THE OUTPOST AND PEL’S POST
Hillside havens in the Kruger Park
In need of a well-deserved break, Julie Graham jumped at the opportunity to head to the bush to explore the contrasting landscapes of the northern and southern reaches of the Greater Kruger National Park – and did so in style in the new Jaguar F-pace R-sport.
The wind was pumping as I stood on the edge of a rocky precipice, overlooking the immense Lanner Gorge and the flowing Luvuvhu River below. The sun was setting behind me and I felt as though I was literally on top of the world.
A small Namaqua Rock mouse scurried between my feet, stopped for a moment, and looked at me. “I am one with nature,” I thought, as I bent down and put my open palm out towards the little critter.
“Come on, don’t be shy,” I whispered. My new furry friend edged towards me. Everyone watched in silence as it placed its delicate feet onto my hand and opened its mouth in what I swear was a grin of sinful delight before crunching down on my middle finger with its sharp front teeth, sending me wheeling and squealing in pain.
One with nature? Yeah, right.
Pablo House to Polokwane
We started our journey at Pablo House – an inner-city oasis in Melville, Johannesburg, that is the second born of the HELLO PABLOS family (the first being the popular eatery, Pablo Eggs-go-bar, that offers the ultimate in all-day breakfast dining). After a great night’s rest at this contemporary haven overlooking the Melville Koppies (easily, one of the best views in Jozi), we hit the N1 in our new Jag and soon discovered that it was so much more than just a pretty face.
The F-pace’s spacious backseat and cargo area offered plenty of space for our luggage (bear in mind there were four of us, and we were embarking on a 12-day trip), as well as ample leg room. For a luxury SUV, it is surprisingly practical whilst blending in an edgy, sporty interior complete with the latest contemporary bits and bobs. We were venturing forth in the 20d model with an efficient and powerful turbodiesel engine, making overtaking a breeze.
A comfortable three-and-a-half-hour drive from Pablo House, we settled in for the night at what is undoubtedly Polokwane’s star attraction – the Fusion Boutique Hotel, a five-star space where extravagance and art marry contemporary design to offer something quite special.
The bellow of the Baobabs
The next morning, eager to hit the road, I shepherded the troupe out of the plush comfort of the hotel and into the car. Next stop: the beautiful Pafuri Triangle in the Northern part of the Kruger National Park, to spend a few nights at The Outpost Lodge and Pel’s Post.
While the Jag’s built-in infotainment GPS system proved to be a little slow to respond, the Bluetooth worked brilliantly
with all the smartphones on board. So, settling for our trusty iphone GPS to get us to our next destination, we hit the N1 and R525 en route to The Outpost Lodge.
The drive towards this part of the country becomes increasingly more beautiful once you pass the small town of Louis Trichardt and head into the heart of Limpopo. Boring straight roads become mountain passes, and you pass nature reserves and small villages, before the majestic baobabs begin to start popping up… everywhere.
These trees have always fascinated me. Steeped in legend and superstition, their gnarled, bark and bulbous branches ooze an air of mystique and wonder. The bellow of the baobab was loud… and the Pafuri Triangle was full of them. Though all I wanted to do was put foot and get there as fast as I could, goats and cattle became regular “stop and goes” as we moved closer towards our destination.
About four hours (with a few photo stops along the way, and 15-minutes of off road driving from the Pafuri Gate – which, incidentally, the mighty Jag handled with ease thanks to higher-than-usual ground clearance and all-wheel drive) we were welcomed at The Outpost Lodge; a contemporary bush haven, cantilevered on a hill overlooking the Luvuvhu River with baobabs as far as the eye can see.
The Outpost and Pel’s Post
Three nights at The Outpost Lodge and two nights at the neighbouring Pel’s Post (both part of the exquisite Rare Earth Retreats Portfolio) is enough to write a book about. Both encapsulate a supreme luxury safari experience with such cleverly orchestrated design so as to have minimal impact on the environment.
There are not many places in Kruger that offer the kind of views that both The Outpost and Pel’s Post can offer – panoramic exposure to the seemingly endless horizon. Sitting on our giant veranda, we spotted an abundance of animals, including elephant, a variety of antelope species, dassies, and baboons.
At lodges, the baths in the open plan bathrooms overlook the wilderness and were perfectly sheltered to ensure maximum privacy. The highlight of each of the suites is undoubtedly the retractable remote-controlled screens which give you a real al fresco bush experience, completely immersing you in the wilderness. While The Outpost lodge can accommodate up to 24 people in 12 suites, Pel’s Post offers utmost exclusivity with only four rooms that can sleep up to eight people. You have to see it to believe it — it’s pure magic!
