(Photos by Jo Kromberg and Daniel van Gass)
Quartz, indigo blues and shades of ivory are not necessarily colors you might associate with the African bush. More like a dozen shades of khaki. But the closer we get to our destination, the more the giant, silent boulders become evident along the road, eventually becoming something akin to mountains. But it's the iridescence of these gargantuan natural structures that catches my breath in my throat. The late afternoon sun reflects the light on the rocks until they gradually become a paler shade of rose, then vermillion, brilliantly superimposed on the big brilliant blue of the African sky. God's pantone is quite evident here.
These are the Waterberg Mountains and we are en-route to Marataba Safari Lodge, situated in the malaria-free 23,000 hectare private concession within the Marakele National Park in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, only about a four-hour drive from Johannesburg. After being abandoned by the GPS, on which we have so pathetically become dependent (there is no signal for the last 20 km or so), we double back to ask the friendly guard at the first gate for directions and 15 minutes later we stop in front of the Lodge.
Each of the 15 canvas-and-stone tented suites is elegantly furnished and decorated with a contemporary twist. The interior is ample and the attention to detail impeccable with a massive bath right in the middle and a fabulous al fresco shower. There is no wifi in the tents but it is available in the main area.
We forgo the afternoon game drive to simply assimilate the silence and after a deeply relaxing and invigorating bath we call for an escort to take us to dinner - there's a strictly no-walking-after-dark-alone policy because there are things that can eat you.
For starter we have the tomato and basil soup as well as the twice-baked cheese soufflé and mains in the form of Indian lamb curry and salmon fillet are wolfed down in a most unladylike fashion - the food is to die for. Dessert here should be illegal; this classic crème Brule send me into spasms of joy. Oh, and the cabaret is no extra charge - during dinner our marvelous waiter makes us aware of the presence of a visitor. We quickly go outside to the waterhole to find a lone elephant having a drink, just across the way from us…
The following morning after a delicious and languid breakfast, we take to the narrow, open dust road, breathing in another perfect day in Africa. We are surrounded by the dramatic Waterberg Mountains, vast plains, rich animal diversity and winding rivers cutting through the landscape. The Marakele National Park has an interesting history.
Marakele National Park
A variety of trails options are available, differing in respect of degree of difficulty and fitness required. Trails range from trekking over the top of the Kransberg range, to traversing through gorges. Regardless of the route, the one thing that remains consistent is the likelihood encountering wildlife along the way.
Evenings are spent around the fire in the boma, learning about bush cooking techniques, local customs and legends. Astronomy finds its best practical application beneath these heavens!
We get back to Safari Lodge just in time for the afternoon cruise on the Matlabas River. The small barge has a beautifully laid out table with linen table cloth and the most divine snacks and cocktails are offered as we lazily cruise down the river on this sun-drenched afternoon beneath the big blue sky. Shawn says that the Waterberg Range (which is turning that gorgeous shade of pink again in the setting sun) is roughly considered to be about 1.6 billion years old and that some of the oldest Bushmen paintings in the world have been discovered in the caves here.
We sail on with not a creature stirring apart from a few herons catching dinner and then, as if we are in some sort of commercial for heaven, a lone fish eagle's cry echoes in the vast sky. I am dreamily content until Shawn excitedly steers the boat into the undergrowth and we come in uncomfortably close and personal contact with a rock python, curdled up between the reeds.
A fire-lit fairy-tale land awaits us upon our return as the humble gravel parking lot has been transformed into a boma setup for dinner. The fabulous staff (the service is spectacular throughout) is on hand with a smile, a warm towel and a drink as usual.
We feast on a traditional African "braai" or barbeque and much, much later we savor a night-cap under a million shining stars in the black firmament, wanting this moment to never end…
So visit Marataba. Have your soul restored….
Morning and evening game drives in open safari vehicles
Water safaris on Miss Mara
Astronomy (night sky safaris)
Bush breakfasts and dinners
Flights will departs from Beijing at 23:15 Beijing time, and arrive in Johannesburg at 7:35 local time on the following day. The inbound flight departs from Johannesburg at 11:50 local time and arrives in Beijing at 7:30 Beijing time.