Wrapped in the wide embrace of Kruger National Park, I was luxuriating at Ngala Safari Lodge, alongside a wedding confetti-like sprinkling of loved-up, dewy-eyed honeymooners. Kruger has become a tractor-beam for these well-heeled American millennials, doting on the wildlife, while doting on each other – in equal measure. What’s propelling the seduction? My intrepid enquiries with the new romantics unearthed Meghan Markle and The Lion King as the prime suspects. You can’t help but fall in love with Ngala.
Nestled in Timbavati private game reserve within the legendary Kruger National Park, Ngala Safari Lodge delivers a classic bygone-style South African safari getaway, with all the frills. Think colonial antiques, silver cutlery and sparkling crystal glassware in the midst of the African bush. Stylish, graceful hospitality, sundowners and manicured lawns surrounded by the rugged natural beauty of Kruger. Founded in 1898, Kruger National Park continues to keep the faith as the great protector of the South African Lowveld’s astonishing wildlife.
Spanning nearly 2 million hectares, it’s South Africa’s largest game park, with over 147 mammal species. If your idea of an African safari is to tick-off the Big 5, Ngala is the ultimate Big 5 experience, effortlessly delivering in spades. On one twilight game drive, I encountered lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards and buffalos all within the space of 30 minutes. Nature’s four-legged bounty is thick on the ground. Ngala’s guides and trackers are exceptional. My indelible game drive encounters were under the command of my Shangaan tracker, Giwan, and talismanic guide, Mark, who was a towering story-teller, bring the magic of the bushveld to life.
On one drive, we crossed paths with a herd of buffalo bulls, who glared longingly at us. Mark drolly remarked, “Buffalo bulls look at you as if you owe them money.” They so do. An exhilarating highlight was our intimate communion with the white rhino and a black rhino mother and calf. Like a fortress on four legs, they are imposingly majestic, menacing and wondrous. Later in the day, as the fireball sun slumped on the horizon, the buzz of a low-flying spotter-plane sweeping over the vast expanse of Kruger vividly reinforced the ever-present evil threatening the white rhino’s survival.
On an average day, 2 or 3 rhino are killed at the hands of poachers, despite the best efforts of aerial ground patrols to stem the gruesome carnage. Mark mentioned Vietnam has now eclipsed China as the prime destination for rhino horn, where wealthy Vietnamese covet mounting a rhino horn on their wall as a trophy. How utterly repugnant. Speaking of gruesome, as much as I marvelled over the hunting skills of Africa’s wild dogs, watching a pack of these canines kill a baby antelope was beyond eye-wincing, as it was ripped apart. Primal, savage and unapologetic. Even the pixie dust of Disney would struggle to sugar-coat such raw scenes of slaughter in the savannah.
We admired leopards lazing under jackalberry trees – and manfully climbing them, lumbering hippos cooling off in a water hole, galumphing elephants showering themselves from the water hole adjacent to the lodge restaurant, stately giraffes loftily peering over the mopane thickets and a rambunctious troop of excitable baboons charging across the savannah. From the elevated perch of the open-top range rovers that powered our twice-daily game drives, Ngala lend guests stirring Swarovski binoculars for those unrivalled close-up perspectives.
The elegantly appointed lodge exudes an aura of old-school safari romance and mystique, with the main thatched restaurant, bar and lounge area opening out with a ringside seat on the alluring terrain. The large swimming pool was ingeniously developed to overlook the neighbouring and highly-trafficked waterhole, so you’ll never know just whom you will be having a splash and soak with! Accommodations are seraphic: 20 luxurious thatched cottages which includes three family cottages, shaded by mopane trees and affording wilderness views.
The family suite also includes a private swimming pool and the use of a private safari vehicle. My heavenly abode boasted arctic-cool air conditioning, a private verandah, an en suite bathroom with separate indoor shower as well as an outdoor rain shower. But the prize draw is the lavish bed with crisp high-thread-count sheets, cloud-comfortable pillows, with a decanter of sherry on the side-table. Bliss. When you’re not out swooning over the Kruger wildlife, you can head to the gym for a workout or treat yourself to some pampering at the spa. (Fiendishly popular with the honeymooners!)
What also stood out was how well equipped and adept Ngala is at entertaining the whole family. They excel with giving kids the holiday experience of a lifetime, with tailored activities and child-minding services. Needless to say, the food is copious and unbelievably exquisite. Lavish international dishes with subtle Pan-African influences are served in Ngala's lantern-lit courtyard or around a log fire in the traditional African boma – which is a runaway highlight. For the loved-up, the lodge will happily arrange special moonlit bush dinners for you and yours. Yes Simba, you will feel the love tonight.
With those pesky tourist visa requirements recently disbanded, now’s a great time to visit South Africa and revel in the wildlife at Ngala Safari Lodge. World Journeys are experts in tailor-made travel to South Africa and elsewhere in Africa. Contact World Journeys 0800 117311 or go to www.worldjourneys.co.nz/south-africa/
Mike Yardley is our Travel Correspondent on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.