By Theo Coetzer

In our line of work we get to travel quite a bit and we get to experience a number of places, from 1 and 2-star B&B’s as overnight stops, to 5 and 6-star luxury hotels all over the world. Then we also travel throughout South Africa when we get the time and visit numerous places and one such place we visited recently is Makumu Bush Lodge.

We do get spoiled wherever we go and it is really difficult to check out from a 5-star hotel, just to re-adjust and book into a 3-star family self-catering unit the next night. It is then quite difficult to see the ‘highlights’ of the ‘lesser’ venue and what’s really on offer, but I must say over the years I am quite good lately at adapting and wipe-out all previous experiences from my mind every time I walk into a new venue, or establishment. I then look and experience as if I never travelled before.

When travelling to the Northern provinces in South Africa, the most obvious establishments to visit is the abundance of game reserves and lodge type accommodation, so we’ve visited literally hundreds of these establishments on our travels the past few years and nothing is really “new and out of this world” anymore when we experience these places. Thus it was really with mixed feelings that we approached the Hoedspruit area and more specific the Klaserie Private Game Reserve. I must confess that we do not come out this way very often and normally we visit the more popular Mpumalanga lodges and game reserves.

We slept over in Hoedspruit the previous night, just to make sure to meet the 12h00 rendezvous at the Klaserie Private Game Reserve Head Quarters, where you leave your private vehicle and the staff from your Lodge transport you from there in game viewing vehicles. We were actually about a half an hour early and I just found a suitable shaded tree to park our vehicle, a Volvo V60 Cross Country that we used for our travels that week, under when Chris stopped next to us. Chris and Janet Mayes are the managing couple at Makumu, so he informed us of the procedure from there onwards and seeing that there was another group coming through he sent us to the lodge in the meantime with another Land Rover. It is about an hour’s drive to the lodge from there, as we stopped often to look at the abundance of game and even met the anti-poaching squad along the way patrolling the reserve, such a satisfying feeling to know that they try to save the rhinos and other game from the poachers.

When we arrived at the lodge Janet was there to greet us and to show us to our sleeping quarters for the next two nights. Well let me rephrase, not really a spacious bedroom, but more like a huge two-bedroom with two full bathrooms villa and the only thing omitting is to have your own kitchen. I immediately realised that Makumu Private Bush Lodge forms part of the more luxurious and exclusive lodges out here. Janet told us that there was no hurry and to settle and unpack and only once ready after that can we stroll the 20 metres to the main lodge for lunch and a quick chat.

Big was our surprise to see that you don’t do lunch around a table, but instead very informal around an island in the kitchen where you help yourself to drinks and chat to the chef Nelly about lunch and what’s on the menu for the evening and any special requests. Janet explained the origin of Makumu and also that everything is included in the rate and that you treat the lodge as your own, help yourself to food and drink and tailor-make your stay and game drives as it suits you – what an incredible idea.

Makumu is an old Shangaan word, which literally translates into “Endless view”. Other connotations of the word are “Horizon”, “Look-out place”, or “Infinity”. The views from the camp, feelings of space and isolation and the natural beauty all encompass the Makumu dream.

The lodge was built by the owner as his personal family house, where he, his friends and family could relax, spend quality time and experience the African sun and lifestyle. Only after enjoying it for many years has he decided to share his extraordinary lodge with a select few out there who knows about Makumu and make the time to experience it. What a bliss to say the least and definitely one of the best that I’ve experienced, not only about what’s on offer, but the whole exploration, friendliness of all staff and hosts and the relaxing, unpretentious lifestyle you breath in every moment being there. But now I am jumping the gun again of what an excellent place Makumu is, let me tell you about the accommodation.

There are only three ‘rooms’, one being the simplicity of the Bushman suite that calms you, two the energy of the Zulu suite that inspires you and three the creativity of the Ndebele suite that enthuses you…

This is how the brochure describes the three different suites:-
1.    Bushman suite - The elusive Bushman with their minimalist life bring a calmness and reverence for the abundance their gods provide: eggs for water storage, leather clothing and animals for food. The gods provide antelope spoor to track the herd and in thanks for this, their energetic hunt is captured by the slains blood on the rock face.
2.    Ndebele suite - The colourful and creative Ndebele tribe brings richness with vibrant life-giving colours in geometric patterns reflecting happy expectations. The ancestors are solicitous and jealous and must be revered and placated. The gods will smile on the rich colours, copper rings, geometric patterns and warmth surrounding them.
3.    Zulu suite - The proud energetic Zulu tribe draw power from their ancestral spirits and give thanks for their blessings. They celebrate life with exuberance offering beer in fired clay pots. Attired in leather and richly beaded regalia, they sing and dance while protected by ancestral warrior spears and shields poised to defend their people.

