The Kruger National Park may be world-renowned but there is no shortage of lesser-known unique, brilliantly designed and conservation pioneering lodges elsewhere in South Africa. Story by Jo Kromberg.
Leobo Lodge in Limpopo is all about play and doing exactly what you want, when you want. There are toys and grown-up kids’ activities galore (as well as kid’s kid activities of course), but if you’re in the mood for serenity and de-stressing, that is also on the menu. Surrounded by the diverse Waterberg Mountains and overlooking the Palala Valley, this magnificent, malaria-free destination provides the setting for an exclusive private house, the Observatory, designed by award-winning architects Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens.
The astounding expanse of the living area allows guests to enjoy an uninterrupted panorama, thanks to a steel-engineered roof. This space leads to a heated infinity pool, which blends in beautifully with its natural surroundings. An outer flight of stairs leads to the sunset deck where you can soak in the Jacuzzi with a drink whilst looking at the sunset or the million stars.
Food and beverages are attended to by your own gourmet chef and butler and activities include thermal imaging equipment for night time game viewing, quad bikes and golf buggy, all done in your own time. There is a multi-room music system, target shooting with sniper rifles and bass fishing in the nearby dams. A starlight safari by local astronomer Dr Phil Calcot will leave you spellbound and the estate’s private helicopter can be booked to spot various game. Contact https://leoboprivatereserve.com/contact-book/ to book your stay.
Shamwari Private Game Reserve
Located about an hour away from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, Shamwari has become iconic over the years. Movie stars and royalty love this place, more specifically at the magnificent Eagle’s Crag lodge with its superior service and to-die-for food.
The reserve is also world-famous for their conservation efforts and their Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre has recently undergone renovations.
A very imaginative and viscerally designed path leads to the doors. On each side of the path there are poles with dates on, depicting exactly the year a specific specie was decimated from existence, never to be seen alive again. It’s a very emotional and powerful reminder of how we must preserve our endangered wildlife.
Your host and guide will explain that once the animals here have been nursed back to health, they are released back into their natural habitat. It’s NOT an interactive visit, but an informative and educational experience, in order to give animals the best chance at successful release.
During the recovery phase, “patients” are kept in custom built camps and guests stand on wooden platforms to furtively watch them, as out of sight as possible. We meet two baby elephant, a baby sable and a very rare baby eland as well as an orphaned baby rhino. They even rehabilitate and treat wild birds of prey here. All species, big or small, are welcome and embraced by this dedicated team who work tirelessly, day and night. Their reward is a weak orphan drinking for the first time, growing in strength and finally being returned to its natural environment. It’s the stuff of tears this…
Contact to book your stay: https://www.shamwari.com/
Mhondoro Private Game Lodge
Welgevonden is a 37,000 hectare malaria-free game reserve of diverse landscapes and geology and a plethora of South Africa’s most stunning wildlife in the heart of the rich ecosystem of the Waterberg District in Limpopo. One of the most outstanding lodges here is the 5-star Mhondoro Private Game Lodge.
All muted Zen colours, it is apparent that each ornament, lighting fixture, rug and painting has been hand selected and combines a modern mix of African chic and contemporary design. The food and service are among the best anywhere in the world, hands down. The lodge also features an excellent spa and the nine suites and villas are an assault on the senses in the most delightful way.
One of the most unique features of the Lodge is its hide – an underground bunker from which you can spot the animals up close and personal. You walk through the 65m reinforced concrete tunnel which has automatic lighting and emerge below the level of the waterhole, watching the game drinking water in silence, a few feet away. Mhondoro is the only 5-star safari lodge that has this feature. At night after dinner you are invited for a spot of star gazing on a platform above the lodge, built especially for this activity. The starlight talk is immensely informative. We are in fact, capable of seeing about 2500 stars at that moment, our guide tells us. Contact them to book your stay via: https://www.mhondoro.com/
Moledi Gorge Lodge
Only a few hours out of Johannesburg lies tucked away a hidden gem. Moledi Gorge Lodge is called “uber-chic” on the website and this is no exaggeration. With only eight individually designed suites, Moledi is located north of Magaliesburg in the North West Province. The first thing that strikes you about this gorgeous place is the sophisticated décor and architecture and the views, oh the views! It overlooks the expansive gorge from every angle and you can easily sit here for hours, immersed in the tranquillity.
