The Bliss of a Brand New Bush Break­away

Becks Sa­fari Lodge

Indwe - - Contents - Text: Nicky Fur­niss Images © Karongwe Port­fo­lio

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 reser­va­tions@karong­we­port­fo­lio.com.

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