MAY 2013 – Set high on a hill overlooking the wildest and most remote part of the Kruger National Park, The Outpost’s 12 stand-alone luxury suites seem to blend into their surrounds. Below stretches the lush floodplain of the Luvuvhu River, offering guests a near-nature experience like no other. It’s a region of unique geology and great biodiversity with some of Africa’s most ancient baobabs and a pistachio-green fever-tree forest, making it a twitcher’s paradise with an impressive list of specials.
Space. So much, you feel like soaring. Cantilevered off a hill above a vast riverine plain, you are suspended above an endless sprawl of lush tangled wilderness, dwarfed by towering clouds in Africa’s huge blue heaven or, at night, a velvet canopy dense with a million stars.
This is The Outpost — one of only three concessions in the 23 600-hectare Makuleke Contractual Park, a lush triangle wedged between the Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers, on South Africa’s borders with Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and part of the 2.5 million hectares of the Kruger National Park. For most visitors, this exclusivity – the privilege of finding yourself adrift in a huge tract of untouched nature – is priceless. In fact, bush lovers have long divided
the Kruger into distinct regions: first-timers looking to chase the Big 5 tend to congregate in the relatively developed and busier southern and central areas, where large animal populations attract similarly soaring tourist numbers. But real bush enthusiasts – those who are rejuvenated by the unique serenity of being in a primal, human-free landscape, with fewer roads and vehicles – head north, to explore Makuleke’s remarkable geological and natural heritage.
With lush, tropical riverine vegetation, open savannah, mopane woodlands, fever trees, acacia thickets and some of southern Africa’s largest baobab pecimens, it’s no surprise Makuleke is such a drawcard for bush enthusiasts. Add that it has some 350-odd bird species – including those rarely seen elsewhere, such as Pel’s fishing owl, African crowned eagle, black-throated wattle-eye, racket-tailed roller, orange-winged pytilia and crested guineafowl – and you’ll understand why it’s considered so very special.
One of the reasons for the outstanding birding in the area is that Makuleke was declared a Ramsar Wetland Site in 2007 and its 31 flood pans hold water until late in the dry season, acting as a welcome refuge for migratory water birds That’s not to say that wildlife sightings in the area are not exhilarating. Also known as The Pafuri Triangle, Makuleke is the only part of the Kruger National Park with a truly tropical ecology. It’s said to boast the highest biodiversity of any part of the park, with more than 75 percent of Kruger’s species occurring in just one percent of its surface area.
Though game viewing can be slower, seeing predators in this landscape is thrilling. Who can forget breakfast served in the fever-tree forest near the confluence of the two rivers, home to a large population of hippos and crocs? Or spotting a leopard stalking nyala near the riverbank, or lion asleep in the shade of a baobab? Sundowners overlooking the Lanner Gorge, eagles soaring overhead, is equally spectacular.
In wonderful contrast to the utter wildness of Makuleke is the luxury of The Outpost. Spend your days in the sun by the pool, or retire to your award-winning suite for an in-room massage, a soak in your oval tub, or just to lie back and gaze over the lush Luvuvhu floodplain. With 12 freestanding suites, located along a 500-metre teak boardwalk, you are assured of total privacy. Suite 12 is a honeymooner’s favourite as it’s furthest from the reception areas and also commands a wider view further down the untouched valley below.
Conceived as modern ‘caves’, the striking stand-alone suites were designed along simple, clean lines. They combine light and unobtrusive elements of steel and concrete so that they blend into and preserve the beauty of the surrounding wilderness. These thoroughly contemporary spaces seem to literally ‘grow’ out from the rock face, with absolutely nothing but retractable canvas screens between you and the jaw-dropping 180-degree views. To complement the powerful architecture, the interiors are dressed in a suitably pared-down contemporary aesthetic with colours that are deliberately unlike those in most safari lodges.
Each terrace has an inviting daybed, and an indoor lounge and bedroom with a king-size bed swaddled in netting. (And yes, the inevitable need to celebrate is met with an in-room minibar.) Cooled by a sophisticated air-flow system and designed to minimise energy usage with each of the suites thoughtfully oriented to the sun, it’s one of the most comfortable, near-nature safari experiences, especially in the sultry heat of summer.
The open-to-the-elements design is extended into the bathrooms. Each has a capacious tub and a shower offering the same mesmerising views of raptors floating over the plains, and star-spangled skies at night. Small wonder that they are regularly feted as one of the top bathing experiences in all of Africa.
The Outpost is also justifiably proud of its engagement with the local community, from which virtually the entire staff complement is sourced. The Makuleke clan were, in fact, the first to win a Kruger land claim and their decision to develop it for tourism (with game management contracted to the national park) is living proof of how sustainable tourism can benefit both local communities and nature conservation.
Having been involved from the outset in building its reputation, the Makuleke work hard to ensure that guests enjoy high standards of comfort, great cuisine and a superb wine selection (including a Sauvignon Blanc personally handcrafted by the owner), despite the remoteness of the location.
In essence, staying here is simply an experience like no other. In the words of one thankful reviewer, The Outpost provides a very special space – one in which you feel closer to nature, closer to your partner, closer to heaven.