Luxury safari lodge: heaven lies at the end of a straight road
The five-star Camp Ndlovu offers poolside game viewing and lavish meals a short drive from Joburg, writes Lesley Stones
There’s something satisfying about driving down one straight and simple road and then reaching somewhere magical.
Camp Ndlovu in the Welgevonden Game Reserve is three hours north of Johannesburg on the N1 — it’s just one left turn after the Kranskop toll plaza and a straight road to the entrance.
While the journey is a breeze, that’s not the best part. Once at the lodge, there are glorious views, a pool on the deck and a spa that offers full-body massages to the soothing sound of birdsong (or to the squabbling of baboons, who have been known to nick a towel when nobody is looking, says therapist Kate Shongoane).
After the massage, sit and watch warthogs gather at the stream while the wonderful staff deliver glasses of bubbly.
Camp Ndlovu is new on SA’s safari scene, developed after the property was bought by the steel-wealthy Rudge family. They added the spa and a small gym and opened it in October as a five-star lodge.
The food at Camp Ndlovu is a treat, with lavish breakfasts, tasty al fresco lunches with dishes such as chicken kebabs, prawn tempura and salads, and dinners that might include a braai in the boma.
Afternoon tea is served, in case rapidly expanding stomachs can’t make it through till dinner time. On a morning bush walk our guide, Malvin Mncube, told us how his mother had saved his life after he was bitten by a black mamba, by making him drink an infusion made from crushed roots of a white resin tree.
"If you try to cut down those trees in the rural areas, the old people will smack you hard because they know it saves lives," he said.
We laughed but were a little unnerved when we noticed him popping a large piece of bark in his pocket, just in case.
Then he led us silently down a rocky slope into a valley, listening for the cough of a leopard that likes to hang out there. We spotted three klipspringer carcasses that proved his existence, but the leopard remained elusive.
Later during an evening game drive Mncube, pointed out the last tsessebe on the reserve, telling us they had been wiped out by cheetah. Tsessebe were fast runners but not very bright, he said, so when they saw something, they would go and investigate instead of running away. By the time they had figured out there was danger, it was too late.
Decades ago, Welgevonden was a farm, and in the 1980s, its owner, Pienkes du Plessis, decided to return the land to its original state and reintroduce wildlife. He gradually bought neighbouring farms and when the reserve was big enough, reintroduced elephants in what was SA’s first project to translocate an entire breeding herd of the animals.
The first five lions were introduced in 1998 and have roots back to ancestors in Etosha. Other rare species including the aardwolf, aardvark and pangolin have also been spotted.
The land is still recovering from farming and the rangers are experimenting with different fertilisers to help the grass grow again. They’ve set up movement-triggered cameras protected by metal cages to capture photos of animals grazing in the area to see which treatment produces the grass they prefer.
There are now 42 lodges in Welgevonden, many owned by private families or corporations, and the number of vehicles allowed by each is strictly limited to keep the animals relatively undisturbed.
Camp Ndlovu has five luxurious suites, each with an outdoor shower, a bath delightfully positioned in the open air and a private plunge pool. The main lodge has the pool, a bar and various lounges to relax in. If a group of six or more makes a booking, they get exclusive use of the camp.
I was allocated the owner’s cottage, which family members use when they’re in residence. It’s wonderfully spacious and it was huge fun to leap into the private swimming pool and watch the wildlife. As the water washed over me, so did a wave of utter happiness.
It was all over far too soon. But that nice straight highway makes it easy enough to find my way back again.