Discreet service, sumptious meals and indulgent accommodation come at a price, but luxury in the bush beats any exotic destination. By Romi Boom
Far from the madding crowd, deep in the untamed landscape of Marakele National Park in the Waterberg, it beckoned discovery. From every elevated lookout in Marakele we tried to spot the hot-listed lodge called Marataba Safari Company. Around every turn in the road we were hoping to see a sign that would provide a clue as to its existence. Nothing.
Many secrets are concealed by Marakele’s towering mountains, dramatic gorges and vast plains. One of these is the world’s biggest colony of Cape vultures. Another is a wealth of biodiversity, with four different habitats supporting 765 plant species. Yet another is the Pty Ltd within the wild spaces of the national park.
Eventually we gave up trying to figure out Marataba’s elusive location. After two days’ criss-crossing Marakele, based at Tlopi Tented Camp, we were no nearer to unravelling the mystery. Little did we know then that we first had to exit the park before entering it again some distance away, on the road to Vaalwater.
When we eventually found the Marataba entrance gate, on the Rooiberg Road, we were directed to the lodge, a half hour’s drive into the park in our own vehicle. After check-in at Marataba, guests are no longer permitted to self-drive, and it is indeed a privilege to tap into the bush knowledge of the experienced rangers who accompany you on twice daily game drives.
The lodge is calm and serene, like Africa, yet striking, contemporary and chic. The structure is all cantilevered roofs suspended over each other. Sheets of glass soar towards the sky, to connect with bleached rafters. Dark dry-packed stone walls offset blonde canvas canopies; the sprawling lawns are sprinkled with fire pots under a sheltering canopy of indigenous and thorn trees.
Winding our way to our room, we are tempted to scratch the heads of the ever-so-tame warthog family grazing around the pool. Veering off a pebbled pathway, the suite with its rustic sophistication is under canvas with a riverfront deck; there can hardly be a better spot in the world to lean back in comfy khaki beanbags and contemplate the Waterberg, wildlife and wilderness.
Dining consists of never-ending temptations. A yummy mezze platter at lunch, followed by an array of flavours and sweets for afternoon high tea. At night the lodge morphs into a fairyworld of torches, lanterns and small fires. We dine with nature under starry skies, gourmet cuisine with fresh flavours, some African, some European, some Asian. After the a.m. game drive, breakfast is presented on a wooden tray heavily laden with fruit, cheeses and freshly baked treats, followed by hot breakfast delights.
At bedtime, after a romantic candle-lit bath and a glass of sherry, you hear animals walking outside the tent. The safari camp is not fenced and walking outside its confines is not permitted without the company of a ranger. Since the camp accommodates a maximum of 30 people at any time, we never saw another vehicle whilst on a game drive.
Having finally made it to and experienced one of the world’s most wanted safari destinations in Africa, we fully endorse the decision of the Condé Nast Traveller judges: this is the stuff of dreams, and we’re proud to find it in a South African national park.
From: Wild 12 Spring 2010