The hour is early, the morning already warm and beautiful, despite the rain that the area has experienced over the past few days. The dazzling forest reflects the sun from a cloudless, endless blue sky as we disembark from the game drive vehicle.
The aroma of the early morning earth in Africa waking up is intoxicating. Wild sage and fresh dew on the trees … it’s tone-caringly wonderful to be back in the African bush after so many months.
We find ourselves at Noka Camp in the Lapalala wilderness area, about a three-hour drive from Johannesburg near the Waterberg in the Vaalwater area of Limpopo.
And this morning we are invited to witness a very special operation. Noka Camp and Lapalala Wilderness place great emphasis on environmental and animal protection and today we have the privilege of seeing them release their herd of 21 wild dogs from a boma where they have been detained for the past three months after being relocated here from other farms. They have meanwhile made baby wild dogs so the young ones are now old enough to be released with their parents.
We sit in suspense and anticipation and watch a dead impala being tied to a tree and then the gates of the boma are simply opened. The pack hesitates initially. Then the older dogs see the prey and then like lightening they attack their meal and devour the impala within seven minutes flat. The little ones follow shortly on their heels and, having now eaten, the pack sets off into the bush to explore their newfound environment.
Just like that, they are gone and even the hardy guides and professional environmental specialists shed a tear. These guys did, after all, take care of them for three months.
Noka camp itself is simply breathtaking. It lies stretched out on top of a very steep cliff and the view of the river very far below and the hills and mountains on the horizon must be seen to be believed.
The Lapalala Wilderness itself covers approximately 50,000 hectares and there are only two lodges on the entire property. We arrived here the day before with high expectations and we were not disappointed for one moment.
Our guide Hendrie received us with a broad smile at the gate where you leave your car behind and go on your first game drive, about an hour’s drive to Noka Camp. The reserve contains the Big-5 and we see the old beautiful favourites like giraffes, zebras, a lion family feeding on a buffalo, all kinds of antelope species and a rhino and her child – the former with the most fabulous, untouched longhorn. Due to extremely sophisticated and strict anti-poaching measures in this area, these rhinos are very well looked after.
Apart from game drives, the lodge offers bush dinners, river picnics, yoga and stargazing. At an extra cost, you can also go on a sundowner boat cruise or have an indulgent massage.
The entrance to the lodge and the accommodation appear modest and unobtrusive at first glance – large “tents” that seamlessly fit in with the surroundings. Our hostess Ursula and her team welcome us with a drink and then we are escorted to our accommodation.
Okay, let’s talk about our South Africans’ definition of a “tent”. And whatever it may be dear reader, this is as far from that definition as the Kardashians are from good taste. Ursula tried to contain her laughter when she saw my shameless, childish admiration as we entered the tent.
Massive glass windows everywhere give an unobstructed, breathtaking view of the Palala River below. The unit consists of a lounge, bedroom, bathroom with an outside shower and two patios, one of which contains a splash pool. The whole place’s lighting, music, blinds and temperature can be controlled from an “iPad”, programmed specifically for that unit. There is also a “sky” bed outside on a see-through platform, giving the impression that you are floating far above the world, like Bowie.
It is also clear, even to the layman, that every architectural and design detail has been carefully selected and everything is to the highest possible standard – from the pure mohair blankets and the quality tea and coffee to the marble table outside. No cost was spared.
There are only five villas with a maximum capacity of 12 people so social distancing is no problem here.
With difficulty I lift my jaw off the ground as lunch awaits us, consisting of delicious shrimp and an extremely tasty hamburger. Everything is made fresh on the premises and only the best ingredients are used and turned into gourmet artefacts in the hands of chef Tsepeso and his team. Tsepeso spent six months training under Heston Blumenthal at the Michelin starred Fat Duck in the UK nogal! The service is also excellent. Unfortunately, the rain put the kibosh on our game drive that afternoon but I used the time to lie in my huge bubble bath for hours, with soft, soothing music coming through the walls, and delighting in the incredible views.
After dinner that evening I chat with Ursula about Noka Camp. She tells me that every penny of profit the owners make goes back into conserving the environment and that it is one of the extremely rare wildlife reserves with this approach.
The usual price per person per night is an eye-watering R16500, but due to uncertain foreign markets and flights thanks to COVID-19, the camp is offering a special of only R5000 per person available to South Africans. This includes all accommodation, food and certain activities such as game drives. Drinks and a conservation fee are excluded. The offer will last until May 2021.
Noka Camp is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and South Africans now have the rare opportunity to pay less than a third of the usual rate for this piece of paradise. So go on, you know you want to…
Contact and bookings: https://lepogolodges.com/noka-camp