Whatever your safari personality, the Waterberg's Mhondoro is a win
Whether you're after Insta hits, family fun, queen-level pampering or animal encounters, this award-winning lodge in the Welgevonden reserve is for you
Finding a holiday that is fit for the whole family is no small feat. With varying tastes and personalities, planning a trip that will please everyone in the mix can prove to be a bit of a headache.
Which is why, when I invited my city-slicker sister on a weekend to the bush, I had my reservations - she is not exactly one with nature. Luckily, I needed not fear as we discovered a gem within Limpopo's Waterberg region that spared us an uncomfortable drive back home.
Mhondoro Safari Lodge & Villa is not only a luxurious five-star escape, it's also a mere 2.5-hour drive from Jozi.
Here's our take on why there's a little bit of something for everyone.
THE BUSH BABY
Chances are, you have initiated this getaway. Well done on your choice, because Mhondoro is home to the big five, one of the largest populations of white rhino in the world, as well as other game including cheetah, hyena and hippo.
There is ample opportunity to view game, with two daily game drives in a private vehicle with knowledgeable rangers. If you're lucky and you end up with our guide, Dwayne, he will even go as far as to identify animals via their digestive deposits. Each drive offers something different, with quaint stops at various vantage points across the expansive reserve where you are treated to a snack and some drinks.
Being a lover of nature, you are probably also concerned about your impact on the environment, which is why the camp's impressive installation of 620 solar panels and batteries is pretty neat, making it self-sufficient in terms of all its electricity requirements. It also has a grey-water filtration system for irrigation around the lodge, and gifts guests personalised steel water bottles to minimise the use of plastic (make sure to take your bottle on game drives to collect premium still water straight from the mountains). From the warm, singing welcome by staff on arrival, you will feel at home from the moment you check in online (paper wastage: zero).
CREATURE OF COMFORT
If you like the finer things in life, then this is the place for you. But don't just take our word for it, as the lodge scooped major accolades in the 2020 Haute Grandeur Global Hotel Awards, including "Best Family Villa" on a global level, "Best Pool Villa in Africa" and "Best Safari Lodge in SA".
It sleeps a total of 24 guests in two-bedroom suites with en-suite bathrooms, a two-bedroom family deluxe suite with two en-suite bathrooms, or a honeymoon suite.
While we were there, we looked on with envy at what was a girls' weekend away in the exclusive-use villa, which can accommodate six adults, although our set-up was hardly roughing it as our luxury pool suite (one of two) was spacious with modern fittings, including two large closets (a critical factor for two sisters carrying large suitcases). A standout feature was definitely the outside shower with clever design for full privacy and easy drainage. Enjoy a private sundowner with a drink from your room's mini bar on the elevated deck overlooking the bush, complete with daybed, to end off the day.
If you do manage to rip yourself away from your room, the main reception area has a beautiful library and bar with a selection of local and premium spirits.
THE PAMPERED QUEEN
Your family has convinced you to join them in the bush (read: dragged) but your idea of a holiday is lounging about being waited on. Worry not my queen, because at Mhondoro, there is plenty to keep you occupied while your "less refined" squad goes bundu bashing.
Take your pick from the numerous glam activities available at the lodge, including my favourite, the infrared sauna, which will leave you glowing from within after a relaxing session. The sauna has two cubicles with a rustic wooden aesthetic, fitted with all the modern trimmings, including personal temperature control and several channels with relaxing sounds available on the self-controlled radio. Wash off the post-sauna detox in a spacious shower and wrap yourself up in the complimentary gown.
If breaking a sweat on the treadmill is more your thing, go for a session in a gym equipped with basic equipment, including cross-trainer and weights. Or spend your day enjoying the spa with a number of treatments on offer, including facials, manicures and pedicures.
End the day with a drink by the poolside, where you are pretty much guaranteed a private viewing right at your doorstep when game steps up to one of the lodge's biggest USPs, the drinking hole, which is also connected by an underground tunnel for prime viewing.
WILD AT HEART
Fancy yourself a bit of a Crocodile Dundee? Then why not go for the ultimate in bush thrills with a guided walking tour? Bush walks are as authentic as it gets as a ranger takes you into the wild, on foot.
While the walks are largely unpredictable - we had to cut ours short when heavy rains flooded our planned route - trained guides will teach you more about the bush, including the fauna and flora (we scored fresh eucalyptus leaves), and if you're lucky you might encounter some game a stone's throw away. Worry not, as the walking safari is preceded by a safety briefing and the rangers carry a rifle for emergencies.
For the budding Instagram influencer, Mhondoro offers a plethora of picturesque moments, including its famed #poolellie, the selfie to end all selfies - a shot with an elephant. Mhondoro's pool, situated at the front of the lodge, is no ordinary pool. Since it is salt water, the elephants are famed for swinging by for a drink, offering the perfect opportunity for a killer snap.
For alternative water action, the suites also feature private plunge pools (except the family suites for safety reasons). While not heated, the water does warm up during the day, which means there is ample time to go in for a dip and pic.
Other Insta-worthy opportunities can be found at the caves, which still house original rock paintings by the land's original inhabitants, the San. The well-preserved artwork is flanked by a river which, if you're lucky, might feature some of the game taking a sip.
For a moody shot, take a snap at the lodge's terrace on the swinging chairs, where you can catch some of the best sunrises or sunsets.
Five-star resorts aren't famed for being family friendly, but at Mhondoro, children have ample space to enjoy themselves in a secluded playground. There is also a kids' programme on offer, including a kiddies' bush walk. There are also activities that include artwork with plaster of Paris and cookie baking.
On the game-driving front, children under six are not able to join other guests but private tours can be organised depending on the availability of a car and ranger.
• Zulu was a guest of Mhondoro Safari Lodge