BACKGROUND: Formerly an old cattle farm west of the Kruger National Park, Makalali Private Game Lodge is now a premiere wildlife-viewing destination. Previously owned by Three Cities, aha Hotels and Lodges, the tourism property management company of Tourvest ’s Accommodation and Activities division, took it over around four years ago. I stayed at the Makalali Main Lodge, which was entirely rebuilt, re-opened in November 2017 and can now accommodate 60 people sharing. Situated in the heart of the bushveld offering a sense of personal connection with the natural surrounds, the four-star Main Lodge is more hip boutique hotel than traditional safari camp. There’s nothing Colonial here; no pith helmets or hunting trophies. Just a sense of light and space with a contemporary African signature. Dry stone columns that call to mind the Zimbabwe Ruins, huge fireplaces and wild sisal rugs add an elemental feel with luscious touches of lime in the cushions, back walls, and hints of the Tswana vernacular in witty African sculptures and artefacts. Built from natural locally-sourced materials, the Main Lodge is understated but super chic with raised wooden viewing decks all around.
WHERE IS IT? Set within a 26,000-hectare private reserve just west of the Kruger Park, it ’s about an hour’s drive from Hoedspruit.
ROOMS AND FACILITIES: Our superior room, one of 30, felt welcoming in a neutral palette to let the fantastic bushveld view from our f loor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors take centre stage. From your balcony you can enjoy a pre-prandial drink as Nyala graze below and monkeys swing from the trees. Expect an indoor and outdoor shower, tea and coffee making facilities, toiletries, free wi-fi, ample plug points, and a comfy king-sized bed with tables and reading lamps.
DINING: The African ethos prevails in the seasonal menu that offers traditional fare such as kudu filet or grilled crocodile served in an open-air boma with a pit fire, on the wooden deck, the large indoor-outdoor dining area or even in suite by arrangement.
CONFERENCE FACILITIES: Says aha Makalali’s operations manager Thomas Ndobe: “Everything here is f lexible in terms of making space for up to 60 delegates. We also offer equipment such as projectors, white boards and fast free wi-fi.”
WELLNESS AND LEISURE: Makalali Main Lodge has a large crystal blue rim f low pool that is spectacular when lit up at night. You can enjoy in-room spa treatments and there’s also a library where you can kick back with a book. However, this is Big Five territory and on game drives with a ranger and a tracker, we saw elephant, lion, jackal, hippo, rhino, a python in a tree, and a journey of 23 giraffe that eyed us curiously as we drank our morning coffee in the bush. Expect marvellous bird sightings – African hoopoes, woodland kingfishers, yellow-billed hornbills – we even saw a hammerkop, a brown stork-like bird that keeps its eggs in a big untidy nest decorated with old bones and shiny found objects. Local legend dictates that a family member will die if a hammerkop f lies over their hut but this one was simply surveying (as were we) wildebeest and zebra chilling on the plains together.
VERDICT: This is safari lodge as trendy design hotel: urbane, fashion forward, relentlessly contemporary and ideal for corporates needing a ‘workation’ somewhere in the bush, far from the madding crowds.