/ Madikwe Magic

Madikwe Magic

Aug 08, 2013

When your first game drive involves a hyena chasing and eating an impala, you know your luck’s in. It's rare to see a chase, and rarer still to observe the animal feast on its findings. Our driver Quinton and tracker Dinamos are chuffed and we are mesmerised watching this safari scavenger tuck into his evening meal. If it sounds grotesque, it’s not. This is nature. Welcome.

I’m in the 76,500-hectare Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa's North West Province, by the Botswana border. Home to the Big Five (leopard, elephant, rhino, buffalo and lion), it's also teeming with impalas, zebras, gnus and colourful birdlife – and, if you’re lucky, wild dogs and cheetahs. Madikwe is one of few reserves where research found safari tourism to be the most sustainable use of land. It’s run by the state, private sector and local communities and everyone contributes. The Royal Madikwe, where I’m staying, donates twenty percent of its profits to The Bright Future Trust, a community outreach program.

The hyena-impala chase and feast leaves me breathless and in need of a sundowner. A trunk in the jeep’s boot unearths a vast selection of miniature bottles of booze and mixer. It’s got to be a G&T, for the anti-malarial properties of quinine, of course. So what if the reserve happens to be malaria-free?

Back at the lodge, a rain shower drenches the red earth. The smell is strangely addictive and, like Alpine air, invites sleep. But where? The lodge has several tempting chill-out areas from the cushion-scattered gazebo lounge to the chaise-lounge on the elevated deck with its views of the lodge’s watering hole, frequented by elephants, zebras, gnus and more. After a siesta, I return to the chalet. The five, very private, air-conditioned suites are unashamedly luxurious with beautiful fabrics and flooring, sundeck, plunge pool and indoor and outdoor showers. What makes the experience even more exclusive is that the resort at Royal Madikwe is for the sole use of the residents. I take an outdoor shower, scrub off the African dust and dress for dinner.

Dinner is served in the main lodge where ancient leadwood and Marula tree furnishings create a contemporary African decor. As we feast on delicious meats and vegetables with our lodge hosts, Lucy and Quinton, conversation flows as freely as the wine. Later, a game of Scrabble is initiated until the earlyish hours after which a staff member accompanies me back to the chalet. Walking alone at night isn’t advised – the night brigade is hunting and I don’t want to be turned into a snack.

After a restful night on a four-poster-bed – so high I felt like the Princess and the Pea – I awake for a (very) early game drive. After hot coffee and biscuits at 6am, we hit the road. Everyone wants to see the Big Five, and it’s our lucky day. We spot a herd of elephants (one big mamma even circles our jeep) and see rhinos and buffalos. To top it off, we stop to admire two snoozing lions, as majestic as you’d expect. Fear doesn’t figure. This is their territory and they’re fine as long as we don’t give them cause to feel otherwise. We celebrate with a hot coffee served with a shot of local Amarula liqueur.

With early morning and late afternoon being optimum game-viewing hours, chill-out time is plentiful. A relaxing Saturday afternoon begins with a tasty Royal Madikwe Brunch on the main deck. As the heat intensifies, our group dispels to cool off. A relaxing soak in my private plunge pool does the trick before I join the others by the main pool where we order Pimm’s and practice the art of poolside lazing. It’s soon time for afternoon tea, a spread of pizzas, pastries and cakes. I wash it down with rooibos (Red Bush) tea, a tasty, caffeine-free African blend. It’s the perfect fuel for the afternoon drive which serves up another surprise. A leopard has been spotted and we follow the tracks. Although all we see is a blur of fur, the experience is exhilarating. After the obligatory sundowner, I return to the lodge and find a rose petal bath has been run in all the chalets. Could life be any better? We dine outdoors that night and we enjoy African stews and copious amounts of wine as we trade stories and tell jokes in the evening heat.

I struggle to awake for the final morning drive but thinking of what I might miss becomes my alarm. And we see the final animal on our wish list – the smiling, gentle giraffe. The graceful giant poses for us while we furiously snap away. It’s the grand finale we all wanted. Back at the lodge, I prepare to leave Madikwe. It’s hard to find the words to sum up the experience, but I find a note on the bed that does it for me:

SAFARI TIPS

The reserve

Choosing a reserve is like choosing a resort. What do you want to do or see? Find out if the game reserve has abundant numbers of the animals you want to see but remember, it’s not a zoo so don’t expect the leopard to turn up because you have.

When

Visiting in the dry season means you get better weather, naturally. Many lodges have their own watering holes and when rainfall is low, you’ve a good chance of spotting many animals visiting it for a drink.

The lodge

Your lodge is your home in the African bush and the staff are your guides so choose with care. Mobile tented safaris move around the reserve and range from basic to luxury (hot showers!). If you prefer to stay put, book a lodge, again going from basic to five-star comfort. Check the internet for reviews of individual establishments especially with regards to food, shower facilities and transport.

The transport

Generally speaking, a covered, but open-sided jeep is best – the roof keeps you cool(-ish) from the African sun while open sides allow everyone to admire the scenery and snap away. With safari vans, the rooftop is shared – which can lead to tension in the vehicle!

Your health and safety

Check immunisation recommendations for the country you’re visiting. Unless the park is malaria-free, anti-malaria tablets may be necessary. Take good insect repellent and the right clothing. Neutral colours are fine, plus long-sleeved tops and trousers for evenings. Don’t forget your sunglasses as they’ll keep the dust out of your eyes and of course, sunscreen.

WORDS MEERA DATTANI

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