Friday, February 17, 2012

Madikwe Hills - Chris Moerdyk report

February 16 2012 at 08:27am

By Chris Moerdyk

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You don't have to worry about bathing outdoors only the animals can see you, and they don't care.

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There is no greater feeling of contentment than standing stark naked on your own private deck surveying an unbroken vista of pristine Africa, following an early-morning skinny dip in your own private plunge pool and an invigorating outside shower. It is the ultimate in communing with nature even if it terrifies myriad animals and birdlife which, after many decades, have probably never adapted to seeing homo sapiens in the buff.
I love the bush with a passion. Nothing on earth destresses me quicker than the smell and all enveloping warmth of Mother Africa at her natural best. But I do get somewhat miffed when I am forced to spend my first waking moments and that half-hour before I go to sleep sharing Ma Africa with strangers.

I want her all to myself.

I also get a little bitter and twisted when, on a game drive, we happen to come across something exciting such as a pride of lion next to the road, or a leopard dozing in a tree, or a kill when, within minutes, we are surrounded by dozens upon dozens of game vehicles, cars and lumbering camper vans that turn a tranquil Mother Nature moment into a Hollywood production of whirring cameras and frenetic pointing and shouting.
Which brings me to a little bit of serendipity I experienced recently –in one of the best luxury game lodges I have visited anywhere in Africa, in one of the best-managed game reserves on the continent.


I am talking about Madikwe Game Reserve, set in the Marico bushveld slap in the middle of Herman Charles Bosman territory and nestling up against the Botswana border.

The reason I have fallen in love with Madikwe is not because of its big five or almost 500 bird species, but because of its management – game rangers and trackers who try as hard as possible to keep out of each other’s way so that you always feel you are on your own. And, most importantly, their wonderful rule that no more than three game vehicles may gather in any one place. A brilliant rule that should be applied everywhere. But, before going on about the spectacular game and our sighting of black rhinos and an extremely rare bird, a word or two about our lodgings.

The Madikwe Hills Private Game Lodge is what one would expect of a five-star establishment, and more.
It is set on the side of a thickly wooded hill with the entire lodge raised off the ground to about mid-thorn tree height and joined by a network of wooden walkways. The entire lodge is built around rocks and trees and every suite is charmingly decorated to look like part of your own luxurious family holiday home rather than one of those terribly contrived hotels where they measure the distance between the magazines and the fruit bowl on the coffee table and make sure that your goodnight chocolate is absolutely in the centre of your pillow.

Madikwe Hills is elegantly casual. Our suite had a large lounge, massive bedroom, huge dressing room, a bathroom from here to eternity, all glass fronted with views over the acacia-studded plains. A huge rambling front deck was raised above ground level and incorporated a plunge pool which was at a perfect temperature to allow you to have a refreshing dip without making your testicles contract to somewhere near your backbone. But my favourite feature was the magnificent brass outdoor shower which I chose over the indoor version in the bathroom. With the entire unit private and protected from public view, I could swim and shower in the raw – communing with nature and getting a little sun on my lily-white bum even though it scared the animals. On our last morning we had a young bull elephant no more than 50m from the deck watching me shower. He stared for a bit, waved his trunk fairly suggestively (I thought) then wandered off shaking his head. I think he was laughing but he might well have been looking for somewhere to throw up.

Our morning and afternoon game drives were superblyprofessional under the guidance of our ranger, Barend, and tracker, Lebo.

We got to see a pride of lion, white rhino, black rhino, elephant and buffalo but somehow missed the leopard. Still, four out of the big five is pretty good going for a few hours. Madikwe is also well known for its wild dog. We didn’t see any but we were told that they were seen heading en masse in the generaldirection of Botswana at about the time I was skinny-dipping. Anyway, with both my wife and I keen birdwatchers, as were the young couple from the UK who shared our game drives, we revelled in Barend’s ability to spot birds. We added four more lifers to our bird list. But it was number 473 on our list that gave us the most joy.
It was the rare yellow form of the crimson-breasted shrike – something most birders only dream about and which even Barend had never seen before.

Equally exciting was not only managing to find a family of rare black rhino but having one of the young males mock-charge us –with the result that the video I took is now one of the most prized in my wildlife collection.

Madikwe Hills Lodge is one of those places that exceed your expectations from the word go. The service is outstanding, the accommodation better than most and the game viewing superb. But, most of all, with so many reserves becoming more and more crowded, Madikwe – and particularly the location of Madikwe Hills Lodge – makes you feel that you really are in wildest Africa. That you really are in the back of beyond. In fact, it’s more than that. Just think of the back of beyond and you’ll find Madikwe Hills just beyond that.
Strangely enough, it’s only a five-hour drive from Joburg or Pretoria but most guests choose to fly in to the reserve airstrip on Federal Air that operates between Gauteng and Madikwe.

But here’s another interesting thing. Round about the beginning of every year is animal mating season in Madikwe. We saw impalas rutting away as though there were no tomorrow;lions mating with almost royal disdain for the whole process of procreation; amorous white rhino males being rebuffed by tetchyfemales trying to have amud bath; turtle doves scurrying about the ground in ritual mating dances; and two baboons bonking their hearts out in the middle of the road. But it was when I was watching the male rhinos being given the cold shoulder that it suddenly occurred to me that whenever I paraded about our deck in the raw and had a bit of a skinny dip, my wife would sneak away and lock herself in the bathroom. - Saturday Star

If You Go...

l Madikwe Hills Private Game Lodge: Six stars in my book
Game viewing: excellent
Accommodation: 10 out of 10
Cuisine: 7 out of 10
Service: Always with a smile
Spa and gym: I don’t do gym but the reflexology almost beats showering in the sun
Malaria and goggas: Madikwe is malaria-free and goggas are kept at bay with efficient mosquito netting
Temperature: Even in January it was in the mild mid-20s with moderate humidity. It does get cold on winter nights and early mornings