Nomad Africa Magazine - - Gallivant | Mattanu - Words: JO KROMBERG Pho­tographs: CORNEL VAN RENSBURG & JO KROMBERG

Adren­a­line surges through my en­tire body like the sluices be­ing opened on the Three Gorges Dam. I have a hard time bring­ing my weak knees to put one foot in front of the other as I walk across the tar­mac to the small he­li­copter.

the ver­mil­lion sun peeks over the hori­zon, spread­ing its soft morn­ing glow across the African bush, ver­dant with re­cent rain. I find my­self at Mat­tanu Pri­vate Game Re­serve, about 40 minute’s drive from Kim­ber­ley in the vast, semi-arid North­ern Cape Prov­ince of South Africa.

At six in the morn­ing, the heat is al­ready mak­ing its in­sid­i­ous way across the land and we have to do this thing rel­a­tively quickly be­fore it gets too hot. “This thing” be­ing the dart­ing of buf­falo from the he­li­copter, as one does on a Mon­day morn­ing, of course. We are the guests of fa­mous wildlife vet­eri­nar­ian, Doc­tor Jo­han Kriek and his fam­ily, who own and op­er­ate the lodge and this rare game breed­ing farm.

“Don’t go near the back ro­tors, it will take your face off,” says Dr Kriek’s pi­lot son, Jo­han Jnr, non­cha­lantly as I strap my­self in the back­seat – sans door. “Also, leave any­thing be­hind you don’t need. If any type of small item or pa­per flies out and gets stuck in the blades, we’re go­ing down and we die. Now, are you ready?” he adds with a beam­ing smile. I nod silently, not able to speak.

Ini­tial ab­ject ter­ror turns quickly into ut­ter fas­ci­na­tion as the he­li­copter lifts into the ris­ing sun and we be­gin our search for the buf­falo herd of more than 50. Then lo! We spot them and Doc­tor Jo­han shouts in­struc­tions to Jo­han Jnr. We de­scend quickly to within what seems like a hair's breadth above their gleam­ing, sweat­ing hides, while Jo­han Jnr ne­go­ti­ates trees and such. Then he shoots. The dart sticks and we fly off. We (well, not me) dart and tag

four more buf­falo that morn­ing.

A ground crew of about eight men rush to the sight of the drugged an­i­mal and they have to move very quickly to get these young beasts, weigh­ing half a ton each, onto a flatbed trailer and drive them to an en­closed camp. Dr Kriek then ex­am­ines the se­dated an­i­mals for ticks, disease, mea­sures and vac­ci­nates them, if nec­es­sary. Then they are “wo­ken up” with an­other quick in­jec­tion and after a surly, va­cant look in our di­rec­tion they drunk­enly trot off. It’s a big job and it’s one they do ev­ery day. The op­er­a­tion is slick and seam­less, but it can be dan­ger­ous since there is a chance they can charge. Mat­tanu is a He­brew phrase mean­ing, “gift from above” – of course – and this 4800 hectare Game Re­serve, owned by the Kriek fam­ily, came into be­ing in 1991. Dr Kriek, orig­i­nally from Zim­babwe, im­ported 95 en­dan­gered Roan an­te­lope and 65 rare Sable an­te­lope species into South Africa from Malawi.

This is widely re­garded by many as the most suc­cess­ful game cap­tur­ing and im­por­ta­tion op­er­a­tion ever. Dr JC Kriek is also re­garded by many as the pi­o­neer for the breed­ing of en­dan­gered an­te­lope in­dus­try in south­ern Africa. Ever since then, more than 300 Roan, Sable and dis­ease­free buf­falo have been bred at Mat­tanu. The prof­its from the Malawi op­er­a­tion were used to pur­chase Mat­tanu Pri­vate Game Re­serve, which was then a cat­tle farm in 1990 and to date, many mil­lions

Herds of kudu, eland, ze­bra, gi­raffe, a very rare Golden wilde­beest and Black im­pala, Oryx and spring­bok roam the vast open plains as Jac­ques painstak­ingly ex­plains the rai­son d'être of Mat­tanu. Con­ser­va­tion is part and par­cel of this Re­serve and they sell some of their game on auc­tion to other con­ser­va­tion game re­serves.

have been spent in the de­vel­op­ment of the in­fra­struc­ture and the re-in­tro­duc­tion of nu­mer­ous species. To date, there are over 36 dif­fer­ent an­i­mal species and ap­prox­i­mately 1000 an­i­mals on Mat­tanu. “The North­ern Cape is a very dry prov­ince and there­fore not many dis­eases ex­ist in this prov­ince. This is one of the main rea­sons, why most of the an­i­mals breed so well and why the con­ser­va­tion of all our species is so pos­i­tive,” ex­plains Dr Kriek as we drive back to the lodge for brunch and I slowly get back a rea­son­able fac­sim­ile of a nor­mal heart rate. I have ex­pe­ri­enced many strange and unique ad­ven­tures in the course of my ca­reer, but never, ever any­thing that comes close to this blowyour-head-off ex­pe­ri­ence.

