“If there were one more thing I could do, it would be to go on safari once again. Karen Blixen (Danish Author – Out of Africa)

Returning from an afternoon game drive, we stopped on a bridge over the river to admire the golden sunlight bathing the river below…

A pod of hippos was submerged in the water, with just their heads visible, while a crocodile basked on the river banks. Suddenly, the hippos began grunting furiously and an alpha male began asserting his dominance by opening and shutting his jaws repeatedly, to an almost 180-degree angle. We sat transfixed, enjoying the spectacular scene below us.

It had been a long and trying five months of provincial lockdown and the excitement of being in the bush was what I had missed the most. So, as soon as inter-provincial travel re-opened, we headed off to Safari Plains near Bela-Bela in Limpopo.


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(Images by Sara Essop)

Greater Mabula Private Game Reserve

Just over two hours away from Johannesburg, the lodge is situated within the Greater Mabula Private Game Reserve against the backdrop of the majestic Waterberg Mountains. The lodge is fairly new, having opened in December 2018, and is the luxury option to its sister property, the popular Mabula Game Lodge.

Our temperatures were checked at the entrance of the reserve and we proceeded to the lodge where we received a warm welcome from Dries and his friendly staff. It was obvious that they had wide smiles even though they were wearing masks, and they told us how happy they were to be hosting guests once again. Safari Plains was one of the first lodges to re-open once travel was permitted again.

(Images by Sara Essop)

Safety protocols

Introductions completed, our luggage was sanitised and taken to our suite, while we were briefed on what to expect at the elegant main lodge. A number of safety protocols had been introduced on account of Covid-19, putting our minds and that of our fellow guests, at ease. We were among the first guests to be experiencing them. They included sanitising stations in public places, daily temperature checking, wearing of masks indoors in public areas and the removal of non-essential items from the rooms.

The twenty glamourous air-conditioned tented suites are reminiscent of a bygone era, but complemented by modern luxuries. Dotted along winding sandy pathways, each one commands its own private space, inducing a feeling of being at one with nature. Six are family tents.

Our deluxe family tent comprised a spacious main bedroom with an adjacent twin bedroom for the kids, and a huge bathroom with a sunken bathtub and a separate shower. It also featured a relaxation area, a writing desk, a beverage station and a mini-bar. Plush gowns and slippers were provided. The friendly housekeeper would leave beautifully folded towel animals on the beds for us after cleaning our rooms.

A wrap-around timber deck with our own private sala (day bed) and hanging chair provided panoramic views of the open plains, and we loved relaxing there during the day.

(Images by Sara Essop)

Stylish and serene

The indoor public areas consisted of an uber-stylish, high-ceilinged main lounge and dining room, the reception area which had a small curio shop, and a wellness spa offering a range of Africology treatments. The pool deck with its loungers overlooked the waterhole and the savannah where we could see the wildlife grazing, and this is where we chose to enjoy our breakfasts and lunches.

We were served three hearty meals a day, afternoon tea – which we were usually too stuffed to partake in – and snacks and drinks on game drives. Buffets are currently on hold and food was brought to our table wrapped in plastic. Dion, the genial chef, wowed us with his delicious cuisine.

Game drives are conducted in the 12 000 hectare Greater Mabula Game Reserve, where the lions rule their own section. Russell was a great game ranger and he enthusiastically showed us some amazing wildlife scenes, especially when no one else was brave enough to get out of bed at dawn during the cold front.

(Images by Sara Essop)

During our game drives, we saw four of the Big Five and much more

Apart from the hippos, our sightings included a mama rhino with her baby, cheetahs devouring their kill, sleeping lions and a buffalo traffic jam. We saw a wide variety of plains game too, including some less common species like sables, elands and white blesboks. My bush cravings were certainly satisfied.

Guided bush walks, quad biking and horse-back safaris are conducted in the non-predator section. You can even do a hot air balloon safari! Avid and amateur stargazers can indulge in stargazing as the night skies are clearer and the stars brighter.

(Images by Sara Essop)

Safari Plains welcomes children of all ages and those up to five years stay free. There are entertainment programs for the younger kids. My kids are teenagers but they loved their stay too. The highlights for them were the game drives, the food, and the fast wi-fi!

Prices have been slashed to attract more locals and you can see their current specials here. Rates cover accommodation, all meals, local beverages and two game drives daily.

Safari Plains’ proximity to Johannesburg is a huge plus, especially for weary Joburgers who need to nourish their souls. The lodge is also perfect for corporate getaways and intimate weddings.

For more information, visit Safari Plains.

(Images by Sara Essop)