The plane trembles like a bumblebee with vertigo as it lilts and lifts through the sky cavity around Joburg. The ground, a blurred marble of ochre and olive, continues on. And on. And on.
It’s only a short hop by air from Johannesburg to the Madikwe Game Reserve in African terms, but of course, for those of us from smaller isles, it’s hard to believe just how much space there is out there on the ground.
After 50 minutes, a jeep picks us up at the airport, us being me and a couple who have come back to visit the Makanyane Safari Lodge for perhaps the 8th or 9th time. We bounce off through the dust, dipping into a river and passing giraffe and impala as though they were pelicans and zebra crossings on a high street at home.
Game reserves are a different experience to the untamed plains like the Serengeti. Madikwe has fences (though you rarely see them) surrounding the 1, 800 hectares of private ground. Madikwe’s the second largest reserve in South Africa and it represents the end result of the inspiringly named Operation Phoenix, when over 10 000 animals were translocated into the reserve. You could be mistaken for thinking that sounds like driving through a giant zoo but not only do the roads feel wilder than that but the issues underpinning the operation are more complex as well. Phoenix came about as the result of a collaboration between the North West Parks and Tourism Board, the private sector and local communities.
Operation Phoenix: Over 10 00 animals were translocated into the reserve
But, let’s face it. Most visitors aren’t here for a lesson in social and environmental strategy and planning. They’re here for the wildlife – and to relax. And Madikwe provides plenty of both. And what’s even better: it’s a malaria free zone.
Most guests stay for around 3 to 4 nights, heading out on safari at dawn and then again at dusk. In between is a time for reading, dozing, relaxing in the small spa or pounding the rubber in the small air conditioned gym. Despite so many facilities, with only 8 suites there’s a distinctive homely feel. The couple I arrive with are not the only ones who make this place their bolt hole and return time and time again. Not only do they know the staff, but they and everyone else here makes quite the effort to get to know the lone stranger who spends so much time taking pictures and tapping into her phone.
Yet the rooms offer solitude if you require it. Glass stretches out in so many directions and yet the view offers only wilderness. A teak desk sits in one corner, a double bed in pride of place and a sofa and sunlounger wait beneath the bare stone walls and thatch. An outdoor shower with the threat of lions prowling by gives the scented soap a certain tingle and the lack of locks on the door add a sizzle of frisson as well. (The paths are all open to the elements and visitors are not allowed to walk alone at night. An experienced guide must accompany you. Any sign of danger and you all sprint into the closest suite, meaning doors must be kept unlocked at all times.)
But as sumptuous as the rooms (and even the wine cellar) are, it’s the game that everyone’s here for (topped off with small group numbers, a vehicle with padded seats and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic sundowners.) Between the crackling whispers of the dry leaves on trees, I hear talk of leopards, lions, elephants and rhinos. Even a rare African wild dog, whose name in local Tswana turns out to be Makanyane.
I’ll leave you with a taster of what I saw here...stay in touch to see more over the next few months.
-Stunning design of suites
-Excellent customer service
-Comfy jeep spot (until you’ve been on safari in the ice cold at 6am on bouncing metal you won’t know how much you’ll appreciate this)
-Outstanding wildlife viewing
-Dedicated terminal lounge away from the main Joburg airport, stocked with refreshments, power points, a gift shop and wifi
-Wifi in the library if you REALLY want to use it
-You will see fences
-There isn’t much to do in between safaris. This wasn’t a problem for me as I was happy with my laptop and camera but it’s worth pointing out…
-It’s a safari lodge so if you aren’t interested in safaris, well, this isn’t the place for you…
Find all the details here
Disclosure – I stayed as a guest of the Makanyane Safari Lodge for review purposes although as ever, as always, I kept the right to write whatever I liked about it. I absolutely loved the place but that isn’t always the case. You can check out my other reviews here. I travelled to South Africa on this occasion as a guest of Go To South Africa and South African Airways. Again, writing whatever I like. Read more about South Africa.