I’ve been to five-star hotels and on fancy vacations before. But my stay in one of the best lodges in Kruger National Park cannot compare with any of them. It’s because it wasn’t a holiday; it was a trip back in time, a visit to the Garden of Eden.
Three days after the New Year’s Eve, after two-hour’ drive from Nelspruit, we arrived at the safari lodge in Kruger National Park. In the early evening, the camp was quiet. “Most of the guests are out in the bush”, the welcoming staff told us. The refreshing cold lemonade in champagne glasses served with wide smiles was exactly what we needed.
After the short explanation about the daily program, we were warned – don’t roam alone at night around the camp; the leopard just had babies and even if she is used to people, it’s better for you to call and a staff member will accompany you. That was the moment my adrenaline kicked in and I don’t think it went down at all in the next two days.
Luxury Safari Lodge in South Africa – the Impossible Made Possible
Then, we were introduced to Aladdin’s Cave. All the gems of our accommodation were contained between four walls and a tent roof. An extravagant-sized bed with umpteen number of pillows was the centre of this small universe. On the right, a bar cabinet with ground coffee and French press were waiting next to bright-white cups, a zillion types of tea, wine, nuts, chocolate and even a lime with a cutting board and a knife next to it. Only the hand to cut the slices was missing.
The small desk on the left had a space ship on one of its sides – an all-types electric adapter. (In South Africa, the electric plugs are like the ones used in the UK.)
And then, you find Her Majesty – the Bathtub. Seductively sitting in the middle of the bathroom hidden behind the bed wall. On her hip – a phone-style bath faucet hanged. There is also a double sink vanity, a shower and toilet in their separate spaces, but that’s not all. There is an outdoor shower too! It is fenced by a wall that keeps away the creatures that you have come from so far to see… If the wall wasn’t there, you probably wouldn’t even think to shower there. That could end up as a real adrenaline-booster!
But the best of all is the view from your suite. While laying in your bed, you can see the savanna’s vast green. You see the small black dots waiving tails in the distance, but you can’t say what animals they are. After your eyes get used to the lush green, in an instant you realise the cacophony to which you are subjected. Birds sing with their thin voices, crickets whistle, frogs croak, and occasionally you hear animal sounds that you can’t recognise.
Garden of Eden on Earth
This is your home now, but you have arrived just an hour ago and already have learned that you have no place here. You are in someone else’s territory and must consider the local ways. Is this a squeaky bird or an angry monkey? How you can feel comfortable if you even can’t identify the inhabitants?
It’s time for dinner. Your mind returns to the human world with its white tablecloths and cooked dishes. Among people from around the world, the fuss and greed and smiles and a tiny dose of hypocrisy generated by the thick wallets and forced cohabitation for a few days.
Next morning, at 5 a.m., the phone in our private lodge rang. Half an hour later, after a cup of strong coffee, we were out in the African bush. After the rains, soft grass was covering the soil like a carpet. I had never seen Africa so green during my whole expat experience !
“Give me the storm and tempest of thought and action, rather than the dead calm of ignorance and faith! Banish me from Eden when you will; but first let me eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge!” ― Robert G. Ingersoll
To observe the African animals in the company of the rangers, explaining to you their behaviour and telling you the stories of each animal they know by name, is like going back to the Garden of Eden where everything was at its origin before the Man intervened.
What is Safari?
Here is the moment to make one clarification.
‘Safari’ is derived from Swahili word which means ‘a journey’.
It is such a beautiful word, but people gave it so bad meaning in the past. After my trip, people asked me if we hunted animals during the safari! Fortunately, today’s safari experiences are only about viewing and photographing the toy-like-beauties that are the African animals.
As I wrote recently in an opinion piece about the new Sydney Zoo, I believe animals must live in their natural habitats. If that’s not possible, they should at least have large enough space to roam freely around. And not to be confined in cages and limited areas for the entertainment of our species; even preservation is not good enough excuse to keep them in boxes, no matter how big they are.
