Our South Africa journey consisted of three parts: the safari, the coast, and the city. We spent a total of 10 days, about evenly split between the three. Instead of writing about each day, I will just write about each portion, which makes better sense.
Our safari journey was to begin at aha Makalali private game lodge. Nestled among the North Eastern Lowveld, an hour west of Kruger National Park, aha Makalali is spread over 26,000 hectares of the bush. The Makalali has two lodges, the Main Lodge where we stayed and the more private River Lodge.
The lodge is situated about 52 km (32 miles) from Hoedspruit Airport. We flew a South African Express flight from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit. The flight lasted 50 minutes, and the service was very speedy and efficient. Water, juice, alcohol, chips, and Kitkat formed the menu for the trip. The views from the plane of the bushveld were entrancing, although low clouds often obscured them.
Once deplaned, we walked to the small airport building where we were met by Chris and Charles from Sable Tours. They were hired to transport us to the game lodge from the airport. After greeting and ensuring we were set for the road, Charles and Chris took us to another adjoining building where the luggage was unloaded. It took a while to sort through and claim our three suitcases.
After loading the luggage and us, we were off! The journey took us a total of ninety minutes. The first part of the journey was on a paved highway but was soon followed by unpaved roads for the latter half. Luckily for us, the men brought a dependable vehicle that took all the battering.
The men talked about their homes, the local agriculture growing lemons, oranges, mangoes. They spoke of mining and the game reserves, which form the other significant portion of the economy. We discussed the eleven languages spoken in the area. They pointed out people trying to catch public transport by using hand signals to stop the bus.
Once at the entrance to the lodge, a guard let us in through the double doors. Then we drove to the reception area. Before we could even get our bearings, the staff was there taking over charge of us. We were introduced to Sifowso, our driver. The team stowed the luggage onto his van, and we drove to the main lodge, set away from the reception.
Narrow paths have been cleared throughout the reserve to allow game- drive vehicle access, but for the most part the bush has been left undisturbed. Our first sighting was of a herd of impala grazing happily in the afternoon sun. We were so excited, tired, but excited!
At the entrance to the main lodge, the staffers were present to welcome us. We were handed moist towels and refreshing drinks. As we sipped on the cold cocktails, Phimi, the manager, told us that our first game drive would start at 4 pm. We had a few minutes to get changed, and grab cakes and drinks from the high tea service before the drive.
Our original plan was to beg off the game drive for that afternoon. But once we got there and saw the staff’s enthusiasm, and our driver, Sifowso, we changed our minds. We were taken to our interconnecting rooms on the second floor where we quickly refreshed. Soon we were on our way for our first game drive.
The aha Makalali lodge is set around a large common area. From the outside porch, an extended deck leads to the massive front entrance double doors. The inside is built with an open concept, enough shade to keep away the sun, yet enough openness to keep it bright and airy. It’s hard to miss the fact that one is in the bushveld with nature all around. Seating was sectioned into many groups on either side of the main hallway. A swimming pool led off to one side, and a large deck built around old trees led to the other, with more seating.
A significant portion of the common area had a raised roof over it and included more seating areas with a library, a bar, restrooms, ample communal dining space, and the buffet. There was also a large outdoor enclosure with a fire pit, for dining under the stars.
A boardwalk led to the adjoining building where our rooms were located. Since the Makalali is a game reserve, animals are allowed to roam freely. Because of this, we had to wait for a staff member to accompany us at all times after dark or in the early mornings.
The main lodge has a total of 30 rooms. Only two people are allowed in each room. The rooms are situated on two levels, and two flights of stairs run up to reach the second level. We had two interconnected rooms with a great view of the bush from the balcony.
The rooms were comfortable with enough space for two adults. The anteroom had counter space for storage, a mirror and a coffeemaker. The actual bedroom had a large king bed, with seating in one corner and sliding glass doors that opened onto a balcony. Along one wall was a closet with storage, a safe, and hanging space for clothes.
The bathroom was good sized with a single sink at the vanity and plenty of towels, handwash soap and lotion. The adjacent walk-in shower and tub were clean and stocked with soap and conditioning shampoo, all from Baobab.
On the outer wall of the tub and leading from the bedroom through sliding glass doors on the sidewall was a large outdoor shower, adequately screened in from prying eyes. It was also stocked with similar toiletries.
After the game drives in the morning and a lovely breakfast, we retired to the rooms for a well-deserved nap before heading out to lunch, or swimming. The view from the balcony of warthogs and impala chasing each other was excellent.
The common areas of the lodge were done in excellent taste. Rustic tones were blended with sleekness. The final effect was one of openness, giving one the feeling of shelter under a shaded structure, and yet being a part of the surroundings. Old trees were left intact and built around. There was a lot of effort put into being as least intrusive into nature as possible. I felt this was a big part of what I liked about this resort. Many monkeys visited the dining area often. They swooped down for food while the staff worked hard to keep them away. It being Christmas; a few lights were strung up to celebrate the spirit of the season.
Once past the morning breakfast rush, the area cleared out quickly. Which meant, a midmorning visit to the deck or pool could be done in quiet. The pool and deck areas looked over the bushveld and a nearby watering hole where zebras and other animals gathered from time to time. The only issue was the heat of the midday, which meant even the wooden deck could get hot. Hats, sunscreen, water, and footwear were a must. Towels are provided for use at the pool. The staff has a drinks menu off of which to order at the pool and deck.
All meals happen around game drives, which are at 530 am and 4 pm. Before the morning drive, coffee, tea and some light snacks are provided. After the first drive of the day, a good breakfast is provided, both cold like cereal, breads, pastries as well as hot like omelets, sausages, etc.
Lunch is served in the afternoon. The staff gets to know each family. They quickly learned that we were vegetarians. While there was an extensive buffet where we could get salads and soups and some other items like mashed potatoes, the majority of our food was customized by the chef for us. High tea before game drives included tea, coffee, lemonades, fruits, and pastries. The cold coffee was divine, and I am not even a fan of cold coffee! Dinner was served after the evening game drive.
The first night, we dined on a splendid meal of vegetable soup, eggless quiche with peppadew and feta cheese, garbanzo with coconut and curry sauce with buckwheat, especially cooked for us. From the buffet, we got rice with potatoes, spinach, and corn on the cob and a wonderful dessert of white and chocolate mousse with amaretto. The chef stopped by, at times, to ensure we were happy with his creations.
The second evening, the meal was held, in the open enclosure, boma-style, under the stars. That was quite a thrill! While torches were lit to keep the animals away, we were surprised to note that mosquitoes were not an issue. In keeping with the eco-friendly design, the lighting was muted, leading to minimal light pollution.
The staff was made up of people from the local areas. They were courteous, punctual and very efficient. Hospitality crew members live on-site for three weeks and are off for one week. The game drive crew includes eleven guides and ten trackers. They live on-site for six weeks and are off for two. This schedule ensures that the guests can finish their safari drives with the same tracker and guide during their stay. The staff members play an essential role in the lodge’s success as its location, the game drives and the lodge itself.
We had a pleasant stay at the aha Makalali and would love to re-visit if we have a chance.