And when we weren’t searching for an opportunity to spy on wild animals we longed to indulge at the spa or relax in the quiet, space and privacy of our luxury suite with ample indoor space and an inviting outdoor deck with loungers, a plunge pool and Jacuzzi.

Overall Impression This attractive luxury bush property favored by the rich and famous was lovingly maintained and well run. It was named Malewane for the ravine on which the property was built. We arrived a little wilted following a day of travel from Cape Town via Johannesburg. John Jackson, the property general manager and our gracious host, immediately showed us to our quarters, the Royal Malewane Suite, on one end of the property that would be our home for the following three nights. There we were greeted by a sea of welcoming smiles from the small group of staff members who would take turns looking after us during our stay.

Following the warm greeting we recovered enough energy to set out enthusiastically on our first game drive. The decision was easy in part because we were eager to return to the bush and in part because as guests at one of the property’s two luxury suites we were entitled to a private vehicle with our own guide and tracker. We later discovered that our very experienced guide, Juan Pinto, was also the head ranger and co-manager of the property. We certainly were in good hands.

A thousand and one details added to the romantic ambiance that reigned during our stay. The beautiful suite with decorative touches like floating and fresh flower arrangements, cut crystal, silver silverware, original artwork, a lovely setting, Persian carpets, high ceilings, fans, air conditioning in our room, and a handsome and spacious bathroom enhanced the classic African ambiance and feeling of being away from it all. Even our clean laundry arrived in a gauzy cloth wrapper.

We loved the Royal Malewane’s gourmet cuisine and service orientation. Warm, friendly and helpful staff members always seemed to be there when we wanted something. We thoroughly enjoyed the private game drives, including our personal best sighting of elusive black rhino. And when we weren’t searching for an opportunity to spy on wild animals we longed to indulge at the spa or relax in the quiet, space and privacy of our luxury suite with ample indoor space and an inviting outdoor deck with loungers, a plunge pool and Jacuzzi.

About John Jackson John Jackson trained briefly under Roger Verge at Moulin Des Mougins near Cannes, France. Over the past 25 years, he has owned, co-owned or operated several restaurants including The Country Restaurant in Johannesburg, Rosenfontein in Paarl, The Rosenfonteins, Jackson’s, as well as a quartet of restaurants at the Valkenburg Manor House in Cape Town: a new Rosenfontein, L’Orangerie, The Wild Fig, and The Rosenfontein Bistro Theatre.

Class Of Accommodation Luxury game viewing lodge

Connectivity There were two computers with dial up Internet access in the spa building for guest use. Although our suite was supposed to have WiFi connectivity the connection was down while we were there.

General Manager and executive chef John Jackson

Handicapped Access Although the property didn’t have specially designated rooms for handicapped guests they had experience with guests with special needs and were able to accommodate them on a case by case basis.

Length Of Stay Three nights

Location In the 13,000 hectare Thornybush Game Reserve with the Greater Kruger National Park area.

Managed A team of three staff members looked after the property.

Owned Liz Biden

Pets Allowed No pets were allowed on the property.

Size There were eight suites including two two-bedroom suites and a newly built rental house, in a 1,200 hectare (2,500 acre) reserve with the larger Thornybush Reserve. There was a staff compliment of 105. In total there were eight lodges and 18 game viewing vehicles with traversing rights within the Thornybush Reserve.

Year Opened-Renovated The property was built and open for guests in December 1999.

Lobby And Common Areas Ralph Kraal and Liz Biden were responsible for the property’s elegant classic safari design.

Bathroom To the right of the entrance of our bedroom there was a walk-in closet with plenty of space for hanging and folded clothes, complimentary mosquito and bug spray, a flash light, and an electronic safe. The bathroom occupied the entire area past the closet. Against the wall nearest the closet there was a tall armoire filled with extra towels. A claw foot bathtub sat in front of the armoire and to one side there was a rug. An oversize doorless shower large for two people to shower simultaneously stood across from the bathtub and rug. A water closet occupied the corner next to the shower. Twin sinks and mirrors were situated against the far wall. The bush facing side was made up of large sliding glass doors which allowed us to enjoy full size bush views from almost any vantage point in the bathroom.

Room Our 550 meter Royal Malewane Suite faced northeast. There were two separate bedroom areas in opposite sides of the building. Between the sleeping areas there was a large living area, a full kitchen and a large outer deck area. We had exclusive use of the suite during our stay. We departed and arrived from game drives just in front of our suite and our meals were served in the suite or, on one occasion, in the bush. Unless we felt like being social there was little need for us to venture outside our suite, and except for our dedicated staff team members who came around at meal times and to service the suite, no one visited our quarters. The only time we saw other staff members or guests was when we strolled over on the wood walkway that connected the guest areas of the property in search of Internet access or spa treatments.