You would be remiss to not grab the opportunity to go on every game drive while staying here, both the morning ones – Ranger Nick makes a mean
“Ranger Special”, known in other areas as a Chocamocharula (coffee, hot chocolate, and Amarula) – and the evening ones, to fully take in the incredible nature of this region of the Kruger National Park. Fever tree forests that stretch for miles, the immense Lanner Gorge and the rich biodiversity of the bushveld is like nothing you will find anywhere else in the park.
After each morning drive, we were welcomed back with a delicious breakfast spread, which Ollie The Outpost squirrel was equally as invested in. The story was the same at Pel’s Post (minus Ollie) where we tucked into something warm and delicious after a good few hours of bush adventuring. After breakfast, we spent most of our days by the pool (which also has a view of the landscape surrounding the lodge) under the powerful African sun.
Each and every meal throughout our stay, improved on the last – as impossible as we imagined that to be. Fish was on the menu, and even though we were a fair distance from the sea, the chef prepared it so well that it tasted fresh as can be.
One particularly magical evening, we were told to be changed and ready for dinner at 18h30. Nick loaded us into the Landy and took off towards The Outpost. There we discovered our dinner venue – a clearing, lit by lanterns under the protection of a mighty Baobab tree. We drank, ate, and mingled under the clearest sky I have ever seen and stared endlessly at the Milky Way. The food was sensational, and the Baobab tree dinner is something that I will never forget.
We got up close and personal with elephants, big herds of buffalo and all kinds of other smaller game, and enjoyed sundowners in magnificent spaces, including Lanner Gorge and the banks of the Limpopo River, each evening. The staff and guides went out of their way to ensure we were taken care of like royalty and everything – from the endless vistas, delicious food and exquisite architecture – made this one of the most memorable bush experiences I have yet to have.
The Big Five
Before we knew it, our time in the Pafuri Triangle was up and we pointed the nose of the Jag south. Shumbalala Game Lodge, nestled in the 14,000 ha Thornybush Reserve – now part of the Greater Kruger National Park – was our next destination and, though the biodiversity of the Pafuri region was to be left behind for a more traditional bushveld experience, it was here that an encounter with the whole of the Big Five gang was more likely.
Exiting the Pafuri Gate would mean a 350 km drive (roughly five-and-a-half hours) through Malamulele, Hoedspruit
and a number of small villages . Instead, we opted to drive right through the park (at 50 km/h this would mean an additional two hours) and exit at Phalaborwa before taking the road to Thornybush Reserve, about 100 km from the Phalaborwa Gate. If you have time, this is a great opportunity to experience a self-drive through the park and spot some game on your own time.
Shumbalala (meaning “Where the lion sleeps”) was all we had hoped for, and more. Situated on the banks of the seasonal Monwana River, with an active waterhole in front of the lodge, we were treated to up close and personal encounters of elephant, nyala, kudu, buffalo and even a young male lion, from the privacy of our verandas.
Game drives gave a new meaning to “bundu bashing” as we went in search of prime sightings off road, through dense bush. On the three drives we did during our stay, we saw a lioness on the hunt, a family of leopards with an impala kill, the same lioness the following day with a young wildebeest that she had killed, hyena visitors during sundowners (and one that casually walked through the camp during our first night at dinner), a male tusker – one of the Magnificent Seven of the Kruger – buffalo, a herd of wild dogs, bush pigs and more. For the ultimate in game viewing, Shumbalala is, hands down, where it’s at.
Home Time… Almost
After three nights of unapologetic luxury in the twin-suited Presidential suite at Shumbalala, nights around roaring fires, a private dinner in the magnificent wine cellar, and days lazing in the infinity pool gazing into the eyes of elephants, we reluctantly hit the road again, travelling through the green hilly mountain roads of gorgeous Mpumalanga, en route to White River for our last night.
I have always loved driving in Mpumalanga – the quaint villages and spectacular scenery are more than enough to make one forget about the somewhat shoddy road conditions and low speed limits. It’s no wonder it’s one of our country’s most loved self-drives.
In just under three hours and we were in an entirely different world. After just over a week in the bush, we were transported into the secret gardens of the Belgrace Boutique Hotel, described as being an “unapologetically romantic” space. A quintessentially European-styled luxury hotel, it is indeed the perfect place for romantic indulgences, although, that’s not why we were there. So, we just soaked up the grandiose setting, lazed in our private Jacuzzis and enjoyed the unrivalled five-star service and opulence before heading to the airport the following day and bidding adieu to our trusty steed, who by then most definitely had some stories to tell!
Fusion Boutique Hotel
The Outpost Lodge & Pel’s Post
Fever Tree Forest
Shumbalala Game Lodge
Shumbalala Game Lodge
Shumbalala Game Lodge
Belgrace Boutique Hotel