The suites are immaculate. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors celebrate the views optimally. Cocooned in this sanctuary, it is almost inconceivable that the city is so close. The Presidential Suite is truly designed to make you feel like royalty with its own garden and swimming pool. Although this is not a Big-5 area, you will not be at a loss for things to do. Bush walks, horse riding, game drives and spa indulgences all make this one of the most special experiences you can have anywhere. Berdine, Tshepiso and their team will do everything they can to accommodate your requests with a smile and the food is simply spectacular.
Moledi also has a wine cellar with an excellent selection and a private dining area. The large boma hosts unforgettable outdoor braais and other imaginative dining options include special lunches in the gorge and a hilltop picnic spot – again with those views. Attractions and activities in the area include Maropeng, the Sterkfontein Caves as well as Bill Harrop’s hot-air balloon safaris over the scenic mountains. The balloon safari lasts for about an hour but the memory will stay with you a lifetime. Moledi is 5-star all the way but refreshingly, the prices are not. We highly recommend this exquisite place!
Mattanu Private Game Reserve
Mattanu must be South Africa’s best kept secret lodge. It is located about 40 minutes’ drive from Kimberley in the vast, semi-arid Northern Cape. Mattanu is a Hebrew phrase meaning, “gift from above” and this 4,800 hectare Game Reserve, owned by the Kriek family, came into being in 1991. Dr JC Kriek, originally from Zimbabwe, is widely known as a pioneer conservationist and importer of endangered Roan and Sable from Malawi. The lodge itself is luxurious without being ostentatious. The main area includes a bar, an underground wine cellar and state-of-the-art conference facility. There is also a wooden deck walkway to the island swimming pool area, which features a natural rock waterfall feature. The tents, each with a private viewing deck overlooking a waterhole, are decorated in African designs with mini-bars, jet-spa baths (yes!) and air-conditioning with under floor heating.
But the most unique feature of the lodge is its helicopter activity. You will go up first thing in the morning with Dr Kriek and his son Johan who pilots the chopper. Initial abject terror quickly turns to utter fascination as the helicopter lifts into the rising sun and you begin the search for the buffalo herd or other game. The helicopter descends quickly to within what seems like a hair’s breadth above the animals’ gleaming, sweating hides. Dr Kriek will dart and tag the given animals from the air and a ground crew will rush to the sight of the drugged animals to drive them to an enclosed camp. Dr Kriek then examines and measures them, checking for ticks and disease before vaccinating them if necessary. The operation is slick and seamless and will leave you breathless with adrenaline.
Mattanu’s private helicopter is also used for their very popular bush dinner fly-inns, helicopter fly-fishing trips and helicopter game viewing of course. And it won’t cost you and arm and a leg either. Contact: https://mattanu.com/reservationsenquiries/
Thanda Safari Lodge
Thanda means “love” in Zulu. And that is appropriate because this place will leave you smitten. The Reserve is located in the heart of the beautiful Elephant Coast region near Hluhluwe, KwaZulu Natal. With 14,000 hectares to explore, the Reserve hosts the Big-5 and you might see more diverse wildlife, including cheetah, hyena, warthog and the occasional wild dog, as well as abundant bird and plant life. What is more, it’s all exclusively yours.
Thanda is a private game reserve and their dedicated staff members are the only people you’ll encounter on the roads while you’re here. The Lodge itself is the epitome of luxury.
The lounge features African art, huge windows, fascinating books on African legends, plush sofas and dark wooden accents. Your bush villa will entrance you. The rooms have rooms! The villa is designed in the round shapes of the traditional Zulu hut, but three separate areas provide a lounge, bedroom and then the spectacular bathroom as well – all round. Apart from the normal five-star amenities, there is an intimate boma dining area outside with a fire place – just for you… This is in addition to your own splash pool and massive oval daybed. A majestic double-sided fire place is the centre point of the villa and partially separates the bedroom and lounge area. There are only nine villas here so privacy is paramount. The Lodge also boasts a world award-winning luxury spa (as does the Tented Camp) in case all this luxury stresses you out and the boma dinners are splendid. Contact: https://www.thandasafari.co.za/