So when I recently got the offer to experience the tranquil beauty and splendour that is Madikwe River Lodge in South Africa, I jumped at the chance.
A colleague drove me to the much talked about ‘Paradise on Earth’ lodge and it took us less than an hour of travel from Gaborone to the South African border, just outside Sikwane village in Kgatleng district, and under ten minutes to reach the lodge.
“It is my first time to see a woman going to the reserve alone. I have worked at this border for a very long time, but you are probably the first! People who go there are couples,” an immigration officer told me.
An interesting thought, and whilst a man might have been an attractive addition to my holiday package, I could just as well enter Paradise without one.
One thing I like about travel and tourism is that it makes you really appreciate the beauty of nature and the creativity of humans. It also brings joy, peace of mind and pleasure.
All of that and more I experienced in the treat that was in store as I entered the magnificent Madikwe River Lodge and met its excellent staff.
I arrived on a very hot day and was welcomed with an ice cold refreshing towel together with a glass of cool lemonade. The combination was pure, simple joy.
True to its promise, the lodge provided a comfortable, friendly and private thatched chalet overlooking the striking Groot Marico River where crocodiles and hippos can be seen swimming just outside the lodge perimeter. Surrounded by a jungle of lush green vegetation and tall trees, I thought back to the sentiments of the immigration officer, and had a moments regret that my man was not by my side. Perhaps in such a setting, just like in the movies I remember from my childhood, he could have whispered into my ear, “ Me Tarzan, you Jane!”
I had arrived just before the afternoon game drive on a Friday. It was perfect timing.
Madikwe River Lodge is home to South Africa’s big five where elephant, Cape buffalo, rhino, leopard and lion roam. Charles, our tour guide promised us that we would ‘see things’ as we drove off in search of adventure. We weren’t disappointed.
He drove us to a small lake inside the Madikwe Game Reserve where rhinos were quenching an afternoon thirst, after which we followed the kings of the jungle. We caught up with nine of them sleeping in-between thick bushes. To be up there, up close and personal was an incredible adrenalin rush for one whose only other contact with such beasts had been in the movie The Lion King.
If that was the main event, spotting other animals in our two-hour drive, including a plethora of impalas and wildebeest, was a tasty desert, and got us in the mood for the refreshments that followed back at camp.
The lodge is situated in the malaria free Madikwe Game Reserve, so there were no worries eating outside over a Boma dinner. We enjoyed the scrumptious food while listening to Setswana traditional music that pulsated into the night to the flicker of lantern lights. Pure magic!
AS NATURE INTENDED
It was after dinner that I decided to take a shower, only to discover that there was no barrier between me and the outside world as the bathroom window was curtainless. For a city girl it was somewhat unnerving, as I was not used to such exposure. I called reception and was told: “Don’t worry, there are only animals on the other side of the river. Nobody will see you except the monkeys.”
“Lucky monkeys,” I thought as I abandoned my inhibitions and enjoyed the sensation of the water as it bounced of my body glistening in the moonlight.
After that I simply tucked myself under crispy fresh white linen and allowed the calming hand of nature to fill my dreams as hyenas laughed and lions roared through the night, and I knew no fear.
The next morning I received a wake up call at five for a half past five morning drive. I am not an early bird, but at that time in the morning, just before dawn, the senses come alive as the darkness ebbs away and the cool forest aromas drift in on the gentle breeze. It is also the best time to see the animals.
If I had to choose, I would say that ever since as a kid I had one as a cuddly toy, giraffes have been my favourite animals. So when we saw a bunch of them moving in the morning mist with such majestic pride, tall and slim with big bushy eyelashes, I just felt like jumping down from the truck and rushing over to give them a big hug.
We also spotted a variety of birds, which our guide diligently named, and a host of other animals moving around the picturesque setting of flora and fauna that makes up the beauty of the reserve.
After our early morning in the bush it was back to the lodge for a magnificent banquet breakfast, which we all tucked into as if it was a royal feast.
After a rest and exchange of chat around the camp, we were back into the bush for our afternoon drive. Again we saw lions, this time awake and walking and followed them to their drinking hole where we saw a herd of elephants. Later we spotted buffalo jut outside the lodge and I was able to tick off another of the big five from my list of expectations.
Only the leopard remained elusive, but I was not too disappointed as it gave me an excellent excuse to come back again for another search.
After all the logistics are simple. Madikwe River Lodge is not very far from Gaborone and easily accessible by road. Visitors pay P50 game entrance fee for a whole weekend of game drive starting Friday afternoon until Sunday morning. And don’t worry about there being no television in your bedroom – nature has provided a far bigger screen.
As I write these words back in the confines of the newsroom, I stop my pen, close my eyes and imagine myself back in the bush. For in the place where imagination and reality meet, there you will find the Madikwe River Lodge.
A big thank you to South Africa’s (Durban) Take Note Reputation Management for organising the trip.