Splendid isolation: Morukuru Family Madikwe promises luxury and lions
Gather members of your 'social bubble' and get away from it all by booking your own private bush villa in the Madikwe Game Reserve
That period when the first summer rains have begun to coax green life out of the cracked soil is a special time in the bush.
Even if you're not a "bush person", the new life sprouting on Madikwe Game Reserve in North West will take you to a happy place.
As we cross a small bridge over a stream, guide Evan Vermeulen announces our imminent arrival to the team standing by at River House. Bearing cold towels and pretty gin-and-tonics, they break out in a welcoming song as we end our four-hour drive from Johannesburg.
Named after the impressive Morukuru trees (Spirostachys africana, also known as Tamboti trees) on the banks of the Marico River, Morukuru Family Madikwe — a collection of three exclusive-use villas on a private concession in the reserve — is just the place to connect with nature.
Two of them — Owner's House and River House — have recently been refurbished. The amazing amenities in River House, where I stayed — three en-suite bedrooms, a deck, a fireplace, baths with views of the bush and indoor and outdoor showers — form only part of the understated luxury-safari experience.
It's the attention to detail that does the rest: housekeeping three times a day, gifts left on your pillow at night, three-course meals cooked by chef Asion Mathebula (each served in a new location) and the smell of vanilla-scented candles wafting through the lounge as the sun ducks behind the Dwarsberg mountains in the late afternoon.
With access to your own private vehicle and ranger and tracker team, game drives can be planned for when you want to do them, making it possible to forego a sunset drive for an outdoor bath prepared by the staff.
Following a footpath leading from the main house, you'll discover a private corner, complete with foamy bubbles, the warm glow of candles and velvety waters you'll want to fall asleep in. It offers a rare moment of contemplation to breathe in deeply and relax down to your core, surrounded by the sounds of the bush under inky black skies.
Once or twice in the name of unwinding is perfectly acceptable, but you'd be ill-advised to skip too many game drives. With Vermeulen and tracker Ephraim Mathebula at the helm, our early morning and sunset game drives offered superb views.
As Vermeulen will tell you, if you can't find a lion in Madikwe, you'd best reconsider your profession as a game ranger.
We had three separate lion sightings. The first was of two males who'd been feasting on the carcass of a buffalo they'd taken down together two days before. After years of fighting other males for territory, one sported a missing tooth and a foul stench from his meaty lunch. The other, with a bulging stomach, was taking a nap.
These brothers were only a prelude to the savage ways of the wild. The next day delivered a lioness feasting on a freshly caught warthog, her lips painted red with blood. We could hear the crack of the poor pig's bones as she refuelled, needing all her strength to care for the newborn cubs she had stashed in a hiding place before setting off on her hunt.
The faint of heart may be comforted by the fact that it's not all blood and gore. There was plenty of admiration going around for two pairs of sleeping lions — of the magnificent "Mufasa" variety — sheltered from the heat under shady trees on our last morning drive.
The large elephant population means you're bound to spot a few, but if you're lucky you may happen upon a herd with two or three babies in tow. They offer the most light-hearted entertainment as they learn, and often fail, to use their trunks.
Upon the advice of Mathebula, we picked up a clump of elephant dung on our last morning walk, tracking through the bush. Because the elephants eat from a wide variety of plants, many with medicinal properties, tea made from elephant dung is believed to offer a variety of health benefits. He has a drink every time he needs a pick-me-up.
I was presented with a tray carrying a small teapot and three cups — one for me, one for Vermeulen and one for Mathebula. But no matter how beautifully it is presented, one can't ignore the smell.
With a splash of milk, and a hearty breakfast of Eggs Benedict, I managed to finish my cup. I will need no convincing to visit the Morukuru family again but next time I'll stick to the freshly brewed morning coffee.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Morukuru Family Safari is made up of three exclusive-use houses on a private concession in the Madikwe Game Reserve in North West — approximately a four hour drive from Joburg:
- Owner's House: Two en-suite double bedrooms. R26,000 for two. Each additional person pays R3,000pn.
- River House: Three en-suite bedrooms and one children's room that can sleep up to four. R35,000 per night for six adults and four children under 16.
- Farm House: Five en-suite bedrooms. R40,000 per night for 10 guests.
Rates apply until December 18. Pricing varies according to the number in your party. Surcharges apply over the holiday period. Prices include all meals, snacks, local soft drinks, water, juices, coffee, tea, sundowners and reserve gate fees. Spa treatments, conservation activities and day trips outside Madikwe Game Reserve are available at an additional fee.
• Oberholzer was a guest of Morukuru Family Madikwe.