You can’t run, but you can hide. Mhondoro Safari Lodge & Villa, Welgevonden Game Reserve.

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“Wanting to travel reflects a positive attitude. You want to see, to grow in experience, and presumably to become more whole as a human being – Ed Buryn

 

I asked General & Marketing Manager Ronel Breytenbach to describe this tunnel to me… “65m of steel, reinforced concrete and more bricks than in the entire lodge combined” was her response! The tunnel links the Mhondoro main building to the underground hide at the waterhole in front of the lodge. This walkway is lit by a series of automatic lighting that turns on in sections, giving guests an interesting walk that suddenly lights up just before you enter the darkness of the unlit areas.

FYI: When this tunnel was built, the instruction to the contractor was that it should be able to withstand the combined weight of a herd of elephants! I have it on good authority that 19 elephants have been seen by camp management standing on the roof at one time. Taking the average weight of an African elephant to be about 3000kg, then the load on the roof was in excess of 57000kg! Well done to the structural engineers for doing an awesome job.

 

The space is big enough for guests not to feel too cramped. If I was to nitpick, I suppose some comfortable chairs and a foot-rail for photographers would be beneficial. I spent hours in the hide and those additions would have been much appreciated. That being said, in its current incarnation it more than meets guest requirements.

 

The waterhole is about 10mx 10m, big enough for neither guests nor the animals to be threatened by the presence of each other. The constantly changing cloud formations, reflecting in the water, added another dimension to the experience of sitting so close to a variety of game species.

 

On my previous visit to this property in 2016, the hide had not yet ‘settled’ into the surroundings. Now it is hunkered down and the vegetation has taken root both above and in the areas surrounding it.

 

Great entertainment for guests, however, those who joined me were quiet and respectful on both myself and the wildlife. An educational way for visitors to enjoy a wildlife experience without leaving the lodge.

 

Lots and lots of warthogs of all shapes, sizes and sexes. Welgevonden Game Reserve, where Mhondoro is situated, seems to have a plethora of piglets currently. And, unlike many of the reserves that I visit, here they are very relaxed and tend not to run from vehicles or from those of us who were in the hide.

 

A heavily pregnant Zebra comes to slake her thirst. If I thought that there were lots of Warthogs, then I was even more surprised to discover herds (dazzles) of well-fed Zebra. There have recently been many new additions to the population here with the youngsters making themselves at the waters edge with the adults.

 

A rather interesting behaviour from this Red Hartebeest, that together with several others, walked straight by without stopping to drink. On doing some research it seems that these antelope can go without water for extended periods if there is sufficient grazing available.

 

The hide is open 24/7 and guests can easily access it at night without fear. What they have to do though is get one of the staff members to walk them from their accommodation to the main lodge building. Although the camp is fenced, elephants have been found along the pathways after dark. I have to say that the waterhole/hide takes on a totally different ambience at night. Walking down the tunnel and hearing these two rhino slurping water was an audio experience that I will remember for a long while. Perhaps it was just a perception but they seemed to loom larger in the darkness than they did during the day.

 

Have previously made a comment about how big they seemed at night, this one got really close to the side of the underground hide late one afternoon. Up close and very personal, their immense bulk can be appreciated and the interaction left me humbled.

 

Splish splash…a droplet gives scale to the size of the mouth of a White Rhino. The ‘White’ prefix was actually ‘wijd’ in Dutch, which the early British settlers could not pronounce, turning the word from ‘wide’ to ‘white’.

 

This particular specimen took a long hard look at me. The animals do know when there are people in the hide, but they do not seem to be too bothered. Notice how the hairs on the side of its face make it look like it has large tusks? This is part of young warthogs defence arsenal when running away might not be an option.

 

I laugh in the face of adversity. Zebra have an entertaining range of facial expressions that can convey everything from anger to pleasure and most ’emotions’ in between.

 

More often than not, this is the sight that greets guests when they arrive in the underground hide. It offers photographic opportunities as well as a place to have quiet time away from the lodge and all the distractions that it offers. Distractions like the salt-water pool, food and the Spa all of which are most welcome and highly recommended.

 

On the way out of the linking tunnel, you pass this wine cellar. Perhaps pick up a bottle(or two) to celebrate your sightings?

 

Big Sky country…usually a name reserved for the Karoo, but seems to be apt here as well. The waterhole is visible from the deck of the main building, but spending time in the underground hide was, for me, both cathartic and relaxing. A space to be enjoyed at length while at Mhondoro.

 

 

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