Most visitors arrive by plane, touching down at the tiny Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport in the Limpopo Province, an area that takes in the famous Kruger National Park. A guide from Kapama Karula is already waiting, loading your luggage into a safari truck, with you jumping in as well. It’s a quick drive across the road and into the Kapama Private Reserve; less than a minutes drive from the airport terminal.
Kapama Karula is located 10 km from the airport, and once you’re within the reserve gates, it means one thing. You’re already on safari.
The drive takes you along dirt tracks through prime African bushveld that’s teeming with wildlife. We spotted giraffe, zebra, warthogs, kudu and more and we hadn’t even checked into the lodge yet.
Set along the upper banks of the Klaserie River, Kapama Karula is luxury through and through. The design of its pavilions is what grabbed me initially. None of the typical vaulted ceilings and grass thatching that many places have; instead there’s a modernist approach to the structure of the pavilions and suites. Light, airy and beautifully decorated.
The main pavilion is a place to kick back, relax with a drink in the lounge or out on the shady deck by the river. And it’s not uncommon to see nyala grazing around the lodge and vervet monkeys jumping about the trees and across the rooftops. Come 3.30pm and it’s high tea, should you wish to indulge so soon after lunch.
Two luxury Tents, five Suites, three Superior Suites and two Family Superior Suites offer varying types of accommodation; none of them too shabby, mind you.
We were shacked up for three nights in one of the Superior Suites, a rather enormous (130m²) space with sliding glass doors that open onto a deck and heated pool, overlooking the Klaserie River.
Gas fireplace, complimentary wi-fi, air-con, Nespresso machine, huge bed, well-stocked minibar and a very comfy lounge area. There’s even complimentary sherry.
The bathroom features two showers – one inside and one out overlooking the river – dual basins and free-standing bath.
Days begin with a 5.30am wake-up call, after which you grab a quick coffee or tea and light bite of freshly baked muffins or rusks. You are here to go on safari, after all, so rather than sleep in it’s straight into the action at first light.
Two game drives are included in the room rate, and in the cooler months there’s even a hot water bottle and fluffy blanket already waiting for you on your seat. A very nice touch as it gets pretty cold in the mornings and evenings.
There are around 350 types of birds and over 40 species of mammals that run free in the reserve, including the Big Five – buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino. And for those that don’t know what the Big Five refers to, it means they’re the most dangerous.
One of my favourites in the the park was the perpetually grazing, elegant and timid giraffe. Ninety percent of the trees in the reserve have thorns on them which makes eating vegetation a little tricky for many of the animals.
Watching the giraffe swiftly eat around the finger-length thorns on the acacia trees is mesmerising. The toxins in the leaves are low enough for the giraffe to eat, but they know to not graze on one tree for too long as the toxin levels increase after 15 minutes or so. Talk about a plant defending itself! And get this, when the leaves are torn away they emit ethylene gas, alerting other plants within 45 metres to increase tannin production to deter the giraffe.
The clever animal even knows to head upwind to graze on plants that may not have caught the ethylene warning.
Halfway through the morning drive you stop for refreshments of hot drinks and pastries, in the middle of the savanna at a safe distance from the animals. On one of our drives we happened to be sharing our ride with Jean-Philippe Colmant, winemaker from Colmant Cap Classique & Champagne in the stunning Franschhoek Valley east of Cape Town.
Jean-Philippe was here to celebrate his 50th, bringing a bottle of his own bubbles to share with anyone that was up for it. Our tracker provided his machete for the dramatic corking, but due being shaken around in the Land Rover and a very sharp blade, things didn’t go according to plan.
Still, the half bottle that remained gave us enough for a few sips of his beautiful sparkling wine. Thanks Jean-Philippe!
Come 9 o’clock, you’re back at the lodge tucking into a sumptuous breakfast. There’s your typical continental spread of pastries, fruits, cereals, meats and cheeses, plus an à la carte menu offering cooked dishes from the kitchen.
The rest of the morning can be spent soothing about your suite, taking a morning dip in the pool or relaxing in The Library, another gorgeous pavilion where you can read a book, watch a movie or sit on the deck and breathe in the serenity.
Chef Patrick Moirwagale and his team dish up some mighty fine fare; a contemporary mix that’s as sophisticated as the surroundings. They like to mix it up at Kapama Karula, alternating between the lounge deck or dining room for lunch, and for dinner beneath the stars in the boma, or back in the dining room by candlelight.
– Scallops of chicken breast, gnocchi, buttered spinach and sundered tomatoes.
– The boncancinni of mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and toasted cashew & basil pesto (below).
– Wood-smoked Karoo springbok carpaccio with preserved fig compote & poached pears (below).
– Truffled chicken liver pâté with pineapple chutney, red onion marmalade and bacon powder (below).
Other dishes include – butter curry chicken served in a pappadam with traditional accompaniments.
– Mozambiquian red snapper with tomato, feta, cashews, peppadews and chickpeas.
– Cumin-dusted dorado with bootie spiced lentils and peppadew, feta & coriander salsa.
– Prune & sage stuffed chicken with parma ham, couscous and tomato fondue.
And then there’s dessert.
– Torched Italian meringue with pureéd plums, macerated strawberries and raspberry sorbet.
– Passionfruit panna cotta, strawberry compote & sorbet.
– Mini milk tart with cinnamon cream and lime sorbet.
– Apple, raisin & walnut strudel with Amarula ice cream.
At 4pm it’s back into the safari vehicle for the afternoon run, exploring different parts of the reserve and spotting many more animals. Seeing lions and their cubs up close and personal is one of the most exhilarating feelings, and spotting a lone cheetah basking in the afternoon rays, peering over the savanna was pure bliss.
As with the morning beverage pit stop, an afternoon sundowner makes the schedule, as well. A time to stretch the legs, soak in the wilderness and watch the sun set over the Drakensberg Mountains; all whilst sipping on your choice of beverage. Gin & tonic or vino, anyone?
The safari continues even when dusk tuns into night. On comes the high-powered torch that’s swung left and right by the sharp-eyed tracker as you drive through the darkness; scanning the scrubland for the glint of an eye or scurrying nocturnal animal.
The most exciting for us was coming across a male lion, sound asleep with a very full stomach; completely unperturbed by the torch or noisy Land Rover.
And then it’s dinner time for us at 7pm back at the lodge.
Disclaimer – all expenses were paid for personally
Kapama Karula – R40, Kapama Private Game Reserve, Kruger NP