Mabula arguably rates as South Africa’s original luxury game reserve, and this magnificent establishment has still lost none of its Afro-centric appeal. What it has gained, recently, is a top-to-toe modernisation of its facilities, so we grabbed a baby bundu basher in the form of the updated Hyundai Grand i10, and headed for the foothills of the Waterberg.
You somehow cannot shake the feeling that you’ve arrived in paradise once you set foot in the arid Waterberg region, and with more than 12,000 ha of private wilderness at your disposal at the recently revamped Mabula Game Lodge, you are bound to find adventure the moment you set foot outside your room.
Although Mabula Game Lodge is still the grand dame of Southern African safari lodges, positioning it for the 21st century is a challenge which the lodge’s management has tackled head-on, by giving the old lady an unforgettable makeover.
Reaching the Mabula Game Reserve in the Waterberg region of Limpopo couldn’t be easier from either Johannesburg or Pretoria.
A leisurely drive along the N1 towards Polokwane – as we did in our little Hyundai Grand i10 – will take travellers approximately one hour from the East of Pretoria, and one-and-a-half from Johannesburg. It’s another hour’s drive mainly along the R576 past Bela-Bela, before the first welcoming signs of the lodge greet you.
Besides being easy to reach, and near enough for a weekend sojourn, the surprising quality of the roads in the area means that one doesn’t need a 4×4, or even an SUV to reach Mabula. For our trip, we decided to travel light, choosing Hyundai’s nimble Grand i10 city car for the journey.
Some might say the Grand i10 is somewhat euphemistically named. Grand it may be when compared to some other cars in its segment, but to discover whether it is grand in the real sense of the word, one has to look inward, to what the i10 offers in the way of standard specifications.
For R204,900 one would expect a car in the B-segment to have all the bells and whistles of a bigger offering. The Grand i10 delivers this and more, especially at the top of the pile where our ‘Glide’ tester is positioned.
Inside it is equipped with a user-friendly 7″ touchscreen infotainment system with both Bluetooth and USB connectivity, electric windows for all passengers and rear park-distance control. Driver and passenger airbags, as well as ABS and EBD, complete the picture on the safety front.
Although compact, we found that the 256 litres of available boot space (up to 1,202 litres with the seats folded down) provided enough luggage room for two for the weekend.
To keep up with increased demand for the highest standards of luxury from both local and overseas guests, Mabula Game Lodge recently transformed itself to offer a world-class four-star bush experience. Not only did we find the new Mabula to be comfortable and luxurious, but for local tourists, it truly is an affordable home-away-from-home.
Upon arriving at the lodge, we were greeted with a welcome drink in the plush surrounds of the new reception area, where rich African textiles meet subtle natural hues in a welcoming ambience.
After quickly dispensing with the check-in procedures we were escorted to our suite, positioned close to the main lodge building, although secluded enough to offer ample privacy.
No fewer than 50 elegant refurbished rooms are available, all with a renewed touch of authentic luxury. From splendid honeymoon suits to spacious family rooms, all living spaces showcase simple, clean, and elegant designs, with both natural and bold colours accentuating the African feel of the lodge’s environment.
REVIVING BODY & SOUL
As we left Pretoria behind rather late in the day, Friday traffic out of the city proved more challenging than expected, so our arrival at Mabula was delayed, and we missed the last game drive of the day.
Although somewhat disappointed, we decided to settle into our Family Room before taking sundowners at the delightfully appointed Legothla Bar. Of course, arriving late has its perks, as we could sit down to a relaxing dinner in the Ko Bojelong restaurant before the evening’s game drive arrived back at the lodge.
With its new cold wells, the main restaurant at Mabula was an unsuspected delight, with a buffet offering of traditional South African favourites including a carvery, delectable Indian dishes, and an array of cheeses, crackers and desserts.
Other dining venues scattered around the property include the Terrace and Ndlovu Boma.
Surrounded by towering Baobab trees, chirping birds and a tranquil waterfall, the Terrace is the ideal place for an outdoor breakfast, or a spot of afternoon tea and treats.
The boma, an all-time favourite with guests, creates a festive ambience and a dining experience like no other. On our second and last evening at Mabula, we enjoyed dinner under the African sky, with stars jotted across a canvas of black, while the crackling fire and traditional dancing kept the party going into the night.
Other amenities include the Mabula Game Lodge spa that offers a variety of exclusive treatments – I enjoyed a soothing back and neck massage – under the expert hand of the experienced therapist on duty. Children are also well catered for, as kids can try their hand at tennis or enjoy a little fun in the sun at the pool. Mabula Game Lodge offers a playroom called Cubz Club for the younger adventurers, where kids can be occupied for hours on end.
With an abundance of wildlife and splendid scenery, we felt at home in the heart of Africa while visiting this majestic part of the country. Apart from Mabula’s other experiences – game drives offer guests the opportunity to look out for four of the Big Five either at sunrise, or sunset.
While busying ourselves with the hustle of our everyday existence, it is easy to overlook the many natural gems and authentically South African experiences that are quite literally on our doorstep.
Mabula Game Lodge proved to us that a bush breakaway is more manageable, and more affordable than we may believe, while the Hyundai Grand i10 that took us safely there and back without a hitch, proved that you don’t need a big car to enjoy an African safari, a little car with a big heart will do just fine.
Report by BERNIE HELLBERG JR | Images © MABULA GAME LODGE