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HomeLEISURE DRIVETHE CALL OF NATURE: Jaguar F-Pace 20d R-Sport

THE CALL OF NATURE: Jaguar F-Pace 20d R-Sport

The wind was whipping as JULIE GRAHAM stood on the edge of a rocky precipice, overlooking the immense Lanner Gorge and the flowing Luvuvhu River below. The experience was a week at different luxury lodges and hideaways, and the car of choice, the Jaguar F-Pace 20d R-Sport.

After a decidedly testing past few months, I welcomed the opportunity to get into nature and explore the contrasting wilderness of the Northern and Southern reaches of the Greater Kruger National Park. What’s more, my trusty steed for the journey was to be the latest and greatest Jaguar F-Pace R-Sport – a vehicle I was assured would instil utmost confidence with its superb driving dynamics and powerful features.

Jaguar F-Pace

PABLO HOUSE TO POLOKWANE IN A JAGUAR F-PACE

Pablo House was our first stop after a flight from the Mother City – an inner-city oasis in Melville, Johannesburg that is the second born of the HELLO PABLOS family (the first being the popular eatery, Pablo Eggs-Go-Bar, that offers the ultimate in all-day breakfast dining). After a great night’s rest at this contemporary haven overlooking the Melville Koppies, we hit the N1 in our new Jaguar.

The spacious back seat and cargo area offered plenty of space for our luggage (bear in mind there were four of us, and we were embarking on a 12-day trip) as well as ample legroom. For a luxury SUV, it is surprisingly practical while blending in an edgy, sporty interior complete with the latest contemporary bits and bobs.

We were venturing in the 20d version, which packs an efficient and powerful turbodiesel engine, making overtaking a breeze. A comfortable three-and-a-half-hour drive from Pablo House, and we settled in for the night at what is undoubtedly Polokwane’s star attraction – the Fusion Boutique Hotel, a five-star space where extravagance and art marry contemporary design.

Jaguar F-Pace

THE BELLOW OF THE BAOBABS

The next morning, eager to hit the road to our next destination, I excitedly hurried the troupe out of the plush comfort of the hotel and into the car. I wanted to get out of town and into nature. Stat. Next stop: the incredibly beautiful Pafuri Triangle in the Northern Kruger to spend a few nights at The Outpost Lodge and Pel’s Post.

I soon discovered that, though classy and elegant, the Jag’s built-in Infotainment GPS system proved to be a little slow to respond. That being said, the Bluetooth worked excellently with all the smartphones on board, and the Meridian audio system offered the ultimate music experience – matching the Jag’s exceptional performance. Settling for our trusty iPhone GPS to get us to our next destination, we hit the N1 and R525 en route to The Outpost Lodge.

The drive towards this part of the country gets more beautiful once past the small town of Louis Trichardt and into the heart of Limpopo. Boring straight roads become mountain passes, nature reserves and small villages before the majestic baobabs begin popping up.

These trees have always fascinated me. Steeped in legend and superstition, the gnarled bark and bulbous branches ooze mystique and wonder. The bellow of the baobab was loud… and the Pafuri Triangle was full of them.

Though all I wanted to do was put foot and get there as fast as I could, goats and cattle became regular stop and goes on the route into the Kruger National Park. About four hours further (with a few photo stops along the way and 15-minutes of cruising off-road in the Kruger from the Pafuri Gate – which the mighty Jaguar F-Pace handled with ease thanks to higher-than-usual ground clearance and all-wheel drive). Soon we were welcomed at The Outpost Lodge, a contemporary bush haven, cantilevered on a hill overlooking the Luvuvhu River and Bushveld baobabs as far as the eye can see.

THE OUTPOST AND PEL’S POST

Jaguar F-Pace

Three nights at The Outpost Lodge and two nights at the neighbouring Pel’s Post (both part of the exquisite Rare Earth collection) is enough to write a whole book about. Both encapsulate a supreme luxury safari experience with such cleverly orchestrated design to have minimal impact on the environment.

Each of the private spaces at both lodges is connected to the central lodge area and each other by Zimbabwean teak walkways through rocky outcrops and Bushveld. The suites all boast unparalleled views of the river below, and bathrooms have freestanding baths and both indoor and outdoor showers. The highlight of each of the suites is undoubtedly the state-of-the-art retractable remote-controlled screens that give you a real al fresco bush experience, completely immersing you in the wilderness.

While The Outpost lodge can accommodate up to 24 people in 12 suites, Pel’s Post is for utmost privacy and exclusivity with only four rooms that can sleep up to eight people.

THE BIG FIVE

Before we knew it, our time in the Pafuri Triangle was up, and we were headed south. Shumbalala Game Lodge, nestled in the 14,000 ha Thornybush Reserve – now part of the Greater Kruger National Park – was our next destination and, though the biodiversity of the Pafuri region was to be left behind for a more traditional Bushveld nature experience, it was here that an encounter with the whole Big Five gang was more likely.

Exiting the Kruger at the Pafuri Gate would mean a 350 km drive through Malamulele and Hoedspruit through many small villages, which would mean a drive of about five-and-a-half hours. We opted instead, to drive through the Kruger (at 50 km/h this would mean an additional two hours onto the drive) and exit at Phalaborwa before hitting the road to Thornybush Reserve (about 100 km from the Phalaborwa Gate). If you have time, this is an excellent opportunity to get a self-drive through the Kruger and spot some game on your own time.

Shumbalala (meaning where the lion sleeps) was all we had hoped for and more. Situated right on the banks of the seasonal Monwana River, with an active waterhole right in front of the lodge, we were treated to up close and personal encounters from the privacy of our verandas by giant herds of elephant, nyala, kudu, buffalo and even a young male lion. Game drives gave a new meaning to bundu bashing as we went in search of prime sightings off the road, through dense bush.

On the three drives we did during our stay, we saw a lioness on the hunt, a family of leopards with an impala kill, the same lioness the following day with a young wildebeest that she had killed, hyena visitors during sundowners (and one that casually walked through the camp our first night at dinner). Also spotted was a male tusker (one of the Magnificent Seven of the Kruger), buffalo, a herd of wild dogs, bush pigs and more. For the ultimate in game viewing, Shumbalala is, hands down, where it’s at.

HOME TIME… ALMOST

After three nights of no remorse luxury (rivalling that of the Jaguar) in the twin-suited Presidential suite at Shumbalala, nights around the roaring fires, a private dinner in the magnificent wine cellar and days lazing in the infinity pool gazing into the eyes of elephants, we reluctantly hit the road again. My urge to take the Jag bashing in the bundus had to be suppressed by my fellow road trippers but was soon forgotten as we hit the green hilly mountain roads of the gorgeous Mpumalanga, en route to White River for our last night.

I have always loved driving in Mpumalanga – the quaint villages and spectacular scenery are more than enough to make one forget about the somewhat shoddy road conditions and low speed limits. It’s no wonder it’s one of our country’s most loved self-drives.

Jaguar F-Pace

Just under three hours and we were in another world entirely. After over a week in the bush, we were transported into the secret gardens of the Belgrace Boutique Hotel, described as being an “unapologetically romantic” space. A quintessentially European luxury hotel, it is indeed the perfect place for romantic indulgences.

While being romantic was not the purpose of this trip, we could soak up the grandiose setting, laze in our private Jacuzzis and enjoy the unrivalled five-star service and opulence before heading to the airport the following day and bid adieu to our trusty Jaguar – which by then most definitely had some stories to tell.

Report by JULIE GRAHAM | Images © RYAN ABBOTT (TCB Media)

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