other journos started retelling the horror of the 1996 feature film The Ghost and the Darkness, a true story about two man-eating Tsavo lions who managed to kill an estimated 135 Indian workers during the construction of the African Uganda-Mombasa Railway in 1898. By this stage though, the gin had made me slightly nonchalant, and so I decided to simply enjoy the magical wonder of the roar. At one point though, I do recall trying to estimate how many (running) steps were between me and the vehicle.
Our drive then culminated in a feast at Hoyo Hoyo Tsonga Lodge, which we enjoyed (with guests from the other lodges) at long and beautifully set tables, close to the warmth of an outside braai. Sometime during the course of that evening, another rhino stepped into the spotlight across the riverbed and as we all turned to watch, it simply grazed for a few minutes and then ambled away into the darkness. It looked more relaxed than the others we had seen, possibly because of the stillness of the night. Rhino rely on sound, so when the wind causes leaves to rustle and branches to sway and creak, they will stand motionless, with their heads lowered and their ears twitching in an attempt to listen for any pending danger. Only when they feel safe will they continue to graze. Of course, much of the conversation that weekend was dominated by stories of poaching but in that moment, I preferred to savour a living memory. It’s like that feeling you get when you’re looking at your grandfather. You don’t know if it’s the last time you’ll see him. So you look, and try to remember what he did in that moment, or the way in which we looked back at you. Then as my eyes began to droop in the aftermath of homemade gluhwein, I realised how pampered I felt, as the weekend was quickly amounting to a perfect getaway.
Earlier that day for example, I had stepped onto my private patio to recline on the deck chair. If it had been summer though, I would probably have jumped into the mini (also private) patio pool, and surveyed my surroundings like a queen bee. Reflecting on it now as I write, it was all too wonderful.
We saw animals but on their terms. Nature appeared intact and unharassed and therefore it is with confidence that I can say that if you enjoy luxury and if your heart yearns for the wild and unpredictable promise of the bush…you can experience both. Here in our VERY OWN Kruger National Park. I’m so pleased I can actually write those words.