Get up close and personal with the King of the Jungle at the Maropeng Lion and Safari Park.
A full-grown lion leaps up and rests its paws against the side of our game driving vehicle.

Jaws agape about a few centimetres away from my face - with only the cage-like rails of the vehicle restricting it from ripping off my head - it bites and chews on a cube of horse meat dangling from a thin pole. I can feel my heart beating furiously.

When there’s no more meat for the lion to chew on, our tour guide, Alex the Pussy Wrangler (standing outside the vehicle, right next to the lion) fixes more bits to the pole.

Again he places it against the side of our vehicle, prompting the lion to excitedly leap up again. It’s the perfect photo opportunity. It’s also one of the most terrifying.

The Lion and Safari Park is a special place. We’re about an hour into our private tour, and so captivated are we by the sight of the lions that we’ve barely moved from the vicinity.

Close by, four white lions cuddle under a tree. We watch them for about 15 minutes as they twist and turn, rubbing against each other playfully, the way five-year-olds do.

During the tour, we’re regaled by some of Alex’s interesting experiences with the animals and his tours with global stars such as Kevin Hart, Snoop Dogg, Will Smith and Clint Eastwood.

This is the second day of my two-day Valentine’s Day themed experience centred on the Maropeng Boutique Hotel, a charming, secluded location in Magaliesburg.

The hotel is part of an area known as The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, one of the most significant palaeoanthropology destinations on the continent and Gauteng’s sole world heritage site.

On our arrival at the hotel, we were whisked off to the Sterkfontein Caves, where we were taken on a private guided tour through the breathtaking cave system. Home to a third of the world’s human ancestor fossils, this is widely recognised as the world’s richest hominin site.

Our guide gave us some perspective on the mixture of limestone and other sediments that surround us. It was fascinating to see first-hand and learn about the effects limestone and water have over time in the structural composition of the caves.

We also got some perspective on how the world-famous, 2.3million-year-old fossil Australopithecus africanus (nicknamed “Mrs Ples”), was discovered in these very caves 70 years ago.

After our tour, we went off to the Maropeng Visitor Centre, which allows visitors to view fossil exhibits and stone tools up to 1 million years old, and learn about the origins of humankind. To cap off the museum tour, there is a free underground boat ride through a dark cave-like tunnel. It’s a mesmerising experience.

The visitor centre is within walking distance of the hotel. On our walk back to the hotel, we enjoyed the amazing scenery that Magaliesburg is known for.

After such a busy and rewarding day, we were famished and couldn’t wait for dinner. I tried out a medium-to-well-done T-bone steak, while my friend had a well-done fillet. For some reason, both came rare and after a few bites we both decided to send them back. When they came back, they were overcooked and a little on the dry side - a bit disappointing.

For dessert I tried the lemon cheesecake, which was tantalising and well-textured. We quickly forgot about the steaks.

All in all, this hotel is an impressive couples’ retreat set in a uniquely secluded and scenic location. The itinerary was also perfectly tailored for a rich experience.

After our tour of the Lion and Safari Park, we drove about 30 minutes to the Misty Hills Country Hotel for lunch at the popular Carnivore restaurant, which labels itself as “Africa’s greatest eating experience”.

Naturally, Carnivore has a meat-focused, all-you-can-eat dining concept. Game and domestic meat dishes are the main attraction. We skipped the starter options and got straight into it.

One by one, different waiters passed by our table offering different meat options. I went for the rump beef, venison samoosas, kudu meatballs and sausages, peri-peri chicken livers and cuts of kudu, crocodile, chicken, gemsbok, blesbok and gammon. Each cut was delicious.

A big, multitiered tray placed in the middle of the table offered a mix of sauces to try out with our meat - garlic, horseradish, mint, apple, chilli and cranberry, sour cream and raita. Our waiter ran us through the ideal sauce for each meat.

There aren’t many experiences that can blow your mind in Joburg, but this was one of them.