The Bliss of a Brand New Bush Breakaway
Becks Safari Lodge
I still remember when my brother and I received our first ‘grown-up’ bikes. His was brand new and a shiny blue. Mine was second hand and my dad had repainted it in my favourite colour at the time, pink. I loved that bike, but somehow the appeal of something brand new always has that little bit of extra sparkle that gets your heart racing. Imagine then, the feeling – travel addict that I am – of discovering a brand new game lodge. So new the sales tag was still attached to the woolly blanket on my bed!
Having only opened to the public a few months ago, visiting Becks Safari Lodge, in the Karongwe Private Game Reserve near Hoedspruit, is like ripping off the wrapping paper on Christmas morning and finding the top item on your Dear Santa list inside.
Karongwe Private Game Reserve has a long and established history. Bordering the greater Kruger National Park, it has the benefit of an equally rich and diverse range of animal species (including the Big Five as well as close to 400 species of birds – a twitcher’s paradise), while still maintaining an intimate experience where you are unlikely to come across more than two or three other game drive vehicles during your game drives. That means no vying with 15 other cars for a lion sighting (in fact we had the rather rare and animated experience of watching a pair of lions mating, all to ourselves), as well as that wonderful feeling of seclusion and tranquillity many of us escape to the bush for.
The Karongwe Portfolio comprises four other lodges, also dotted around the reserve, which cater to a variety of different tastes and price brackets. Becks Safari Lodge is the fifth and latest edition to the collection and, like most youngest children, has been liberally spoilt with all the trappings of five-star luxury, making it the undisputed flagship of the reserve.
Becks announces its presence with a shock of bright green grass, snuggled up against a striking layered-stone wall that wouldn’t be out of place in the lobby of a Fortune 500 company. This immediately hints at the fact that this lodge is going to be a little different from the norm. Whereas most game lodges are characterised by their low-hanging thatch roofs and cosy nooks and crannies festooned with objet trouvé from the bush, Becks is a study in light and airy modern architecture. The main lodge’s soaring roof encourages sunlight to trip across its modern décor, and its walls are covered in striking pieces of art. The dining room sits to one side, a comfy lounge to the other, while the bar is second only in its pride of place to the view in front of it – a sunken fire pit (perfect for marshmallows and fireside stories), a large deck overlooking the Makhutswi Riverbed, and an improbably blue 20 m infinity pool which you can share with the kingfishers during your morning laps.
Branching off from the main lodge, eight of the ten dove grey, canvas-sided suites are dotted along the riverbank, shaded by giant indigenous trees. Two other family rooms overlook the waterhole, which is often a hive of animal activity, especially in winter. The suites themselves are designed to be anything but a hive of activity though, as every possible creature comfort has been
foreseen and catered for. There are large bathtubs in which to wallow hippo-like; deck chairs on which to recline like the monkeys in the nearby trees; and a large four-poster bed with the kind of soft, comfy linen that will have you napping harder than a male lion after breakfast. The jar of homemade biscuits and the treats left lovingly on your pillow every night certainly don’t hurt either.
Speaking of tummy temptations, meal times are lavish affairs that won’t leave you in the mood to scavenge like a hyena afterwards. Early mornings start with fresh rusks and cups of coffee, which are repeated – along with the obligatory game drive hot chocolate on the morning drinks stop (be sure to ask your guide to bring along the Amarula for added flavour). Breakfast then follows with a colourful buffet of continental favourites, as well as a wide selection of cooked options. Afternoon snoozes, book-reading sessions – or perhaps even a visit to the indulgent Thera Naka spa where the lovely therapists work their magic on stressed shoulders and tired limbs – culminate in afternoon tea served on the main deck. “Let them eat cake” is clearly the chef’s motto, and who are we to argue with such sound advice?
Toasting the setting sun as it sinks behind the majestic Drakensberg Mountains is the perfect mid-point of any afternoon game drive – as essential as a drink around the fire afterwards before heading into dinner. This is either an elegant affair in the main dining room, or, for a truly memorable experience, under the stars in the boma. Lit only by candles, lanterns and two roaring fires, the lodge’s resident chef somehow manages to serve up a smorgasbord of delicious options – many of which one wouldn’t normally associate with a good oldfashioned braai. Meat lovers have nothing to fear though, as they are guaranteed to still be very well catered for.
With all of these gastronomic glories and luxury trappings, one might be mistaken in thinking that Becks’ main attraction is the lodge itself, when in fact it is the people who work here who are the real stars of the show. One cannot teach warmth or natural hospitality but the staff at Becks have both in spades, as well as an obvious love for the surrounding bush – the undisputed headline act.
The reserve has the enviable title of having one of the densest populations of leopard in South Africa, and though our encounter with one of these magnificent felines was fleeting, it’s impact certainly wasn’t. Add to that an unimpeded sighting of a cheetah, a morning watching lion cubs doze in sun, and a very up-close-andpersonal encounter with a few elephants, and most of us were kept very busy using the lodge’s Wi-Fi in the evenings uploading photos to social media. The impressive knowledge of the guides and trackers will also ensure that you’ll leave Becks with not only greater insight about the animals we share our country with, but also a greater appreciation for the gift we are given to be able to still see them in these kinds of beautiful, untouched places.
Pop a visit to Becks Safari Lodge on the top of your Christmas or birthday list this year – I guarantee it’s a gift that will keep on giving long after the staff have sent you on your way with a song and smile.
The Karongwe Private Game Reserve is situated in Limpopo, a short drive from Hoedspruit Airport. For more information, visit www.karongweportfolio.com. For reservations, contact +27 11 817 5560 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.