DECEMBER 2014 – The malaria-free hills of the Eastern Cape have become a sought-after safari destination as exclusive lodges offer Big Five game viewing just a short drive from the ever-popular Garden Route. With just a handful of sumptuous suites, Kichaka Private Game Lodge offers the perfect blend of luxury and wildness.
It’s savvy travellers indeed who choose to round out their South African adventure with a safari experience in the malaria-free Eastern Cape. Here, in the rolling bushveld hills a short drive east of the seaside city of Port Elizabeth, a clutch of luxurious game reserves provide a wonderfully wild book-end to exploring the coastal towns and dramatic scenery of the ever-popular Garden Route.
These hills have a long history of frontier wars and farming, but today it’s conservation that is the driving force behind this magical corner of South Africa. As the land is restored and rejuvenated, the hills once again echo with the throaty rumble of lions and trumpet of elephant, the thunder of antelope hooves across grassy plains. A land once tamed, has become wild again.
And there are few better places to soak up the wonder of the Eastern Cape bushveld than at the five-star Kichaka Private Game Lodge. A romantic escape that is both secluded and easily accessible, Kichaka’s 10 opulent suites offer a boutique safari experience.
Each suite is crafted of stone and thatch to blend seamlessly into the surrounding landscape while offering perfect peace and privacy. Decorated in a rich African motif, tones of mahogany, stone and ebony reflect the bushveld views stretching away from your spacious private deck. Plunge pools with a view offer a welcome respite from the African sun, or you can cool off in your secluded outdoor shower.
While the focus at Kichaka is on discovering the wilderness that lies beyond the deck, there’s no shortage of civilised comforts. Every suite is air-conditioned and comes fitted with modern conveniences that range from iPod docking systems to international plug adapters. There’s even complimentary Wi-Fi if you simply have to stay in touch with the outside world.
But why would you want to, when the sparkling private plunge pool and complimentary mini-bar will no doubt tempt you to while away a languorous afternoon on your deck. Or you could sink into even deeper relaxation with an indulgent spa treatment in the safari-style Wellness Suite. Trained therapists offer a menu of body and facial treatments, all using the acclaimed Africology range of products that focus on destressing, anti-ageing care and cell renewal. If you’d prefer, wellness treatments can also be conducted in the privacy of your suite.
Meandering walkways through the bushveld link each suite to the main lodge, where a cosy library overlooking the waterhole is another quiet sanctuary to spend the hours between morning and afternoon game drives. Unlike many other safari destinations, guests are welcome to wander freely around the camp, safe in the knowledge that discreet electrified fencing keeps larger animals away from the main lodge and guest suites.
But out in the reserve there is no shortage of close encounters and, despite its modest size, the 7 500 hectares of Kichaka are home to a wide array of wildlife. Twice-daily game drives set out in the pre-dawn light and late-afternoon sunshine in search of the animals that call Kichaka home.
On the open plains it’s not unusual to see four of the Big Five on a single drive, with lion, elephant, rhino and buffalo all found on the reserve. Cheetah also stalk the open plains here, keen eyes fixed on the antelope that roam the grasslands. Game walks can be arranged for the energetic and adventurous, while twitchers should keep their binoculars handy for sightings of everything from pale chanting goshawks to booted eagles and snake-hunting secretary birds. On night drives the highly trained guides keep a keen eye out for the riveting nocturnal residents of Kichaka: the likes of the elusive aardvark, genet, bat-eared fox and shy aardwolf.
If you find yourself entranced by the bushveld at night, Kichaka also offers Cosmic Safaris that will introduce you to the wild wonders of the Milky Way. In perfect darkness the stars all but leap out of these unpolluted night skies and, with the aid of a high-powered telescope, Kichaka’s knowledgeable guides will take you on a safari across the skies, from how to find your way home using the Southern Cross to the tales behind Orion’s Belt.
After your evening game drive, dinner awaits back at the cosy lodge. The fires are lit and hurricane lanterns light the path to your table. Gourmet experiences are a true highlight of a visit to Kichaka, with each meal transformed into an occasion. Expect inventive South African cuisine, which could either be enjoyed in the stylish dining room or out on the deck under the stars, the double-hoot of a spotted eagle owl the soundtrack to savouring a delicious five-course dinner. The lodge’s impressive wine cellar stocks some of the finest wines produced in South Africa, including both iconic estates and boutique producers. There’s also plenty of Méthode Cap Classique sparkling wine on offer, and if you’re celebrating a special occasion – or planning to pop the question over a romantic meal for two – the ever-helpful lodge staff will be only too happy to prepare a candlelit dinner in the privacy of your suite. Each night is a new opportunity to create unforgettable memories of your time at Kichaka.
As you enjoy an after-dinner Cognac, wander down to the deck overlooking the waterhole. Down below, a pod of hippo chuckle heartily to themselves in the warm African evening, their deep bellows echoing across the hills. With the Southern Cross up above and pristine bushveld surrounding you, it’s not hard to feel that you’ve happened upon a particularly special corner of Africa.