A high four poster wood bed framed by matching wood night tables with lamps occupied the center of the room and faced a fireplace. The mattress was comfortable and duvet warm. Although we didn’t see (or hear) any mosquitoes the staff wrapped our entire bed in mosquito netting at night. There was a striped bench at the foot of the bed where we set our camera, binoculars and game viewing gear at night and the staff dropped off our laundry while we were on drives. On the side of the suite nearest the back deck there was a cushy and comfortable cloth armchair and matching foot stool.

On the opposite corner of the room there was a wood desk and leather swivel armchair where we set our computers. The desk was home to a lamp, vase with fresh flowers and a vanity mirror. In front of the desk there was a large wood framed mirror. The room had remote control air conditioning (left on all the time while we were there) and a ceiling fan. The entrance to a walk-in close and the bathroom area was to the right of the desk.

In between the two suites there was a living area populated with cushy armchairs and love seats, an Apple computer for guest use and varied Africa themed coffee table books. There was a large flat screen Samsung satellite television in the living area and a Sony DVD player. There was also a fully equipped kitchen with cutlery, dinnerware, silverware and glassware and major appliances such as a well stocked LG refrigerator, Gemini double ovens and stove, Sharp microwave oven and Whirlpool dishwasher.

Meals We always looked forward to meal times at the Royal Malewane. Under the scrupulous supervision of Executive Chef John Jackson the staff prepared savory and elegant dishes that were beautifully presented.

Breakfast, served on our return from the game drive was buffet style with made to order hot dishes. The cold buffet choices included several types of cereal including a home made granola blend (a favorite), two types of yogurt, fresh fruit salad (another favorite made with grapes, gooseberries, papaya, watermelon, pineapple), pastries, cheeses and whole grain bread. Hot dish options included eggs any style, mushrooms, tomatoes, bacon and sausage. We had lunch at a time of our choosing (usually between 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.). Dish selections were from a menu we were offered right after breakfast.

Our first night at the lodge the staff surprised us with a tasting menu with wine pairing set romantically with candles by our suite plunge pool. The second night there was a plated candle lit Moroccan bush dinner with full size sofas, cut crystal, table cloth, napkins and bubbly on arrival. The setting looked like something out of A Thousand and One Nights and although it fit right in with the bush background, it required hours for the staff to set it up prior to our arrival at the end of our evening game drive.

On our final night we were scheduled to have a boma dinner outdoors. However the weather turned during our game drive becoming very windy and threatening rain so the staff quickly relocated dinner indoors. Dinner was a combination of plated and buffet style service. For the plated service we had salmon cakes with a saffron sauce and hot vichyssoise. For the buffet barbeque portion of the meal there were sautéed vegetables, mashed potatoes, ostrich skewers, beef, spare ribs, and South African sausages or boerweorst . Dessert was a combination of very decadent sweet caramel, rum, and ice cream.

Should we crave a snack or drink in between meals The refrigerator and bar of our Royal Suite were well stocked.

Amenities Molton Brown toiletries in 300 milliliter plastic bottles including: body Naran Ji hand lotion and hand wash, Suma Ginseng bath and shower, Indian cress conditioner and shampoo. There were also shower caps, cotton swabs, mosquito repellent, insect killer; electric adapters; 30 milliliter bottles of Indian cress conditioner and cucumber shampoo. Next to the bath tub there were glass bottles of Charlotte Rhys green tea bath salts and bath oil.

Facilities On site facilities we had access to included a gift shop, suite and property bomas , fitness center, swimming pool and spa.

Fitness Center And Spa The spa building housed a fitness section with a treadmill, free weights, an elliptical machine, and a stair climber. There was also a 25-meter lap pool, steam room, hot and cold African baths and bush casitas (Spanish for small house) enclosures where guest could relax, and a computer room. The spa, set between jackal berry and acacia trees, had a striking entrance framed by beautiful Indian teak doors. The spa’s central courtyard was home to the narrow and shallow pool where I enjoyed several refreshing laps in the blistering summer heat before my spa treatments.

I had the Sefako treatment. Sefako means African storm in Tswana. It consisted of a Molo welcome foot ritual, full body Deep Tissue Massage (my choice), an African head massage, and a therapeutic foot massage. Thembi was my therapist.

