Wildlife safari experience at River Lodge and Camp Jabulani

The majestic giraffe is always a beautiful sighting.

The majestic giraffe is always a beautiful sighting.

Published Mar 5, 2018


Day one

: The wildlife safari experience begins moments after the tiny propeller plane sets down at Eastgate Airport near Hoedspruit in Limpopo as families of warthogs, their tails as rigid as antennae, scatter from the runway.

A positive sign is the billboard advising that you have arrived at the home of Amarula, but more about that later.

Once inside the gates, however, it’s another 20 minutes until you reach River Lodge, one of the camps inside the reserve.

It’s overcast, hot and humid and I’m cowering under a scarf even though I’ve slathered myself with SPF 50. When we arrive at the lodge, we’re told there are two game drives daily - one at sunset, the other at dawn.

The game drive turns out to be fabulous. Led by highly knowledgeable rangers and trackers, we not only see an abundance of game but learn things we didn’t know we wanted to learn.

Even so, I politely extricate myself from the morning drive.

The home of Amarula, where you are welcomed with icy milkshakes on a tray.

Day two:

I meet the group at breakfast - all meals at River Lodge are served in lavish buffet style, four of them every day - and feel tiny twinges of fomo at their stories which I wash away with more coffee.

Suitably fed, we are bundled into a minibus to visit the Amarula Lapa.

The cream liqueur is one I've been guzzling for decades and am no doubt partly responsible for it being the second biggest seller in the world.

It’s fitting that I’m getting the chance to learn how it's made.

Marula trees grow only in certain parts of Africa.They cannot be cultivated as a crop, and every year the harvest is brought in - by hand - by villagers whose chiefs have struck deals with the makers of the drink.

Elephants are big fans of the marula fruit, which is why the majestic animal features on the Amarula label.

Our ranger, Rassie, informs us we’re going to find elephants. After a long and complex “hunt” - the only kind there should be - involving footprints, trunkprints, piles of dung and radio communication with the other rangers, we are finally rewarded with a telltale rustling in a bed

of reeds.

Suddenly, a large grey head emerges, followed by more, as the herd of ellies slowly munch their way along.

They eat almost all the time, we are told. I envy them.

This sighting completes our Big Five collection - lion, rhino, buffalo and even cheetah.


Later that night, I lie in bed and ponder what it would be like to live here for ever.

Morning coffee spiked with Amarula in the game reserve.

Day three:

I set several

alarms and spring out of

bed at 4.30am because this is the day we’re going to Camp Jabulani to meet the elephants. I’m not going to miss a moment of it.

Ecotourism is a real thing, and I know riding elephants is wrong. I also know I don’t like animals

in captivity.

But this is different.

It begins with a baby elephant left for dead, then rescued and rehabilitated.

Named Jabulani, he refused to return to the wild. Long story short: this camp is home to elephants who have no place else to go.

We meet him - and Sebakwe, who is the actual elephant on the Amarula label and quite

the celebrity.

We feed them and we touch them, feeling how cold the back of their massive ears are.

Even as I write this, my eyes well with emotional tears at the recollection of pressing my face against that of a giant elephant’s.

We check out and depart for the airport at lunchtime. I am sad to leave but I’ve ticked a few things off my bucket list.

*For more information, go to www.kapama.com and https://amarula.com/#!/

Related Topics: