When on safari spa treatments are a well deserved respite from the bump and grind of the four wheel vehicles and the dust of the rides. However, spa time is always scarce and limited to non game viewing hours when everybody scrambles to book treatments. Frequently spa facilities are limited and often seem like an afterthought. The idea of a customer centered luxury and gourmet oriented safari and spa property appealed to me as soon as I heard about it. I was hesitant because reaching Karkloof Safari Spa required a side trip to KwaZulu-Natal, a province of South Africa I was not planning to go to on that trip and the airfare was not inexpensive. In the end, I could not resist the temptation of an all inclusive luxury spa and safari property. I was glad I went.
From the moment Judain from reception greeted me in the off street gated parking lot until his colleague Fenna waved good-bye from the main building terrace I felt welcome at the Grande Roche Hotel. Amenities like fresh flowers, wine and tasty treats in my suite on arrival added to my comfort. Smiling faces and offers of assistance met me at every turn. The staff followed up courteous words with immediate action. For example, when the WiFi in my suite wouldn’t work Judain bent over backwards until it was fixed. Like her staff Anja Bosken, general manager, who I met for dinner, was a charming and welcoming host.
Arriving in the early evening at Ryan’s Kitchen I felt instantly drawn by the casual atmosphere. Lana, who I later found out was the chef’s wife and restaurant co-owner, welcomed me in from the chilly outdoors with a bright smile, and seated me right away. Her warm reception was in evidence all through the meal.
By the time my dinner companion arrived the food smells that permeated the restaurant had awoken my appetite. We selected the tasting menu with wine pairings. I appreciated the chef’s versatility. He was able to prepare venison with the same apparent ease with which he prepared fish in spicy coconut milk in a bag. The South African wine pairings kept up the pace.
Sitting in a corner table in the newly redone glass enclosed veranda I marveled at the beautiful view of the Buitenverwachting Estate’s vineyards in the foreground and the Constantiaberg Mountains in the background. It was true to the property name which I’m told translates to “beyond expectations.” Even if the meal had been disappointing, which it was not, I would have enjoyed my time there.
The Majete Wildlife Reserve in southern Malawi was a rare game viewing destination as yet mostly undiscovered by tourists. Originally proclaimed a protected area in 1955, the 70,000 hectare (270 square mile) swath of Africa’s Great Rift Valley in the lower Shire River had suffered such extensive poaching in the 1980s and 1990s that it had been all but written off as a wildlife reserve. In 2003, African Parks, an international nonprofit organization committed to the rehabilitation of Africa’s national parks took over the management of Majete. They have since methodically restored the park’s bio diversity and reintroduced over 2,500 animals including rare and endangered species. With the recent reintroduction of lions and leopards, Majete became the only Big Five park in the country. Nestled within a 7,000 hectare (27 square mile) private concession with exclusive tourism rights in one the most spectacular areas of the reserve, Mkulumadzi achieved a perfect balance of idyllic seclusion and first class accommodations in the repopulated wilderness area.
On rare occasions throughout my traveling life, I have come across a place so exceptional that I knew at first glance the experience would never leave me. Mumbo Island Camp was one such place. Located ten kilometers (six miles) offshore from Cape Maclear, in the heart of the 9,400 hectare (36.30 square mile) Lake Malawi National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Center, the tiny island first appeared as a tumble of giant boulders rising straight up from the shimmering water. As we drew closer small reed and thatch chalets barely distinguishable from the tangle of trees began to materialize. We coasted to as stop at a wooden jetty to the warm welcome of camp manager Juliet Dahmen and her staff, and I set foot onto the most pristine tropical retreat I ever visited. The camp was located on two islands. The common areas were sitting just beyond the soft curve of a pretty golden sand beach on the main island. Meanwhile, a long wooden footbridge led to a granitic promontory jutting into the lake, where guest accommodations were perched at the edge of the rocks under a thick canopy of miombo woodland.