Butlers and backgammon in the bushveld

Chris Harvie lives the high life in the Waterberg and thinks it surprisingly good value.

A glinting, slightly wicked smile greets me as I enter my six-bedroom mansion, set in rolling lawns and surrounded by thousands of hectares of game-teeming bush.

“The man who makes me doesn’t want me, the man who buys me doesn’t use me and the man who uses me doesn’t know he’s using me. What am I?” asks Thomas, my personal butler.

I have just returned from an afternoon game drive with my personal ranger, and my personal chef is preparing my three-course dinner just the way I like it.

“Thomas, I have a huge thirst,” say I. “Please pour me a glass of your finest shiraz to lubricate the thought processes and I shall turn my attentions to your riddle forthwith.”

We had sat on a cliff-top, eating droewors and overlooking the Palala River. Steve, our ranger, had shown us a fireproof plant called a baboon’s tail in which he claimed the Bushmen used to keep their burning coals to spare them the immeasurable effort involved in kindling a new flame at the end of a long day’s hunter-gathering. A sort-of Bushman’s travelling butler, I supposed.

We had seen zebra, kudu, eland, giraffe, impala, scrub hares and Jamesons rock rabbit and spotted a number of lifer birds, including a rufous-naped lark so close I could have touched him, and a chin-spot batis in a nest the size of an eggcup, just outside the front door. We had seen enough steppe buzzards to build a ladder.

We had all this to ourselves. A group of friends away for the weekend, with not a responsibility in the world. Even better, all the children were well-entertained elsewhere so they didn’t interfere with our sundowners and we could make as much noise as we liked. They were even taken, with the lodge’s dogs, on private game drives to suit their tiny attention spans and were fed separate meals, by Thomas’s colleague Caroline, to suit their endless appetite for chicken nuggets. They would also be going bug-tracking later on.

That’s what Jembisa is all about. It’s your own mansion, in your own game reserve, with a personal staff dedicated only to your well-being and that of up to 13 of your closest friends, without any of the worries of training the staff, managing them or paying the bond in the credit crunch. Or dealing with other obnoxious clients not known to you in advance.

They’ve got it just right. There are about 27 different places where Thomas and his cohorts can set up breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner so you never know where you are going to be. All you need to ensure is that you are dressed at the right time, and that’s not difficult. If you leave your clothes in a messy heap on the bathroom floor, an invisible personal housekeeper whisks them away and brings them back, freshly laundered and ironed, a few hours later.

In the mornings, the best wake- up call in the world, the smell of bacon, wafts up to the bedrooms. A long soak in the bath allows you plenty of time to mull over whether breakfast might be under the giant shade trees in the garden or on the deck overlooking the Palala River gorge. And how to pass the day, a walk with one’s personal ranger maybe, or horse-riding (or even elephant-riding) on a nearby reserve. Or simply lolling on the verandah with a book and counting the number of times someone offers you a drink.

Luncheon is served. Thomas looks so disappointed when I turn down a glass of white wine that I succumb in case he starts on his riddles again. Tea and world-class carrot cake will follow in an hour and a half, so I take a short wander around the garden to shake down lunch and I nod to my smiling team of personal gardeners as I go.

Jembisa abounds with stuff to do. There’s a swimming pool on a ridge, backgammon on the stoep, numerous toys for short people, a tennis court with floodlighting, table-tennis for batty people, solitaire and DStv for sad people, a library for clever people, croquet for cucumber-sandwich people and, for the very determined carrot- cake addict, a herd of mountain bikes to ride. And then, if every limb aches after a rough-and-tumble game of backgammon, there’s a masseuse to ease away the pain.

So, Thomas, after three days of relaxing, I have now worked out the answer to your riddle. It’s a coffin.

Now, Thomas, I gather that dinner will be served on the flat rocks down in the riverbed. Please may I have another glass of your nourishing shiraz to tide me over until then.

Thank you. That’ll be all for now. Maybe you will bring me a large brandy later, when I return from the star-gazing, aardvark-spotting after-dinner game drive.