The first trip of 2020. A visit to the Karongwe Portfolio properties.

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“You cannot leave Africa,” Africa said, “It is always with you, there inside your head. Our rivers run in currents in the swirl of your thumbprints; Our drumbeats counting out your pulse; Our coastline, the silhouette of your soul”. – Bridge Dore.

The first trip that Travel & Things undertook in January 2020 was to three properties in the Karongwe Portfolio that are situated on the R36 on the way to Tzaneen in Limpopo Province. I spent one night at each of the following camps, River Lodge, Kuname Lodge and Becks Safari Lodge. Each camp is individually styled and has its own unique charm and attention to detail. My overriding impression was one of passion and commitment to excellence by all the staff and management that I dealt with during my stay.

Note to readers: This posting is a brief overview of my experiences during my time at the lodges. Each lodge will be dealt with in in-depth separate postings to be published shortly.

 

Sunrise over the African plain? Of course! And especially when spending time in the bush. The proverbial knock on the door at 05h00 signals the start of another day in paradise. One of expectation and eager excitement. What will the game drive produce…if you can force yourself out from between the comfortable linen on the HUGE bed.

I often feel that I need a holiday after a bush break. One where I don’t have to get up BEFORE the crack of dawn, but I know that the bush is my happy place and so I ‘endure’ the early morning wake-up calls.

 

River Lodge, where my journey began. The public spaces and certain of the rooms face the Makhutsi River, which was still awaiting the rains while I was at the camp. From the outside, the wooden chalets give no inkling as to what arriving guests can expect. This space, that encompassed a larger than King-sized bed, a seating area and a full bathroom with both a bath and a shower space that had 2 shower heads, as well as a separate toilet, was bigger than my first apartment when I arrived in Johannesburg back in 1975.

 

I learned a new fact from Field Guide Matthews while I was at River Lodge…zebra tend to only drink in the morning and again in the late afternoon. In between, they spend their time grazing. This trio of zebra seemed to be out to prove that point as we found them at a waterhole at 05h54, about 30 minutes into our morning game drive.

 

We saw these cubs on three separate occasions, during game drives from each of the camps! There are 7 cubs from two mothers. Three from one and four from the other, one litter being slightly older. This was our first encounter with them and they were very relaxed around the vehicle and tended to ignore our presence.

 

The guiding team that I enjoyed game drives with while at River Lodge. Mathews (guide) and Martin( tracker) were inventive when it came to the decoration of the “table” for the sundowner drinks stop. Some fresh vegetation from nearby bushes made this stop unique and memorable.

 

A crescent moon, seen during the evening drinks stop. This image looks like it could serve as the background for a motivational quotation…Hallmark, are you reading this?

 

Time to move camps. Luckily, Kuname Lodge is only 7km away from River Lodge. 4.4km from exit to entrance gates and 2.8km from the Kuname gate to the lodge (not 32km as the guard at the gate told me). The accommodation at the camp has recently been upgraded, but it seems to have maintained the innate charm of the space. My room had a verandah that overlooked the currently dry Kuvenyami River bed…but once the rains come and the river flows again, the view will be one that guests will be hard-pressed to leave. My room had a sunken outdoor bath as well as the ubiquitous outdoor shower. Both of which share a similar view to that experienced from the verandah. An indoor shower, double basins and a toilet complete the ablution facilities. The bed was comfortable and the AC was working overtime in the hot highveld weather.

 

Reckson, a tracker of few words while at Kuname Lodge. Like most trackers that I have interacted with at numerous camps in many reserves, he went about his business with an intensity and a single-mindedness that kept him focussed on the job of finding the elusive dangerous game species.

 

Oh yes, we did find species that had teeth and claws, but there were also smaller animals which often get overlooked in the quest for the bucket-list Big 5. Like this Dwarf Mongoose, whose inquisitiveness got the better of him and he could barely stop himself from coming to inspect our vehicle.

 

A 3 for 1 special? A young male impala, the rather ‘ugly’ wildebeest and the rear of a zebra in the distance. These three species can be regularly found together as they share a symbiotic relationship when it comes to feeding and looking out for predators.

 

Issuing a warning about the upcoming rutting season or just a lazy yawn? This male impala seemed to be preparing himself for both…or neither…we did not stay around long enough to find out.

 

Becks Safari Lodge…the jewel in the Karongwe Portfolio properties also faces the Makhutsi River. Built 4 years ago, it is the most recently completed of the properties that I stayed in during my sojourn in the reserve. It is only a few km’s from River camp and unlike River Camp and Kuname, which were both bought and have been renovated over the years, this was built from the ground up. The accommodation is canvas fastened to an aluminium frame, although guests will be hard-pressed to notice that fact as these are not ‘tents’ but spacious accommodation with all the amenities. A huge bedroom, lounge, a work area that all lead out onto a verandah that stretches the length of the room. The bathroom had an indoor bath, double basin and toilet. And although the shower is technically indoors, by opening an exterior door, it allows guests to “bring-the-outside-in”.

 

My final game drive…and WHAT a drive it turned out to be. We first found this cheetah female and we were allowed to track her on foot. This was an experience like no other I have had before. But, let me be clear, this is not a “walking with” type of animal interaction. This is standing respectfully in the presence of a free-roaming wild animal that allowed us the privilege of being within a few meters of her while she went about her business and basically ignoring us.

 

No sooner had we left the cheetah sighting than we found this magnificent lion(once again). We had found him on two previous occasions together with his pride. He is the father of all 7 of the cubs that we saw and luckily he has no competition as there are no other males on the property.

 

Could the final game drive get ANY better? YES, IT COULD! Our final sighting for the drive. This young female leopard ensconced in a tree. It had taken some time and effort on the part of our guide and tracker to get us to this spectacular sighting, but it was well worth ducking under thorny branches and some very professional driving to get to spend time with her.

 

Bethuel…a happy Becks Safari Lodge guide…having delivered three predator species in the space of a single 3-hour drive. Well done and a very big thank you.

 

What is a safari without an African sunset? So, to end off this overview, one of the exquisite sunsets that I enjoyed while out on a game drive.

With thanks to all the staff at the camps for making the stay a memorable one.

 

To find out more about Karongwe Portfolio and what they offer, click on the logo above.

 

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