Hill­side havens in the Kruger Park

Road Trip - - CONTENTS - Story by Julie Gra­ham & Charlotte Rogers Im­ages © Ryan Ab­bott | TCB Me­dia & Shum­bal­ala

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!

Pablo House

Fu­sion Bou­tique Ho­tel

The Out­post Lodge & Pel’s Post

Pel’s Post

Fever Tree Forest

Shum­bal­ala Game Lodge

Shum­bal­ala Game Lodge

Shum­bal­ala Game Lodge

Bel­grace Bou­tique Ho­tel

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.