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Lost for words in the Pilanesberg

North West

Hein Kaiser

 

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Elephants passing close enough to look in the eye and touch leave an indelible memory.Sometimes the curiosity is mutual.

Mahikeng, North West - It’s a hard week’s weekend and you’ve been working like a Trojan to change Monday into Friday in double quick time.

Two days off stretch ahead like a promise. While weekends cannot love you long time, they are like the joy of the interval in a five-act yawn on stage. And when a short drive to the Pilanesberg for a weekend in the bush lies ahead, meetings had better run on time.

After living in Gauteng all my life, it is incredible that a short trip to the Pilanesberg National Park hardly ever enters one’s frame of reference. Yet it is one of the largest game reserves in the country and nestled in a hilly basin on the North West’s platinum belt. Add to that the bonus of a mere two-hour trip that includes peak Jozi traffic, and one feels a sod for not having turned up before. While a weekend away always feels like a quickie, time slows down in the Pilanesberg.

After navigating through heavy traffic on the N4, the sun had yet to fully set when we arrived at the Bakubung Bush Lodge for a 20-minute transfer, by safari-kitted 4x4, to the Tshukudu Bush Lodge.

The name alone - “Tshukudu” means rhino - set the tone for the weekend. On the way to the camp, and for the first time in our city-slicker lives, we saw a black rhino grazing at the side of the road.

“Ssssh,” warned field guide Shawn, who stopped the 4x4 several metres from the beast.

“They are naughty, we have to be quiet,” she whispered, “this is the first time in months that a black rhino has been this visible. You are lucky.”

The clickety-click of cameras and cellphones must have stirred Sean Penn paparazzi mode in the rhino because it readied to charge. Apparently capable of moving at 45km/h, these substantial animals can outrun humans and are strong enough to kick a vehicle around like a Dinky toy.

Sunset held more promise as we passed zebra, impala and a troop of baboons basking in the last glory of a Friday afternoon.

 

 

Tshukudu Bush Camp is incredible. To avoid cliches and retreaded descriptions, I would need more than a thesaurus. Two hundred and fifty stone steps lead to a hilltop oasis where beautifully appointed suites, newly refurbished, we learned, offer privacy and a sense of oneness with the bush. A bath, with vista-size sliding windows, looks over an early morning extravaganza of wildlife. Importantly, too, the mini bar had ice-cold beer.

The room at Tshukudu had a balcony overlooking a plain, and at night counting stars is impossible as the Milky Way blanket looks unlike anything Joburgers would see in the metro.

A romantic dinner was on the cards with a butterfly-in-the-tummy set-up by the chef and his team. After personally explaining the menu and taking into account our somewhat challenging dietary fussiness, Chef Themba proceeded to produce an incredible five-course meal. Sated, we turned in early as a crack-of-dawn game drive lay in wait.

No matter how hot it may be during the day, take something quite warm for the 5.15am game drive. Blankets are provided on the safari vehicle but, when taking a gazillion pictures is on the agenda, so is swift movement. Being rolled up like a sausage roll in a blankie sometimes prohibits quick pics.

The three-and-a-half-hour game drive flew by as Shawn’s informative, pleasant and passionate knowledge of the animal kingdom fascinated and enthralled us. Although it was overcast, we saw several animals, including giraffe, gnu, impala, springbok, hippo, zebra and rhino.

Shawn knows several of the animals by name or character.

The highlight beyond highlights was when a herd of elephants made their way right past the vehicle. Being less than 3m from the tusk of an animal that feels a million times your size is not only a quivering-boots sensation. It is indescribable.

Looking an elephant, a wild animal in its kingdom, in the eye and being close enough to touch it - that is a memory that permanently settles in the grey matter. It is the kind of stuff one only ever hears happens to other people or on television. Nothing beats this.

Packed flasks of coffee and a muffin break at a watering hole filled the gap at the halfway mark. By 9.30am we were back at Tshukudu, enjoying a large breakfast spread and reliving the morning’s encounters.

The mid-morning transfer to Bakubung, a more family-oriented and much larger lodge, was also a game-viewing spectacular.

 

 

A photo posted by Samantha Spencer (@samspencer101) on

 

A Joburger, probably thinking he was in a zoo, stood outside his car, filming a hippo. His stupidity showed that while man’s dominance of the animal kingdom has been set for millennia, it doesn’t necessarily make all of us smarter.

Shawn was kind enough to point this out to the ignoramus. Remember to stay in your car at all times unless you want to be on the menu.

One thing is for sure. Service outside the concrete jungle is something else. At Tshukudu and Bakubung one almost feels intimidated that every staff member seems to prioritise guests above all else. The service levels alone make visitors feel they could be on a different planet.

Large spacious rooms, rolling lawns, and overlooking a watering hole, the family-friendly Bakubung Bush Lodge blew us away.

After enjoying a huge lunch buffet at less than the cost of a reasonably-sized steak in Gauteng, the appeal of lazing beside the pool was irresistible before a possible afternoon game drive and the bush braai provided on Saturdays and Sundays. Dinner is equally well-priced and dessert is worth seconds and thirds.

Although Bakubung is quite a large lodge, you don’t feel crowded and great care is taken to personalise every aspect of your stay. This is value and, if money could ever buy happiness, it would be here.

When having a good time, you don’t want to leave. The parting sight of an elephant frolicking in the watering hole right in front of us as we had breakfast made it even more difficult to pack up and head back to suburbia. But the Pilanesberg is so close and the experience so exceptional anyone will be inspired to return many times.

Saturday Star

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