Pool Our suite had a plunge pool and a Jacuzzi. There was also a narrow pool for guest use in the spa building.

Game Viewing Our knowledgeable guide, Juan Pinto, was also a senior tracker. He spoke English, Zulu, Tsonga, Afrikaans, and Fanagalo. His game viewing partner of 15 years was Wilson Masiya, one of a handful of master trackers in South Africa. Juan maintained radio silence by relying on a radio headset. Although he communicated with game viewing colleagues to share information during the drives, he spoke so quietly we hardly heard his exchanges. It was good to know that in addition to their role as guides at the Royal Malewane Juan and Wilson facilitated the training and evaluation of junior trackers to ensure that their skills are passed on to the next generation.

The game viewing drives were comfortable and the vehicle we went out on was new (only six months old when we visited). We had quality extended game viewing moments, especially with buffalo, elephant and rhino, a some pretty watering hole locations that lent themselves to being photographed. We spotted lions twice, and one day we walked a short distance to see a cheetah mom and her three five-month old cubs (survivors of a littler of seven). Off road driving was permitted for some animals only and under certain favorable conditions. Two was the maximum number of vehicles permitted during a sighting.

During our drives in the woodland savanna, the predominant characteristic of the reserve, we saw: blue wildebeest including one with a newborn, buffalo, grey duiker, impala, kudu, nyala, steenbok, side-striped jackal, vervet monkey, elephant, zebra, cheetah with three cubs, lion, giraffe, hippo, spotted hyena, scrub hare, black and white rhino, warthog, slender mongoose, and Bell’s hinged tortoise, and the nest of a foam nest frog.

Birds: chinspot batis, European and little bee-eaters, golden breasted bunting, lizard buzzard, yellow fronted canary, croaking and rattling cisticolas, Burchell’s coucal, Diderick and red chested cuckoos, Cape turtle and emerald spotted doves, fork tailed drongo, bateleur and Wahlberg eagles, cattle egret, amur falcon, southern black flycatcher, Natal francolin, grey go-away-bird, Egyptian goose, dark chanting goshawk, little grebe, sombre greenbul, helmeted guineafowl, green-backed heron, African grey and southern yellow hornbills, dusky and purple indigobirds, grey-headed, woodland and strip kingfishers, red crested korhaan, blacksmith lapwing, black-headed oriole, spotted eagle owl, redbilled oxpecker, three-banded plover, red-billed quelea, European, lilac-breasted and purple rollers, wood sandpiper, white-browed scrub-robin, black-backed puffback,southern white-crowned and red-backed shrikes, southern grey-headed sparrow, Burchell’s and wattled starlings, barn and lesser striped swallows, purple crested turaco, spotted and water thick-knees, southern black tit, white-backed African vulture, Sierling’s wren-warbler, blue waxbill and golden tailed woodpecker.

Juan also identified trees and flowers along our way including: brown ivory, wisteria tree, scented climbing num num, thorny bone-apple, red bushwillow, leadwood, eared rattle-pod, small leaved sickle bush, jackal-berry, bushveld candelabra euphorbia, sycomore fig, African olive, and apple-leaf trees as well as common wild jasmine, roadside pimpernel/lion’s eye and morning glory flowers.

Other Children under 12 years of age were welcome when the lodge was block-booked by the same group or family or with bookings of the Royal or Malewane suites. The hotel received the following recognitions recently: Best Safari Spa 2008- Les Nouvelles Esthetiques (South Africa), Top 101 Hotels, Big Hitters List Tatler (U.K.) 2007, “Hideaway of the Year 2007” Grand Award Winner Andrew Harpers Hideaway Report, and The Worlds 100 Ultimate Escapes Luxury Resorts Robb Report (USA) 2007.

The property has an on site water purification system. Also, environmentally conscious staff have ensured that only indigenous trees be planted at Royal Malewane to minimize the lodge’s water consumption. Waste water is recycled through an open air reed bed system, and from there it is recycled back to the water table.

Following our boma dinner the staff shared some of their traditional music and dances with us and invited us to participate with them. It was a moving farewell. We took advantage of the opportunity to share our appreciation with them for all they did to look after us and enhance our visit.

Cleanliness Very good

Date Of Review November 2008

Reviewers Article by Elena del Valle

Photographs by Gary Cox

Would You Stay There Again? Yes

Contact Information

  • Address:
    • P.O. Box 1542
    • Hoedspruit, 1380
    • South Africa
  • Phone:
    • +27 (015) 793-0150
  • Fax:
    • +27 (015) 793-2879
  • Website:
  • Email: