We’ve been parked at the same spot for more than 15 minutes now. There are three other game-viewing vehicles close by and everyone has their eyes fixed on a patch of tall, thick grass just off the road.
“There it is,” whispers Ronel, pointing.
I see nothing. A few moments later there’s a sign of movement. More people start pointing in the same direction. Suddenly, a leopard saunters into full view.
There’s a collective gasp. Then, as if to say, “Oh, you’ve been looking for me, well here I am”, it leaps up into a tree and peers over the veld.
It’s a majestic sight.
It’s just after 6pm and, although we’ve been here only a few hours, this has already proved to be an exhilarating experience.
I’m at the Mhondoro Safari Lodge & Villa with a small media group for a two-night stay. The newly refurbished five-star facility, which suffered a devastating fire in 2013 and was closed for two years, is in the malaria-free, Welgevonden Game Reserve in the Waterberg, Limpopo.
It is home to more than 50 different mammals, including the world’s biggest concentration on private land of the endangered white rhino. It is perhaps best known for employing an incredible anti-poaching unit that has prevented even a single rhino from being poached, which is virtually unheard of in this part of the world.
Other mammals in the reserve include giraffe, crocodile, hippo and cheetah which, despite the best efforts of our game ranger, Fritz, proved elusive for the duration of our visit. The reserve is also home to at least 250 species of birds, including rare blue cranes. One of our travel companions has a keen interest in birds and frequently spotted and identified unique species during our game drives, many of which I have never heard of.
During the drives, some in the mornings and others in the afternoons, Fritz richly educates us about the wildlife and surrounding habitat. He and his wife Ronel, who are co-general managers of the lodge, are amazing hosts throughout our stay.
Although the highlight of my stay here is undoubtedly the guided wildlife experience, I also find myself falling in love with the stunning main lodge. The theme is generally simplistic and African chic, both in the rooms and in the main lodge. The interior design also has an elegant, colonial feel to it.
The lodge includes two deluxe suites, a two-bedroom executive suite with en-suite bathrooms, a two-bedroom family suite with a shared bathroom, a romantic honeymoon suite with a private spa pool and viewing deck with a daybed and an exclusive-use villa that can accommodate six guests.
There’s also a gym, infra-red sauna and heated swimming pools and a massage suite complete with a private, outdoor spa deck and bath.
I got to enjoy a soothing 30-minute back and shoulder massage. Other treatments include hot stone massages and aromatherapy as well as manicures, pedicures and facials.
One of my favourite features of the lodge is the underground game-viewing hide which is connected with the main lodge by a 65m reinforced concrete tunnel. This hide is located beneath the waterhole which attracts a lot of game during the day. “It is the first luxury lodge in South Africa to offer unique eye-to-eye encounters with wildlife at the waterhole and is the ultimate vantage point for photography enthusiasts,” reads the lodge’s fact sheet.
Oh, and did I mention that the food is to die for. We enjoyed far too many delicious meals for me to elaborate on each one, but my overall experience was characterised by exceptional presentation, variety and wholesome taste.
The lodge has a daily changing menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner and all meals are home-made, with many of the ingredients also home-grown in the lodge’s beautifully kept and wide-ranging greenhouse.
I absolutely loved how everything seemed to be so carefully and deliberately put together. Nothing at the lodge is left to chance.
All-inclusive rates start at R4600 a person sharing per night and includes all meals, local drinks and selected house wines, twice-daily game drives, reserve entrance fees and scheduled transfers from Welgevonden main gate. Villa rates are from R45000 a night (for up to four guests).
The Saturday Star