Taking a sho’t left to Mabula Game Reserve can lead you down two pathways. Either a straight road through the town or navigating the less travelled gravel road.
On our trip to the 12 000 hectare reserve, our GPS chose the road less travelled. After carefully driving through over 10km of gravel road for a distance that felt like forever while passing a number of farms and animals along the way, we finally got back onto the road and drove to the reserve.
Just 47km from Bela Bela, Mabula’s assistant operations manager Arno du Preez said some guests would call the lodge, thinking they were lost while driving on the gravel road.
“We have tried in vain to get (a web mapping service developer) to update their maps,” he said. But once you arrive at the lodge, the dirt road adventure is soon forgotten and tranquility sets in.
The reserve has two lodges – Mabula Game Lodge and Kwafubesi Tented Safari Camp. Mabula has 50 rooms – 47 standard and three suites. Kwafubesi has five tents. “(Kwafubesi) is a nice, small and intimate property. At Mabula, we have a variety of activities. We have bush walks, standard game drives that go out twice a day (in the morning and afternoon), quad bikes, we offer nice massages at our spa. “We have kiddies rooms so parents can have some alone time. We have a lot to keep our guests busy,” Du Preez said.
Having arrived at the Mabula Game Lodge one early December afternoon with colleagues for our Christmas Party, our expectations for a good time were high. We could not wait to change into our bikinis and take pictures. After capturing moments around the pool area that has a bar, we changed into warmer, comfortable gear for a game drive.
None of us expected to see the big five. Mabula is home to all of them and what a treat it was, not only to see them, but to see them up close (except the leopard).
We first saw a lot of game animals like kudu, impala and zebra crossing the road ahead of us. Side fact, did you know that every single zebra’s stripes is unique to them? Just like our fingerprints. These are some of the facts that the knowledgeable rangers will pass on to you while enjoying the scenery and route.
Our stop at the rhino had us paying close attention to how they marked their territory. Every five metres the male rhino would stop and let out some urine to dampen the area around him. This, according to the rangers, was so that other rhino would know not to step into his space. The buffalos minded their own business.
The lion enclosure is situated over the small river path that runs through the reserve. A gate has to open to let guests through and once in the enclosure the game rangers take turns updating each other on the whereabouts of the lions. By the time we reached them, the “Mufasa” of the family was taking a nap in the middle of the pathway. His family (the “Simbas” and “Nalas”) was just a few steps away, also napping. But our truck was the fourth to enter their space so they were ready to wake up. And they did. “If they are too close, you stand up and break the outline so it can recognise you. It can act by running away or by attacking, remember if ananimal attacks it means it’s in a form of defence, especially if we invade their personal space, they need to be respected all the time,” said our ranger Frank Laka.
Most of us in the truck had never been that close to a lion before. One colleague, Sihle Manda, was rather uneasy and freaking out that some of us were standing up to take pictures and selfies. He could not wait to get out of there fast enough.
“Can we go? You guys are breaking the profile,” he said repeatedly. We just snapped away and admired the pride. Du Preez said the reserve had “the exact amount of animals that is financially and environmentally viable for our reserve to carry”. “(We do this) so that we do not over stock, and by doing that then depleting our environment, because in the long term that will have a negative impact on the reserve,” he said. By the time we spotted the elephants, we were closed in by one of them and had to take another route to avoid running into it. Mabula is also home to 340 bird species and 60 mammals.
After the game drive, the team relaxed over sundowners.
We were then taken for a surreal bush dinner where we had a three course meal from an array of choices. Once in a while, little bright eye balls of animals hiding in the bushes stare at you in the dark.
As soon as we alighted from the vehicle we were met by a dining table, illuminated by lanterns on the ground to guide our way. For someone who would like to propose to his or her lover, that setting would have been perfect. Mabula also offers horse riding, conferencing facilities and everything you need for a worthwhile getaway from the city.