Back to lunch, which was a scrumptious affair with cold meats, imported cheeses, pickles, freshly baked bread and numerous other for a filling meal. It was only once we were finished that the other two couples arrived, two German ladies and a German husband and wife travelling throughout South Africa together.

We explored the main lodge briefly and Janet mentioned that they never close the huge sliding doors at all, giving you vast open spaces on two levels with a formal dining room and relaxing lounge area with a massive stoep area overlooking the dry Dundee River bed below. Upstairs is another big lounge area with another veranda area same as below. To the left of these areas is the boma where you normally have dinner around a fire pit. Then the gentle call came for our late afternoon game drive and the married couple decide not to go with, as they were quite drained from all the travelling.

Chris has been here for years and knows the area like the palm of his hand and consorted with our tracker, we started scouting around the dry Klaserie River bed and saw many antelope and other smaller game. As the norm everyone wants to see the big 5 and our tracker mentioned earlier that he saw the spoor of lion, which seems to be a few hours old. Not long after Chris stopped and the tracker got off the vehicle, we thought just to check for spoor again, but instead only armed with a two-way radio he said that he was going to search for the lion. We drove around for about another 10 minutes and then stopped for the ‘obligatory’ (who do I fool) sunset drinks and snacks. Again, the snacks and especially the spiced biltong (Chris’s own recipe) were out of this world and the traditional G&T’s did what was intended with the sun dipping behind the trees. A crackle over the radio and then came the call from our tracker sharing that he found the lion.

We left everything as is and hurry our way over to meet the tracker kilometres from there. The pride of lion wasn’t even 100 metres away and that they haven’t even noticed him is just mind-boggling and shows his expertise. When we drove closer to inspect we initially saw about six lion lying lazily under the trees for their “customary siesta” and weren’t in a hurry to lift their heads. On closer inspection we saw more lion coming from the bushes and in the end we counted 14 in total. What a sighting and the biggest pride together that I’ve seen out in the wild and even Chris said that it was a first for him too. One of the biggest females came walking past us with her eyes pegged in the distance, made a certain sound, which definitely put the rest of the pride on alert and she walked off. We were still watching the rest of the group when our tracker said that he is sure they just had a kill. We drove in that direction and not even 100 metres further there it was. It must’ve been a small antelope like duiker or something because by then they were fighting over the bones. Again, what a sighting and very special and it will stay with me for years to come.

Stopping off to finish our sun-downers and even having another one we had something to talk about on the way back to the lodge. The lodge was lit up like a small city and only then did Chris informed us that it’s all candles and that the lodge does not use electricity at all, only in the small office area where phones, laptops, torches and cameras can be charged. So with hundreds of candles strewn around the main lodge we were welcomed back with the usual hot cloths to clean the face and hands.

Minutes later we were sitting very comfortable in the boma, with a glass of an exclusive red wine from one of the better wine estates down in the Cape in hand. Discussion still went along the siting we saw and the German guy was not chuffed that he missed out on the game drive and subsequent siting and we joked on end with him. The dinner was to die for, washed off with another bottle, or three of the fine red and after much more discussions and chatter did we call it a night.

Early morning, long before sunrise we met back in the lodge and after a quick cup of coffee and rusks we were on our way again to see what was the ‘surprize’ on the morning game drive and there it was, the leopard pair that we found in the river bed and after following them around for a good hour did we only carry on with the drive. The special freshly brewed coffee of Chris at the morning stop was yet just another highlight.

Back at the lodge we said our good-byes to the other four after another excellent breakfast, this time at the long table in the dining room. Our new German friends had to travel to their next stop, but we had a very relaxing time ahead, doing what we should do more often and that is to just relax. The hammock on our balcony was the perfect spot for me and I dozed-off under the African skies. All I can say is “Wow what a tough life in Africa …”

Lunch, another scrumptious one and after meeting the two new couples that checked in for their stay, coincidentally both also from Germany, it was time for the afternoon drive. Another drive, another highlight and this time yet another very special one and one that I’ve only dreamt of … we saw a Rhino cow and her calf, probably only a few hours old, as it was still struggling to walk straight, but the instinct was there to follow mom and stand between her legs when they stopped. Again, what a precious moment to see Mother Nature at her best and a moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Needless to say dinner back at the lodge was perfect and we chatted with our newly made friends for hours, drowning more red wine and a jovial time was enjoyed by all. I suppose life can’t get better than this in Africa.

The next morning was sadly our turn to say the good-byes and I must confess quite a sad few moments there. Janet, Chris and all the staff at Makumu are very special people with a passion for what they do and it shows. It is not often that you walk away from an establishment and realise that every second, not even minute, was special.

Makumu that ‘endless view’ that I’ve experienced will stay with me and this is the place where dreams are made and experienced. This is hospitality at its best and way past the norm in the industry. To everyone that read this, take inkling from me and put Makumu on your wishing list, as this is what true African hospitality should be. Make your booking, sooner rather than later.

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