There’s something about driving out of Gauteng and breathing in the last bit of pollution as you hit the open road and head north.
But you’re only really out of it once you hit the vast, open landscapes of Limpopo – a province not celebrated enough for its natural beauty.
Welgevonden Game Reserve, a 36 000-hectare heritage site, lies within the heart of the Waterberg.
As far as game reserves go, it’s tiny compared with the Kruger National Park’s 19 485km², but it boasts the Big Five.
And unlike the Kruger or the Pilanesberg, you won’t be run off the road by some yahoo racing towards a sighting – no private cars are allowed in.
Welgevonden is beautiful. Rolling hills, trees and plains come together to form about 360km² of heaven knitted together by rivers and natural springs.
The roads, some of which have a purple hue due to the high iron content in the soil, have strategically been graded within the valleys – animals prefer to come down the mountains, explains ranger Greg Toplis.
This is also where they are most likely to find water. So it makes for better game viewing.
There are about 50 lodges scattered across the reserve. Some are corporate getaways, used a few times a year. Others, like our destination, Mhondoro Safari Lodge and Villa, are owned by people who live elsewhere – in this case Amsterdam – but who rent out their holiday homes (the exclusive Mhondoro Villa) in the months they aren’t using them.
Mhondoro (meaning the spirit of the lion) offers safari living at its most luxurious. The villa consists of three bedrooms overlooking the reserve.
The master bedroom is huge and includes a living area, a deck with a day bed, and an open air shower.
Zebra, buck and wildebeest graze a stone’s throw away. A warthog toddles across an open spot, tail pointing towards the sun.
No expense was spared and the attention to detail is impeccable. The immaculate décor was carefully selected by interior-decorator owner Myriam Vogel.
The villa comes with its own chef and butler. It’s probably also the reason why it has its own gym.
A lot of the fresh, delicious food is supplied by the kitchen garden at the top of the grounds.
Owner Frank Vogel has grand plans to move the kitchen garden to a swath of land he’s just bought near the reserve’s main gate.
His new and improved garden would supply all the lodges in the reserve with fresh produce.
Mhondoro has a hide, accessible by a concrete tunnel.
The animals regularly come to the water hole and a large herd of about 21 elephants was there the night before, jostling for space at the water’s edge.
The lodge’s well-equipped gym (the villa has its own) has a view to die for.
Its managers, Fritz and Ronel Breytenbach, have seen two cheetah kills at the water hole – one while Ronel was working out in the gym.
The other occurred while the guests were having breakfast on the patio, which overlooks the water hole.
Unlike some safari destinations, children are welcome at Mhondoro. It boasts a lovely outdoor play area complete with jungle gym and trampoline, and an elephant fence – a good idea considering the number of elephants walking in the lodge area.
There are two play rooms, with a TV, games – both board and digital – and toys.
Children are allowed on game drives and there are a range of children’s activities, including insect bush walks, making animal track moulds and stargazing evenings using the telescope on the stardeck.
It’s the perfect family getaway for people who are passionate about nature and who aren’t on a budget.
The nitty gritty
Exclusive use of Mhondoro Villa includes the services of a game ranger, butler, housekeeping staff and a private chef.
Rates are R45 000 a night for up to four people (until March 31 2019). This includes all meals, soft drinks, local beers and house wines, as well as twice-daily game drives, children’s activities, reserve entrance fees and transfers from Welgevonden main gate. For more than four people: additional adults at R9 000 and children aged between two and 10 at R5 000 per person per night.
Phone Mhondoro Game Reserve on +27 87 150 2314, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website for more booking information.