Hotel review: BushTime at Mabula, Limpopo

Elizabeth Sleith discovers that timeshare at Mabula Private Game Reserve is a great option for a family-friendly bush break

02 September 2018 - 00:00 By Elizabeth Sleith

BushTime is one of two accommodation options on the 10,000ha, big-five Mabula Private Game Reserve in the foothills of the Waterberg mountains.
The Mabula Game Lodge is your more traditional, hotel-style option with manicured grounds, a pool and bar, a restaurant and spa - and smiling staff to cater to your every whim. And that's a fine kind of holiday.
BushTime, though, is a different sort of animal. Really, a much more private, do-your-own-thing getaway, with clusters of chalets in isolated spots around the reserve, for those who want a real sense of being alone in the bush with a special few friends or family.
Back in the day, you might have called it a timeshare - jointly owned holiday units to which families would return year after year. BushTime works on the same concept, but the weeks include game drives and a multitude of activities offered in the reserve.
More casual holidaymakers are welcome too - you simply rent a unit for a weekend or a week.
For the battle-weary Joburger, the reserve is brilliantly placed for a bush break. Just 2.5 hours from Joburg, 47km from Bela-Bela, it's far enough to feel like you're elsewhere and close enough to barely eat into your precious getaway time.
With units built in brick and thatch, the natural surroundings take centre stage in the design, but the interiors, here since 1986, have been updated recently with an Afro-chic vibe, and new facilities, including furniture and linen as well as crockery and cutlery.
That the clean towels on our beds were folded to look like elephants was a charming touch, which delighted the kids only slightly less than the potjie pot made of chocolate and stuffed with smarties that was waiting for them on the coffee table.
BushTime's accommodation is in four separate, unfenced camps - Modjadji, Sunset Hill, Bush Lodge, and Game Lodge - each in a different part of the reserve. Each of the camps has a distinctive setting and the units range in size from one to three bedrooms.
We stayed in a part of the Bush Lodge called Bush Camp, whose thatched, brick chalets have luxe bathrooms with spa baths, plus an outdoor braai on a patio, a cosy lounge and a kitchenette with fridge.
If you go with a group, the Bush Camp is a great option, since each family unit gets their own private refuge for sleeping and chilling, then you do your gathering in a large, communal house. This one has no bedrooms, but there's a fully equipped kitchen, a long, farmhouse-style dining table, and an open-plan lounge with a big-screen TV. Each camp also has its own pool.
All the units are fully self-catering and there is a well-stocked shop for supplies. BushTimers can also access all the facilities at the main lodge, including the restaurant.
Make sure, though, to sign up for some of the incredible activities on offer - many of which combine a safari adventure with some delectable eating experience. We had several meals outdoors on our visit, starting with a sunset dinner alongside the shining black Mvubu Dam. We dished up fantastic curries from potjie pots beside the fire, then ate at a lovely long table, laid fine-dining style with white cloths, while hippos honked in the dark.
The next morning, too, after an early game drive and a heart-stopping encounter with an inquisitive, young bull elephant, we stopped in a clearing under a gigantic wild fig tree for another table laid with a breakfast feast - with staff on hand to cook eggs to order, even though we were in the middle of nowhere.
That afternoon, we drove in an open vehicle for a picnic on Dick's Hill - another laid table, where we munched chocolate-dipped strawberries and watched a lone elephant lumber across the wide plain below.
Restless sorts will find an almost mind-boggling array of distractions. The Modjaji Entertainment Centre, an easy drive from your camp, is a magnet for "bored" kids with a jumping castle, swimming pools, volleyball, table tennis, pool table, darts, big-screen TV, jungle gym, archery and more. The week's timeshare offering includes up to four activities per guest.
In addition to the eating safaris, you can also book bird safaris, star gazing, drumming, game viewing on horseback and quad biking.
A range of products is up for sale - buy your own week for your annual family holiday, or rent someone else's week - or buy a mid-week break as a one-off. Rates vary depending on the size of the unit, and the time of year.
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• Sleith was a guest of BushTime...

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