Current owner, Indian businessman and liquor baron, Vijay Mallya, bought the farm about 20 years ago from the Joubert family, who had created South Africa's first time-share model to try and retain the property as a game reserve. Extraordinary – a collection of luxury hotels and lodges in southern Africa – now manage and run it. Conservation concerns include cheetah tracking and the Mabula Southern Ground-Hornbill Project that uses the reserve as the first reintroduction site for new chicks. The 12,000 hectare Mabula Reserve viably sustains 60 mammal species, including hyena, lion, cheetah, caracal, elephants, giraffes, buffalo, rhino, zebra, and assorted antelope, making it a great place to tick off the Big Five on a game drive.
WHERE IS IT?
Set within the Waterberg region of Limpopo, Mabula Lodge is 200 kilometres north of Johannesburg, with Bela Bela being the closest town 47 kilometre away. It's a two-hour drive from Pretoria.
A king-sized bed, plush wingback chairs, cushions, Persian rugs, and a writing desk in our double-volume suite conjured up the early 1900s, but with 21st century trimmings, including a huge flat-screen TV – no need to live without the rugby – and wi-fi at a price. All 50 rooms are air-conditioned with flat-screens, ensuite bathroom, telephone, hair dryer, safe and tea/coffee-making facilities. There's also a curio shop on the property in case you forgot to pack a hat.
RESTAURANTS & BARS:
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner – comprising tasty buffets, a carvery, venison stews, and plenty of vegetarian options – are served in the main Ko Bojelong restaurant that seats 200. Mvubu Deck, overlooking a small dam, seats up to 60 guests, making it ideal for gala dinners, theme evenings and conference teams. The Ndlovu Boma offers traditional South African cuisine outdoors, as does Shaya Moya under an ancient Wild Fig tree, that can seat up to 180 guests and offers spectacular views over the plain. The elegantly appointed Whisky Bar leads onto the terrace or you can enjoy a beer at the outdoor Pool Bar.
Three fully equipped conferencing venues include Kingfisher, accommodating up to 160 delegates; the Marula venue that seats up to 60 delegates; and Baobab that takes up to 40 delegates. All three venues can use cinema-style, U-shape and boardroom configurations. Conference equipment for hire at an additional surcharge includes TV, white board, slide projectors, overhead projectors, PA system, video recorder, flip charts, fixed screens, portable screens, lectern, portable projector, photostat machine and data projectors. Incidentally, wi-fi is not free here either. Mabula will gladly assist with informal breakaway venues and private dining venues, and some innovative team building activities, such as ‘Corporate Chaos' in which teams try make a profit from an obscure list of tasks to appease their shareholders, or the ‘Art of War' that encourages delegates to participate in a realistic military simulation, involving stealth as opposed to enemy confrontation. Other activities include clay pigeon shooting, craft classes, archery, paintball, and murder mystery dinners.
Massages, facials, manicures, pedicures and waxing treatments are available from the Mabula Spa housed under thatch opposite the pool. After an hour-long Swedish massage involving bamboo sticks to soothe aching muscles, I felt my residual city stress vanish like Ajay Gupta dodging court. Twice-daily game drives are a treat and I found our ranger, JP O'Donnell, to be super professional and knowledgeable about all aspects of the bush. Guided bush and bird walks can be arranged on request, along with hot air balloon safaris, horse riding and quad biking.
An ideal conference or family venue with a distinctly South African safari flavour. Just watch out for extra costs such as wi-fi and drinks on game drives –a beer costs around R35. ($2.50)
Caroline Hurry ■