After a smooth journey from our Wiltshire home to South Africa’s Timbavati region, we were delighted to be greeted at Makanyi Lodge by effusive managers Rico and Carmen.
The camp itself was stunning; first impressions – tasteful understated luxury, subtly lit and with wafts of incredible scented candles dotted around the open plan rooms. The décor was outstanding throughout, with a beautiful mix of bush feel and contemporary design and comfort.
Externally the dry stone walls and thatch blended into the bush whilst the interior design of the main lodge showcased tasteful African colonialism at its best. Piles of leather bound suitcases, inviting leather sofas, walls of mix matched black and white wildlife stills and a heavenly scent of thatch mixed with Africology scented candles made us want to collapse with a good book. However this was not the order of the day with lunch awaiting us on the wide terrace shaded by Marula trees (Makanyi means place of Marula trees) overlooking a waterhole where already elephants were starting to wallow to escape the heat of the mid-day sun.
Following our delicious ‘Chinese buffet’ lunch we were shown to our suite (one of 7 detached suites – 2 honeymoon and 5 standard) and felt very honoured to be given honeymoon suite 8 at the far end of the camp where most marauding game (including a pride of 8 lions!) were apparently frequently seen from the large deck and plunge pool. What bliss – one of the biggest thatched suites in the bush (140m2 of relaxed understated elegance) a huge four poster bed swathed in white netting and freestanding roll-top bath all set off by storm lamps, hessian mats and tasteful local furnishings….it all seemed a million miles away from my Wiltshire village home! Large sliding doors completely opened the front of the suite to all the wonderful sounds and smells of the bush and provided the perfect spot to sit in an armchair (or cooling plunge pool) and game watch across a vast expanse of seemingly open bush (a 1 foot high invisible electric fence was reassuringly pointed out to keep most nocturnal visitors at bay).
Refreshed after a quick shower we were greeted by our friendly guide Riaan and spotter Soly who led us to a very impressive new Landover converted game vehicle – which gave my husband almost as much pleasure as the game we were to see from it! Minutes later we were off for a glorious afternoon exploring the Timbavati. Being open to the Kruger, the Timbavati is one of the top areas for game viewing as animals are free to roam within an open area of over 2.4 million hectares giving a genuine, fence free safari experience. The game was on best behaviour obliging us with views of Kudu, Giraffe, Steenbok, Zebra, Warthog, Impala and my personal highlight 3 hugely over surfeited male Lions sleeping soundly, fat bellies uppermost, snoring gently at the edge of a waterhole.
The day was finished off with a delicious barbeque of warthog, chicken and kudu and an array of appealing salads taken with our guide and fellow guests sat around the roaring boma under a beautiful star filled sky.
It was surprisingly easy to spring out of bed at 5am knowing another exciting game drive was in store rather than the usual school run! We were further delighted when the call came over the radio 5 minutes into the drive that a pack of very rare wild dog had been spotted in the area. Our excitement escalated when Riaan explained that there are only 5000 wild dog left in Africa, 500 of which are in South Africa. This pack consisted of no less than 34 dogs including 17 pups who, like inquisitive domestic dogs, were keen to sniff the vehicles and even attempt a nibble of Solly’s dangling boot!
One of the big pluses of Makanyi is that being the only commercial lodge in the southern sector of the Timbavati you hardly ever see another vehicle and as a result the game experience is as nature intended plentiful and still skittish – much of the excitement is in the pursuit as well as the viewing.
Back at Makanyi I indulged in a very spoiling massage at the in-house spa with Catherine the therapist who skilfully pummelled my knotted shoulders into submission with deliciously scented muscle relaxing Africology oils after which I literally floated back to my suite for a very quick snooze.
The afternoon game drive proved to be no less exciting with my husband, much to his delight, spotting one of the 2 local leopard cubs who had been left in the thick vegetation of the riverine whilst there mother went out hunting. The gorgeous, if shy, female was well camouflaged but still proceeded to put on a wonderful show of snarling and hissing for the clicking cameras – the result of which was my most successful shot of the whole trip! I was only sad it wasn’t a few months later when Makanyi’s in-house photography developing suite would be ready to allow guests the added thrill of printing their own favourite shots ready to take home on a rolled canvas.
A strong evening breeze meant that dinner was served around a long table laid in the main lodge which to an arriving visitor would have resembled a rather splendid, if noisy, international family dinner party with guests from England, America, Finland, Holland and Switzerland all tucking into an amazing South African feast of carpaccio of ostrich followed by the most tender springbok and gooey chocolate pudding washed down with delicious South African Wine.
Following our last amazing Makanyi breakfast our final day’s game drive once again did not disappoint. Soon after leaving the lodge shrieking magpies alerted our sharp eyed guide to a genet in a nearby tree top waving a very long black and white stripy tail reminiscent of a lemur. A little further on a little dyka (more commonly known to this group of uninformed guests as a DLT – deer like thing) darted across out path giving Riaan cause to tell us how good they taste due to their predilection to the most tender shrubs thus self-spicing! I thought he looked cuter in the bush. We also learnt how the trickier to reach shrubs are the more delicious due to lower tannin levels and how bush shrubs can deliberately increase their tannin levels when being grazed to discourage the diners – why giraffes are always seen grazing from bush to bush.
Following a break for delicious hot chocolate generously laced with amurula and home-made biscotti the remainder of the morning disclosed a mother giraffe with her 2 week old baby, complete with still dangling umbilical cord, some gentrified old daga boys (elderly water buffalo) wallowing in a muddy waterhole and a selection of beautiful birdlife including a rare red billed hornbill, bee-eaters and a majestic fish eagle.
Back at the lodge it was time to pack for our onward flights to Hoedspruit and Cape Town. Makanyi really is the most welcoming home from home in the bush and I long to return. The whole magical experience was made all the more wonderful upon learning the totally unpublicised fact that the philanthropic owners are planning to plough a large portion of the profits straight back into the Timbavati conservation project thus enabling this perfect game experience to have a long and secure future.
Cape Buffalo, Dyka, Elephant, Empala, Genet, Giraffe, Hippo, Hyena, Kudu, Leopard, Lesser Tailed Bush Baby, Lion, Slender Mongoose, Steenbok, Vervet Monkey, Warthog, Waterbuck, White Rhino, Wild Dog, Zebra