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Issue 12
Africa Travel> Issue 12
UPDATED: February 5, 2015
A Wild Ride…
Tshukudu Lodge offers one of the best game drives in Africa
By Jo Kromberg

Interacting with elephant (COURTESY OF TSHUKUDULODGE.CO.ZA)

It's a scorching hot mid-morning as my little car points its nose towards Pilansberg National Park. The road is busy strangely enough, on the last Sunday before everyone heads back to their drone existences after the December holiday. The almost two hours from Pretoria fly by and before we know it we are at Bakubung Lodge in the malaria-free Pilansberg National Park. "Welcome Madam!" The wide smile reveals a set of pearly whites as the owner of said smile, Portia, welcomes us at reception and checks us in. We are put on a game drive vehicle with two other guests and our game ranger host for the next couple of days, the delightful Anna, whisks us off to Tshukudu lodge, our abode for the next two nights. As we turn the corner into the lodge we spot rhinos right in front of us. The ascent to the Lodge above us on a cliff consists of climbing 132 steps. Yes that's right…. After almost asphyxiating we finally reach the top and what a sight…. The undulating hills roll past us and all manner of buck species graze calmly in the heat on the open plains stretching before us...

Charming chalets

Anna briefs us and we are shown to our chalet. The chalets all sleep two and there are only six in all, making for a very intimate and private setting. The décor is "bush chic", all done in wood, granite and thatch. It whispers romance with its rustic elegance, soft bed fabrics, chandelier, sunken bath and indoor fire place (for the winter, which this is not) with a splendid view of the plains from huge comfortable sofa-like chairs on the balcony, overlooking a water hole. There is no air-conditioning, although the fan above does a reasonable job of chasing away the uncomfortable heat. After a quick freshen up we go back up to reception for "high tea" consisting of the most delicious chicken quiche and dark chocolate tart. The game drive crowd go off with Anna and we stay behind, finding welcome respite from the heat in the beautiful pool and revelling in the silence of the bush. We move back to our chalet during the late afternoon and sit on the deck with an ice cold beer from the mini bar (the rate is all-inclusive), watching the myriad game below.

While I fill the bath with bubbles, my photographer Willie calls me to the balcony. "Lions!" We watch three lions stalking a bunch of zebra in the distance before they move off. I have a heavenly bath as the sun sinks below the horizon and moon rises like a spotlight in the blue, darkening sky. Its full moon … the sights and sounds change as the dusk appears – frogs, crickets and all the cacophony of the night creatures rush up to greet us on our balcony as we have a pre-dinner drink on the balcony...

Reclusive leopard are every photographer's dream (COURTESY OF TSHUKUDULODGE.CO.ZA)

Big 5 territory

Dinner is a 5-star affair. Chef Johnny, a local lad, has prepared a slap-up 5-course menu for us consisting of the most heavenly mushroom soup, cream cheese and pastry starter and fish or beef main and a gorgeous brandy pudding for dessert along with cheese and biscuits. The company is fun, the evening hot and the service is outstanding.

I lie in the next morning, revelling in the solitude and beauty of my surroundings – there is no cell phone reception, Wi-Fi or televisions – just you and nature. Tshukudu must one of Africa's most romantic game lodges, nestled within the remains of an extinct volcano where game traverse the plane below. Big Five sightings are the norm rather than the exception, which is confirmed when I meet the others for a great brunch and I'm told all about the leopard they saw on the early morning game drive.

As some couples check in and others check out, the pair of us use the morning and early afternoon to read, relax and just take in the superb place we find ourselves in. After an afternoon nap I look forward to the evening game drive. There are only six guests at the lodge now and we all pile onto the vehicle at about after high tea at about 4.30 pm, in good spirits and with a sense of anticipation. And it is not long before we are rewarded. We make out the swish of a cheetah's tail behind a bush a distance from the road and we also spot white rhino. Our guide Shaun is extremely knowledgeable as well as entertaining and we jest with each other in good humour throughout the drive. The rhinos seem to be a harbinger of the greatest game drive I have experienced in all my years of game drives. We watch a two meter long black mamba slither across the road in front of us to everyone's delight but mine… My fear of snakes borders on the phobic but the sight is spectacular and unusual.

Shaun chats on the radio and promises something very special indeed and voila! About another 10 kilometres down the road we spot a rare and beautiful leopard up a tree and for a long while we watch this shy, elegant animal as it descends the tree and nonchalantly walks alongside the road, derisively eying us. We stop by a marsh, watching lion stalk zebra in the distance and then we see something very special indeed – elephants mating. Shaun says he has never seen such a spectacle in the wild as the entire heard becomes very stressed out by this event. "The reason for their reaction is that this is probably the young female's first time," explains Shaun. Dusk is upon us and on the way we drive past two lions lying only a couple of metres from the road. Now completely dark, their visceral roars almost literally shake the earth from such close proximity. It is a very excited and happy group that sits down to dinner that evening, recounting the day's splendid experiences.

Mirth and merriment follow late into the night as we become better acquainted with our new friends and it is with heavy hearts that we bid Tshukudu farewell the next morning. Tshukudu will revive your heart, mind and soul and for a true adventure, few places on earth compare….



Getting there:

There are daily flights from Beijing to Johannesburg in South Africa with South African Airways. From Johannesburg it is advisable to rent a car or take a shuttle for the approximately 2 and a half hour drive to Pilansberg National Park where Tshukudu Bush Lodge is located.

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