Safari Moon Luxury Bush Lodge: fit for Hollywood and its A-listers

At a place that Tom Cruise called home, Sanet Oberholzer discovers a Hoedspruit trip should be about the journey as much as the destination

19 September 2023 - 13:29
By Sanet Oberholzer
At the end of each day of filming, Tom Cruise was treated to spectacular sunsets at Safari Moon Luxury Bush Lodge.
Image: Kevin Mark Pass At the end of each day of filming, Tom Cruise was treated to spectacular sunsets at Safari Moon Luxury Bush Lodge.

 

When the news broke in 2022 that Tom Cruise was in town, apart from his daily trips filming scenes for the eighth movie in the Mission Impossible franchise, the details of his whereabouts were kept hush-hush in the expected fanfare.

But keeping a secret of such A-lister proportions wasn’t to be and it soon emerged that Cruise had shacked up at a private game lodge in Limpopo’s Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate where fans flocked to greet him or catch a sneaky glimpse after filming wrapped up and he choppered himself back to his luxury accommodation in an AS 350 Squirrel helicopter.

Nearly a year later, I found myself in the area — not for filming, but for the usual reasons tourists flock to this part of the world: visiting Kruger National Park. Hoedspruit is part of the Greater Kruger and is affectionately referred to as the Big 5 Capital of South Africa because it acts as a springboard from which to explore the wildlife the surrounding region it is so popular for.

Mission Impossible does not have a distinctly African feel and it might at first seem a surprising choice for Cruise’s location scouts, unless you’ve taken a trip on which you’ve come to appreciate the vistas and impressive landscapes branching out from this town situated between the foot of the Klein Drakensberg and the wildlife park. As fans will discover when the movie comes out in 2024, it’s exactly these scenes around the Blyde River Canyon that acted as the drawcard for Cruise and his crew.

The famed Leopard Room where Tom Cruise slept.
Image: Sanet Oberholzer The famed Leopard Room where Tom Cruise slept.

A-LISTER ACCOMMODATION

When the Hollywood star was not filming, he called Safari Moon Luxury Bush Lodge home, a bush lodge with a distinctly boutique hotel feel. Designer and decorator Nicola Leitch and her husband, aviation expert and author Guy, bought the house on the 680ha Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate and converted it into a five-star lodge with six suites, each named after a species of wildlife roaming the residential game reserve: porcupine, giraffe, honey badger, bush baby, nyala — and leopard. These big cats are less common than the small game at the estate but have been known to make an appearance.

Each room has been designed slightly differently but it’s the keys to the Leopard Room you want to ask for if you want to share a bed with Cruise.

The lounge boasts an astonishing collection of the distinctive Ardmore pottery.
Image: Sanet Oberholzer The lounge boasts an astonishing collection of the distinctive Ardmore pottery.

At the top of a staircase, the spacious room features a private deck and outdoor shower with delicate Moroccan tiles. The standard four-poster bed — as is found in all the suites — is perched on an enormous Persian carpet with soft hues of gold and blue. An oil painting of a leopard occupies pride of place above a grey velvet sofa and a side table bearing goblets for enjoying a sip of sherry.

Apparently, Cruise used this as his private room and converted one of the rooms below into his personal gym.

The elegant reception area branches off from a spacious kitchen.
Image: Kevin Mark Pass The elegant reception area branches off from a spacious kitchen.
Every meal is pretty as a picture.
Image: Sanet Oberholzer Every meal is pretty as a picture.

My interest in the other rooms extended only to appreciating the unique décor that has been carefully considered for each space, a feature that translates into the rest of the lodge, where luxury seeps into every nook. Artworks by the likes of Lionel Smit are displayed above an ever-increasing collection of Persian rugs, beaded artworks, wood carvings, leather couches adorned with plush scatter cushions and an astonishing collection of ceramics from the luxury art and homeware label Ardmore.

Beyond the lounge and an open-concept kitchen is the dining area and bar where three-course meals are delivered with flair: expect orchid blooms framing platters with fine salmon sandwiches and scones for lunch, and three-course dinners at dimly lit tables adorned with handwritten menus.

An outdoor pool area with sun loungers offers a space to enjoy beyond the comforts of your room during the day, and at night there are drinks in the boma with the sounds of the night critters flooding the air.

The view over the Blyde River Canyon from the observation deck.
Image: 123RF/DCODEGONI The view over the Blyde River Canyon from the observation deck.

Inviting as the lodge may be, it would be a shame not to uncover the natural beauty of the lowveld beyond. You can explore the surrounds of Hoedspruit with its quirky shops, art galleries and restaurants or discover more of the estate on a self-game drive, by taking to its mountain biking and walking trails or setting out on horseback.

Apart from game drives on neighbouring private game reserves or in Kruger National Park (Safari Moon is a 45-minute drive to Orpen Gate), there are hot air balloon rides, quad biking, hiking, microlight flights and helicopter flips over the Blyde River Canyon à la Cruise.

But the best way to explore beyond Hoedspruit is to do a road trip, snaking your way north from the belly of Mpumalanga, through Graskop and along the R532, stopping to appreciate the views branching off the panoramic route along the way: God’s Window, Pinnacle Rock, Lisbon and Berlin Falls, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, the Three Rondawels and the emerald dips of the Blyde River Canyon.

BEYOND LUXURY

Working your way from the top of the observation deck overlooking the bowels of the canyon below will take about 90 minutes but it’s worth it to truly appreciate the view from a different perspective as you cruise on the dam along its base.

Our trip with Blyde Canyon Safaris started at the jetty at the Blyde Dam in the Blyderivierspoort Nature Reserve and kicked off with a few useful snippets from our guide. The canyon is the third largest in the world — after the Grand Canyon in the US and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia — but officially the world’s largest green canyon.

You’re likely to spot a number of birds and perhaps a monitor lizard or two between the ears of hippos jutting out from the water’s surface. As the view of the Three Rondawels looms in the distance, you’ll round a corner and come upon Kadishi, a tufa waterfall in the shape of a crying face. Formed over years by the build-up of calcium flowing over the rock surface, it’s a rare example of a waterfall that builds up the rock instead of eroding it.

The good news is that you don’t have to wait until 2024 to catch a glimpse of Kadishi’s weeping face, the verdant greens the canyon is famed for or the dips in the impossibly beautiful recesses of the earth snaking between Limpopo and Mpumalanga when snippets of Cruise’s escapades in SA come to light in Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part 2.

You can catch a direct flight to Hoedspruit airport or take a five- to six-hour drive from Johannesburg. But falling in love with the landscapes that set this corner of our world apart is best done at a leisurely pace. It’s a true example of the idea that, sometimes, you can opt for both the journey and the destination.

Book your stay

Rates start from R2,950 per person per night for bed and breakfast; R3,500 for dinner, bed and breakfast; and R5,500 for full board, including all meals, house wines and beers, one game drive per day, tea and coffee, laundry and Wi-Fi. Visit the website for more information and to book. 

• Oberholzer was a guest of Safari Moon Luxury Bush Lodge.

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