reader’s Adventure: Late birthday gift
By Dirk Vale
I was given a late birthday present of a weekend away at the beautiful Bongani Mountain Lodge near the Kruger National Park, and to add to the occasion, I managed to obtain a Jeep Wrangler from the lovely people at Chrysler Jeep. Ironically, I was supposed to spend the night at Bongani during the official launch of the new Jeep Wrangler. On that particular night, the Kruger area experienced flash floods which prevented us from reaching the lodge that evening (read my co-driver, Anzet’s story about the flooded launch here). This time, the drive to the Nelspruit area was uneventful on a road that has been improved since I last drove it.
Getting lost in a Wrangler
I was impressed by the car at the launch, so the opportunity to use a new Wrangler Rubicon all weekend was too good to turn down. When I saw pictures of Bongani Mountain Lodge I knew that staying there would be a wonderful experience as well! The lodge is situated in the Mthethomusha Game Reserve, just south of the Kruger National Park.
Despite the Jeep’s very efficient SAT-NAV system, my girlfriend, Taryn, and I managed to get horribly lost on the way to Bongani. We travelled through various rural towns and villages until a locked gate prevented us from adventuring further. We drove through all kinds of terrain; on gravel roads and rutted tracks, turning the journey into quite the adventure! With the dark night settling quickly upon us, we found ourselves stranded on a hill, in the middle of nowhere with only the stars and moon as “light”. The Jeep was our only saving grace, as it gave us a sense of security while lost in the ‘sticks’.
Rescued by Rangers
With only patchy network signal, we battled to get hold of the Lodge. We finally managed to get hold of Clint, one of the lodge managers, who calmed us down and did everything possible to help us keep our wits about us. We drove back into one of the rural towns and waited while Clint arranged for his rangers to locate us. The Lodge staff were extremely helpful and two of the rangers, Wandile and Aaron, met us at a petrol station nearby. Wandile hopped in the car with us and directed us up to the Lodge. Luckily, we were in a Jeep, so our running around in the rain on the mountain side near the Kruger border was done with ease! The only car other than the ranger’s vehicle that was allowed to go up to the Lodge itself was the Jeep, as most guests are asked to leave their vehicles in a safe area near the gate. They knew the Jeep would be fine to drive up the steep mountain side!
When we finally got to the Lodge we were greeted by the friendliest staff. Even though we were only checking in at 22.30 they were accommodating and helpful, offering us coffee and dinner. By that stage, however, the only thing we wanted was a comfortable bed.
The room was simply amazing. It was beautifully set out, spacious and had wonderfully comfortable bed! It had mosquito netting draped over it, giving the impression of a proper four poster bed. The décor was a lovely mixture of elegant African charm and simple minimalism, which I thought was perfect for the ambience of the Lodge.
Waking up in paradise
We woke up to the most beautiful clear day to find a rare Nyala happily eating grass outside our room. The wide patio gave the most breathtaking views over the surrounding mountains – it really felt magical. At breakfast we met Michelle, our dedicated Ranger –who had waited for us for two hours at the main gate the night before. We had the morning at leisure and spent our time on the viewing deck and by the pool, relaxing and enjoying the scenic views over the reserve.
We were served lunch on the viewing deck and then relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. I loved the outside shower in our room and enjoyed using it in the day time – it was a very different and free kind of feeling, showering with the open sky above. We finished off a truly peaceful Saturday with an evening game drive. Unfortunately, we didn’t see much game but we did see a giraffe not 5 metres away from us, which was very special!
Dinner was set up for us in the Boma, by firelight, which gave the evening a great atmosphere. Taryn and I are both vegetarians and we really appreciated that the staff went out of their way to cater for us. The staff prepared some amazing food, including a variety of tasty dishes in cast iron potjie pots. I enjoyed a superb sweet corn chowder soup – definitely a recommended Bongani dish! One special touch at the Lodge is that every night when you return to your room, an African story bookmark is waiting on your pillow, together with a small chocolate – a delightful surprise.
Our last day came far too quickly, and we wished we had a few days more to spend at the Lodge. We woke up early to go on a proper morning game drive that was just wonderful. Michelle looked after us extremely well, making the drive fun and educational. We saw quite a few giraffes, including a baby, and baby zebra, which were so precious. We also saw unusual animals such as water lizards, a massive adder and fascinating birds, adding to our appreciation of the diverse ecosystem of the bush.
Before checking out we had one more delicious breakfast buffet spread, and then made a few purchases at the new curio shop before making the trek back to the city.
Overall, I was extremely impressed with the service and the personal touches at the Lodge. It’s been a while since I came across people this knowledgeable, passionate and sincerely friendly, and it makes for a refreshing change. The GPS co-ordinates need to be updated, as I’d hate to be a foreigner lost in the areas we found ourselves on Friday night! The staff was extremely helpful under the circumstances and saved the day with their efforts in getting us safely to the Lodge. The food was amazing and I’d return for the cuisine alone – especially as vegetarians! One concern I would have is that entertainment for younger clients might be a problem, as children could become restless between game drives. However, the Lodge is in the process of completing their “46664” room in honour of Nelson Mandela, which will serve as a new a-la-carte restaurant, entertainment lounge and library. For adults and couples, though, the Bongani Mountain Lodge is hard to beat for a rejuvenating weekend away from the city.
IF YOU’VE HAD AN ADVENTURE: Mail it to us at [email protected]
FOLLOW DIRK ON TWITTER: @dirkvale