MHONDORO SAFARI LODGE
With the first rains working their magic on the bushveld, summer is a fine season to visit the Welgevonden Game Reserve in the Waterberg: the landscape is lush, well-fed antelope and their offspring are everywhere, and the big cats are out in hot pursuit. A perfect time to discover this malaria-free corner of SA.
Mhondoro Safari Lodge & Villa is one of the best choices in this 36,000ha reserve, from the well-spaced suites to the main lodge offering all the bells and whistles. A refurb has added private pools to some suites, and given public and private areas a fresh new look and feel.
Twice-daily game drives and bush walks on request deliver excellent big five game-viewing, but one of the highlights of Mhondoro means you hardly have to leave the lodge to enjoy great sightings. From the lodge a 65m underground tunnel leads to a low-level waterhole hide, offering eye-level encounters with an all-day parade of wild residents.
NKOMAZI PRIVATE GAME RESERVE
The call of the red-chested cuckoo is the soundtrack to a stay at Nkomazi Private Game Reserve, the insistent chirrup of the Piet-my-vrou sounding out above the Komati River that rumbles below the main lodge.
Sandwiched in the grassy hills between Mbombela and Eswatini, this 14,900ha private reserve recently changed hands, bringing a flush of new energy and investment.
Four new tented suites have been added — now 14 suites — offering luxurious under-canvas escapes catering for honeymooners, travellers and families. Indoors, the soft-refurbishment and décor channels a low-key expedition-camp feel, with rich wooden furniture and classic safari touches. The private outside space in each suite is the real selling point though, with wide wooden decks boasting outdoor bathrooms and a plunge pool with a view.
But perhaps the most impressive new addition is the main lodge built on the banks of the Komati River and cradled in an amphitheatre of forested hills. The long sweep of canvas runs from the convivial bar to a low-key dining room, with the best seats — and tables — out on the deck. Behind, the revamped boma offers the ever-popular ritual of fireside dinners.
Out in the reserve, the scars of earlier farmlands are growing over, with the wide plains making it easy to spot a range of plains game, elephant and, if you’re lucky, lion. But the landscape is equally the star here, with dramatic granite inselberge erupting through the grasslands.
MARATABA CONSERVATION CAMPS
While most safari camps are focused on lodge luxury and ticking off the big five, Marataba Conservation Camps — set in a 21,000ha privately managed section of the Marakele National Park in Limpopo — offer a different take on wilderness escapes.
While game drives and bush walks take up much of your day, they’re just the beginning. Let guides introduce you to the brave new world of conservation. Log the movements of resident cheetah on telemetry walks. Do a tree census to monitor the impact of elephant, or take the children on a “snare patrol” to understand the impact of poaching. And at the end of a busy, dusty day there are two glorious camps to return to.
Founders Camp rests on the banks of the Matlabas River, with four smart, new suites and a riverside plunge pool tailor-made for Instagram. The camp is rented on an exclusive-use basis, so gather friends and family for a wilderness break.
Explorers Camp is more laid-back, with six tented suites — taking up to two groups at a time — pitched amid a forest of acacia trees with wide lawns, a large swimming pool and impressive Waterberg views.