The pre­vi­ous day, we had the good for­tune to have their other son Jac­ques Kriek as field guide on a fas­ci­nat­ing game drive. Herds of kudu, eland, ze­bra, gi­raffe, a very rare Golden wilde­beest and Black im­pala, Oryx and spring­bok roam the vast open plains as Jac­ques painstak­ingly ex­plains the rai­son d'être of Mat­tanu. Con­ser­va­tion is part and par­cel of this Re­serve and they sell some of their game on auc­tion to other con­ser­va­tion game re­serves. Quite frankly, it is the most unique and in­ter­est­ing wildlife sa­fari drive I can re­mem­ber. This is not a Big-5 lodge, no. For that you can go to any­one of hun­dreds of lodges in Africa. But there is only one Mat­tanu.

The cui­sine and lodge is just as spe­cial and unique as their ac­tiv­i­ties, un­der the ex­pert di­rec­tion of Dr Kriek’s lovely and charm­ing wife, Daleen. No menues, no fuss, just hon­est-to-good­ness earthy cook­ing and hos­pi­tal­ity. In fact, the food is noth­ing to write home about, since you feel you are al­ready home! The most de­li­cious home­made veni­son sausage, steak, Ka­roo lamb and other mouth-wa­ter­ing op­tions await you at Mat­tanu – all dis­tinctly South African with an ex­cel­lent wine list as well, fea­tur­ing award-win­ning lo­cal wines.

The Kriek fam­ily is per­son­ally in­volved in the re­serve and with all tourists and visi­tors to Mat­tanu, so guests can be as­sured of great ser­vice and hos­pi­tal­ity through their per­sonal at­ten­tion to your ev­ery need.

The lodge it­self is beau­ti­ful and lux­u­ri­ous, with­out be­ing op­u­lent or os­ten­ta­tious. The dé­cor re­flects the bush en­vi­ron­ment and the high ceil­ings and open, ex­pan­sive liv­ing and din­ing area make you feel as though you can breathe again. The main area in­cludes a bar, an un­der­ground wine cel­lar and state-of-the-art con­fer­ence fa­cil­ity. There is a wooden deck walk­way to the cen­tre of their new is­land cen­tre swim­ming pool area, which fea­tures a nat­u­ral rock wa­ter­fall fea­ture.

Nes­tled in the shade of in­dige­nous Camel thorn trees, path­ways lead you from the lodge to the lux­ury tented ac­com­mo­da­tion. Mat­tanu’s five lux­ury tents of­fer ac­com­mo­da­tion for fam­ily, friends, or small groups. Ex­ud­ing warmth and ef­fort­less hos­pi­tal­ity that char­ac­terises Mat­tanu Pri­vate Game Re­serve, the lux­ury tents of­fer un­par­al­leled in­ti­macy and seclu­sion.

The tents each with a pri­vate view­ing deck over­look a wa­ter­hole and are dec­o­rated in African de­signs, com­plete with lux­ury sleeper wood fur­nish­ings, full bath­room en-suite, in­door show­ers, mini-bars, jet-spa baths (yes!) and air­con­di­tion­ing with un­der-floor heat­ing. We stay at the lux­ury dou­ble-story thatched roof suite, which is hu­mungous with two bed­rooms and a lovely wooden deck up­stairs, from where we ad­mire the sun­set over the bush stretch­ing be­fore you and maybe spot a grace­ful gi­raffe or two. The clouds are jux­ta­posed against the cobalt blue sky, chang­ing colour from yel­low to pink to grey…

In terms of ac­tiv­i­ties, you will def­i­nitely want to be sky-bound here. Mat­tanu’s pri­vate he­li­copter is also used for their very pop­u­lar bushveld din­ner fly-ins, he­li­copter fly-fish­ing trips, he­li­copter game view­ing, of course and the trans­porta­tion of nu­mer­ous guests. In ad­di­tion to the new lodge de­vel­op­ment, Mat­tanu also up­graded from their R22, 2-seater he­li­copter and in­vested in a new R44, 4seater he­li­copter.

On our last evening in this slice of par­adise, the stars come out en masse and as we sit by the pool watch­ing the fir­ma­ment re­flected in the wa­ter, count­ing the shoot­ing stars, I think to my­self, what a fit­ting de­scrip­tion for such a mirac­u­lous place – gift from above.

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