The Safari Drives at Savanna
The rangers’ job foremost involves ‘guiding the guests through their safari’, as they describe it. That first day, the same as in the following days, the morning safari took five hours. But you don’t feel the time pass. From the first fresh morning breath, you take, immediately after the Land Rover passes through the gate of Savanna Lodge going to the bush, to the moment you head back, the world around you is a film strip.
Riding among leopards, lions, elephants and buffaloes, birds, zebras and giraffes, the modern world outside the bush ceases to exist. With anticipation, you stare at the bushes where your guide tells you is the little leopard with his mum. You can’t stop thinking – this is better, so much better! It feels better to observe from a distance the little downy creature than to cuddle one with the same look that you can buy from a toy shop. It’s incomparable.
I had my first ‘African’ coffee, a strong black with added Amarula cream, not far from where we saw the lions. It was also the first time we got out from the basil-green Land Rover Defender. Standing there, casually chatting with our safari mates, holding panican mugs, the bush seemed like a surrealistic socialising backdrop.
The light at dusk makes the African bush look enigmatic. The first bush drive of my safari holiday in South Africa was horrifying. I was muted by fear and felt like meat in a can served for breakfast to the lions and leopards. Luckily, they had no interest in the people packed in the open Land Rover. As I would later learn that Defender 110 kept us safe and invisible as long as we stayed onboard.
Savanna Private Game Reserve
Savanna Lodge is part of Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve. Its territory is adjacent to South Africa’s Kruger National Park and there’s very little interference with natural systems, and everything is in a natural state of flux. Its history goes back to the 1940s. For the past seventy years, the relationship between animals and ‘viewing vehicles’ had grown on trust. Now, people can observe and admire these rare beauties without interrupting their natural lifestyles while rangers observe and track their developments and educate the newcomers like us about their habits. Intervention is not allowed; life is left to follow its natural direction.
The biggest advantage of Savanna Lodge is that it is a 5-star all-inclusive safari experience, but it feels more like a visiting a family or friends. The staff makes everything for you to feel accepted and you connect emotionally with everything – nature and animals, people and setting, and even the safari cars!
Local chefs are part of the team and prepare gourmet food for the guests at international standards. I especially loved the banana toasts at breakfast. After the first drive for the day, you are served the ‘big breakfast’. It includes always yoghurt, fresh fruits and the special for the day. Cappuccino, macchiato? Not a problem at all, you can have your coffee your way!
The lunch is at 3:30 p.m. (‘you must operate on African time, mate!’). Later, after the long drive in the bush, you have thirty minutes to get ready for dinner. But that’s not just a dinner. It is a spectacle each night. I will let you be surprised.
In the African Bush
I spent my first night at Savanna partially awake. But just for two days, I became addicted to the setting. The bush that scared me so much the first day, became so naturally my soul’s home. It is a place where you see yourself as you are.
It is not a surprise that many people feel ‘intoxicated’ like me and many of Savanna’s guests come back again and again. Far from the fuss of the modern world, here you can breathe, not in the physical but spiritual meaning of this word.
The last night I spent there, I was listening to the noises coming from the bush and thinking ‘how I’m going to sleep without this ‘music’ from now on?’ The bond with nature is so strong that you feel like an addict left without its daily dose of dope.
Since then, I’m dreaming of going back and riding along, breathing the air of the African bush and feeling the presence of these majestic animals. Even just thinking about it, I feel peaceful. Like nothing else matters, as nothing else exists.
What to Wear on Safari in South Africa?
There are several essentials you should take with you during this vacation:
Comfortable walking shoes are important, but you don’t need hiking shoes as you won’t do much walking unless you plan to join the walking bush tours. You need a warm jacket if you travel to South Africa between May and October, and a swimsuit if you go in summer. (Yes, there is a pool too!)
Before your trip, ask your doctor if you need anti-malaria medicaments. I didn’t take but it might be wiser to take precautions.
That’s all about my safari vacation in South Africa. Hope you will have the chance to visit too. I loved the place and consider it as one of the best if not the best lodges in Kruger National Park. And yes, it is a perfect location for your honeymoon!
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