Calling Mhondoro Game Lodge “exclusive” is an understatement.But although this private five-star lodge in South Africa’s Limpopo province accommodates up to 20 guests, everyone gets to feel at home.
Individuals and couples can choose a deluxe suite with a private viewing deck overlooking the waterhole, or the secluded honeymoon suite with its own heated spa pool. Groups can go for a two-bedroomed executive suite with an extra lounge area and fireplace, or the family suite with a dining/living area and spacious private viewing deck.
Our trip combined the best of all worlds in the exclusive-use villa. Upon arrival, my travelling companions and I were allocated to its three en-suite rooms by choosing cards from a hat. And lucky me ended up in the master suite, a stylish sanctuary bigger than my entire apartment. This included a lounge with a designer desk that almost tempted me to do some work, an indoor shower “carved” into a wall, an outdoor shower overlooking the bush, and a daybed for blissful afternoon naps.
Still, none of us could complain given that our new home had its own private pool, yoga room, and separate gym. (The main lodge has a heated pool and gym with infrared sauna for all guests.) It was the perfect space to enjoy dinner with lodge managers Fritz and Ronel Breytenbach, prepared by a pair of private chefs.
The tasting menu featured gourmet items – think layered pasta (with spicy tomato, truffle foam, and Parmesan cream pea purée), slow braised pork belly (with saffron potato, apple purée, and pork croquette), and more – all paired with fine local wines.
But dining at Mhondoro doesn’t mean pretentious food. Indeed, while some lodges stuff you with oversized buffets, our meals were healthy and light, with many homemade dishes and home-grown ingredients from the organic garden on-site.
Staying in the villa meant that we also enjoyed the company of Sibusiso “Sibu” Nzima, our dedicated ranger for early morning and late afternoon game drives.
Born and raised in Soweto, he fell in love with nature and the outdoors while watching David Attenborough documentaries as a child.
“When I was around 11 years old, I visited KwaZulu-Natal [a province on South Africa’s east coast],” he said while we savoured sundowners and snacks, watching the colours on the horizon change from red to purple to a soft shade of blue.
“That’s when I decided to make understanding animals and wildlife my career.”
Nzima was full of fascinating insights throughout our two-day trip. These began with details about the history of the malaria-free Welgevonden Game Reserve, which spans almost 40000 hectares and, thanks to a strict policy limiting vehicles, is popular for game drives without traffic jams.
Given that the altitude varies from 1080m to 1800m, we could feel the temperature changing from hot to cool during our drives. This varied climate is also why there are more than 2000 species of plants in the rolling grasslands and semi-deciduous forest that makes up the savannah areas of the Waterberg.
During our stops, Nzima pointed out some of the indigenous vegetation, giving us time to smell fragrant lavender and other herbs that are used to make bush tea. He also used these opportunities to whistle to the birds – there are over 300 species – and, with the help of binoculars and a book, gave us a chance to spot them too.
Even though there are over 50 different mammal species – from giraffe and kudu to antelope and baboon – our main goal was to find the Big Five.
Upon arrival, we learned the lion population suffered from the canine distemper virus a few years ago but are in the process of being rehabilitated for reintroduction into the reserve.
Also, despite our best efforts, the search for a cheetah and her three cubs left us empty-handed. (Unlike leopards, 21 of which were photographed during a 50-day survey in 2013, perhaps cheetahs DO change their spots.)
Fortunately, we had better luck with other animals. Nzima explained that one can track an elephant’s direction, speed, and even energy levels just by looking at its footsteps. And perhaps it’s not surprising that the trail was so close to the lodge. After our relaxing dinner around the fire at the lodge’s boma, we found an elephant drinking straight from the pool!
It was also easy to find rhinos. Thanks to the reserve’s anti-poaching unit, not a single one has ever been killed. This makes it home to the world’s largest concentration of the endangered white rhino on private land.
No wonder we discovered one of the gentle giants grazing on our front lawn.
Mhondoro is the only five-star safari lodge that has an underground waterhole hide connected to the main building by a 65m reinforced concrete tunnel. So, whenever you want, you can have eye-to-eye encounters with animals that appear as fascinated by you as you are by them.
Another unique feature is the star deck. Located just beyond the curio shop, which stocks traditional African accessories and the Rain Africa collection of handmade bath and body products, it was where we switched from exploring creatures of the earth to contemplating those in the sky.
With Nzima’s celestial knowledge and a high-powered telescope, we learned more about the constellations and how they shift throughout the day and year. (Given the area’s low light pollution, you can see about 2500 stars on a clear night.)
We even saw the moon’s detailed craters and, shining red in the distance, the planet Mars.
Sitting back and being mesmerised by the immensity of the cosmos was surprisingly comforting; almost as though it was just me staring out at space and the infinite universe staring back at me.
It doesn’t get more exclusive than that.
Call +27 (0)87 150 2314, email [email protected], or go to www.mhondoro.com
Settled farms were established in the area from around 1845.
And after a private sector initiative resulted in the consolidation of several private farms, the Welgevonden Game Reserve began as a conservation area in 1993.
Mhondoro first opened in 2008, was refurbished in 2010, but burned down in 2013. It closed for two years and was completely rebuilt with modern amenities, including high-speed wi-fi and USB plug points.
The lodge is owned by Dutch nationals Frank and Myriam Vogel, whose passion for African wildlife inspired them to create the MF Foundation, a public benefit organisation that offered the reserve an interest-free loan of R15million last year.
This money is helping the game purchase programme, which will see the animal population increased with the introduction of more impala, wildebeest, zebra, waterbuck, and hippo.
“In a world that is rapidly becoming more populated, we believe man has the responsibility to protect nature where we can,” says Frank.