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South Africa boasts some of the most amazing game lodges in the world. As well as admiring exciting wildlife you can wallow in luxurious surroundings, enjoy fabulous food, and perhaps have a spa treatment or swim in a pool with stunning views over the plains. However, most South Africans can’t actually afford to stay in them.
Game conservation and running a luxury lodge are wildly expensive endeavours that need Euro-toting tourists to sustain them. But with global travel disrupted by Covid, some of the lodges have slashed their prices by up to 80% to keep afloat. It makes staying in these exclusive places an affordable aspiration, but go now before the prices rise again. ASA suggests these bargains:
Etali Safari Lodge
When my old English mother came to visit me on her first African adventure, I took her to Etali. It didn’t disappoint. The luxurious lodge was fit for royalty, the staff treated her like a queen, and the wildlife all performed perfectly, with lions, elephants, zebra, and rhinos all lining up to put on a good show. It was all quite magical, and when the staff danced and sang for us one evening in the boma, I feared she’d never want to leave!
Etali is in the lovely Madikwe reserve, in the Northwest Province, which is Big Five territory and also famous for lesser spotted species like cheetah, wild dog, and brown hyena.
A wellness centre offers massages, body wraps, and facials, it’s wheelchair friendly, and the excellent food can cater for strictly kosher and halaal guests.
Rates: Slashed from R12,000 to start from R4,910 per person per night sharing until January 31, 2022.
Simbambili Game Lodge
Leopards are literally dripping from the trees in the Sabi Sand Reserve, and they’re so used to vehicles that they’ll cast you a nonchalant glance and then ignore you.
It’s rich with all the other wildlife too, so it’s ideal for a first-time safari where you want to spot everything as soon as possible. To slow things down again, the guides from Simbambili Game Lodge in the Greater Kruger area can take you on a bushwalk to see the smaller miracles of nature.
The lodge itself has chic open-plan lounges and a deck where you can drink and dine while watching the elephants visiting the waterhole. If three meals a day aren’t enough, there’s also high tea to tempt you. You might need to visit the gym to work it all off again, or just push the pleasure even further with a spa treatment by the riverbank before you chill on the day bed by your private plunge pool.
Rates: Nine suites now priced from R3,744 pppns (down from R14,050).
Klaserie Drift Misava Safari Camp
Game viewing at Klaserie near Hoedspruit is a slower and more languid experience than in some other reserves, which suits me enormously. With only a few lodges where you might not see another vehicle, so finding the animals depends on pure bushcraft. My guide was a genius, and the highlights were 26 lions in the largest pride I’d ever seen and an old tusker elephant with tusks of a length that rarely exists these days.
The food is delightful, with the chef rustling up treats like individual potjies filled with lamb curry followed by rich chocolate mousse cake. The six suites are all fresh and airy, and the best overlook the Klaserie River. The vibe here is so relaxed that I walked to the swimming pool in my slippers and ate lunch on the deck wrapped in a towel. It’s family-friendly too, with activities to keep kids entertained.
Rates: From R2,500 pppns until the end of December.
Abelana River Lodge
A stay at Abelana River Lodge, near Phalaborwa in Limpopo, benefits the local community as well as gives you a brilliant time. It sits on land that was handed back to the community in land rights claim, and the professionally-run lodge now employs numerous people from local villages. Local companies recycle the waste and handle the laundry, while local farmers supply most of the produce, which helps to explain the farm-fresh meals. After a four-course dinner and nightcaps around the fire, you can enjoy an outdoor shower by starlight before snuggling into your king-sized bed.
The 20 luxurious bedroom suites perch by the river, and a pool at the main lodge has a glorious river view. The guides are excellent and you won’t go short of sightings, since the rehabilitated land has been restocked with wildlife. Bushwalks are also available.
Rates: SA residents’ rates are from R2,700 pppns.
Gondwana Safari Lodge
While the Kruger area has the monopoly of luxurious lodges, there are treats for Capetonians too. Gondwana Safari Lodge is billed as the only free-roaming big five game reserve on the Garden Route, along with areas where it’s safe for hiking, fishing, and mountain biking.
The scenery is stunning, with more than 1,000 species of fynbos filling valleys surrounded by the Langeberg and Outeniqua Mountains. Accommodation includes the five-star Kwena Lodge, inspired by traditional Khoi-San dwellings with open-plan suites offering 180-degree views and skylights for stargazing. For families, there are 3 or 4-bedroom Bush Villas with spectacular views from their wooden decks. A Junior Ranger programme keeps kids amused, while adults can head to the Africology Spa, dip in the infinity swimming pool, or enjoy drinks on the covered veranda.
Rates: SA residents’ rates are from R2,380 pppns until March 24, 2022, down from R4,270.