Three hours. That’s all it took to swap the smoggy winter skies of Johannesburg for a landscape of wide horizons and stands of acacia trees that doubled up as a giraffe buffet. A place where the only traffic jams were those caused by a herd of patient pachyderms, who had no intention at all of letting us pass before they were good and ready. True, there were a few potholes, but then that’s what you’d expect from a Big Five wilderness reserve spread across some 11 000 hectares of the Waterberg.
Since the first lodge, Letamo, opened in December 2022, Qwabi Private Game Reserve has quietly been making a name for itself as a luxurious new safari destination. It’s close enough to Gauteng to offer an ideal weekend escape, but far enough to feel like you’re well and truly in the bush.
And the recent opening of Babohi has upped the luxury ante on Qwabi, with 25 opulent rooms and suites across four room categories. Even entry-level Deluxe rooms offer remarkable amounts of space and comfort, from freestanding baths to king-size beds offering endless reserve views. Suites promise dual-story living, private plunge pools and wood-fired hot tubs ensconced within the safety of a fully fenced lodge. With the lodge spread out across a steep hillside, views come standard from just about every angle.
“This is definitely a lodge that speaks to a sense of place,” says Neil Steedman, GM of hospitality for Qwabi Private Game Reserve. “From the very beginning, we knew we wanted to bring a vibrant African flair into the lodge, celebrating the colour, creativity and warmth of the continent. Throughout the rooms, suites and public areas the décor is thoroughly contemporary, but infused with a rich African influence.”
The main lodge is certainly a dramatic space of soaring beams and thatched roofs. At first glance, it’s a fairly traditional safari aesthetic, but then you look a little closer. The rustic stone walls are neatly offset by contemporary décor and bold furnishings. Think oversized couches and marble slabs. A towering fireplace framed by traditional crafts, or a hippo skull with dramatic uplighting to create a focal, and conversation, point. The sunken lounge is just made for fireside gatherings, while intimate corners provide the perfect setting for romantic nightcaps.
Along with the décor, there’s a welcome focus on reinventing the traditional safari culinary experience. That’s thanks to the innovation of acclaimed chef Chris Erasmus, food and beverage curator for Newmark Hotels and Reserves.
“With Babohi we have created a uniquely interactive food experience,” explains Erasmus. “What’s key is that it’s about making unique moments around food, at different times and in different locations around the lodge, and the reserve.”
That translates to innovative bush breakfasts enjoyed out in the reserve, elevated boma dinners and hands-on culinary experiences within the lodge. A standout is the use of tableside hibachi grills to offer guests an interactive dining experience and offering a taste of game meats in a more contemporary setting.
“We really do encourage guests to get involved, but of course, our talented kitchen team are always on hand to help out, or do the hard work, if guests would rather just relax and enjoy the dinner,” adds Erasmus.
Wine takes equal precedence here, with a glass-walled wine room soon to host guided tastings through the collection of boutique Cape estates that’s been expertly curated by group sommelier Marlvin Gwese. Not into wine? The portfolio of artisan spirits has equal focus.
At Babohi the lounge room and bar flows out onto a wide dining terrace and pool deck that Instagram dreams are made of. Here a compact lap pool appears suspended above the wilderness, offering stunning views west across the reserve.
And while many guests, I’m told, are happy to simply relax around the pool, it’s well worth heading out to explore. With little experience of the Waterberg, I arrived with few expectations but was happily surprised by the wildlife parade we encountered on just a few short drives.
Set on the southern edge of the malaria-free Waterberg, a proclaimed Unesco Biosphere Reserve, this enigmatic landscape of savannah grasslands and dramatic outcrops plays host to all of the Big Five, alongside healthy populations of antelope. But for me, it was the smaller sightings that were the most memorable. The Waterberg is a birding hotspot, and in the company of skilled guides we found everything from Striped kingfishers fluffed up amid the morning chill, to the riotous colours of Violet-eared waxbills and Green-winged pytilia. Just a few hours from the city, or the airport, QwABI offers a wonderfully wild escape, and Babohi ensures you certainly won’t be shot of any creature comforts.