Category Archives: Weekend Escape

The Lucky Number

Chris Harvie finds a range of ‘fives’ at a lovely Kruger National Park Lodge

“Only the Makuleke people can show you this!” Sam Japane told us, proudly.

Sam is one of the Makuleke people himself and it was certainly a spectacular setting.  I was, at long last, gazing into the famed Lanner Gorge, one of the Kruger National Park’s most hidden and sought-after  sites stretching deep below, its orange cliffs towering above the winding, gurgling snake of brown and white rapids that was the Levuvhu River, as lovely as its name.

Sam, our garrulous guide, had already shown us some of the Ugly Five, most of the Small Five – we were missing only the elephant shrew – and a couple of enviable lifers on the birding front. My first broad-billed roller, for example, and Dickinson’s kestrel. Sam is an exceptional identifier of birds, able not only to imitate them, but also even to give their bird numbers.

“Woodland Kingfisher, breeding male, Roberts number 433 Halcyon Senegalensis.” No-one was arguing. “Mosque Swallow, 525.”

The spectacularly situated Outpost Lodge straddles a line of dassie-strewn and fig-wound rocks, high above the Levuvhu  in the so-called Makuleke Concession, in the northerly Pafuri region, wedged between the Limpopo river and its tributary, the Levuvhu. The area offers some of the most outstanding scenery in the Kruger and while it may not be easy to find the sought-after Big Five here (although they are present), all the other Fives, the area’s superb birding and its splendid isolation more than make up for that.

The Makuleke people were removed from this, their land, in 1969 only to have it returned to them in a ground-breaking agreement with the new government in the 1990s, whereupon a 30-year concession was granted to The Outpost. The Lodge was built and is staffed by the Makuleke and they are shareholders in perpetuity, thus owning and managing some of Kruger’s most iconic places and simultaneously keeping alive their own history in the area through frequently-spun tales of the meeting places of the chiefs and the traditions of the Tsonga people to whom the Makuleke belong.

Our game drives took us the length and breadth of the 28 000 hectare concession. The first evening, we meandered along the Levuvhu River, counting the crocodiles. Nyala, warthogs and elephants were scattered along the riverbanks, bathed in the evening’s golden light.

Over 350 species of bird have been identified here and as we stopped for a sundowner, under a baobab estimated at 1200 years old, we startled a flock of crested guinea fowl  sending them scurrying towards the river, their black fluffed heads bobbing up and down in the dry bush. The moon rose full, between the ancient tree’s mangled branches.

The following morning, a different spectrum of birds awaited – Brown-headed Parrot (363) and Senegal Coucal (390) and a range of Rollers – as Sam wove us in and out of the giant pan-stippled, yellow-green fever forest to Crook’s Corner where three countries meet and where our guide wove some lore of his own into a well-told African tale of the dawn-of-time agreement between The Creator, the hippos and the crocs, while the descendants of the latter two species watched us from a nearby pool. I don’t think The Creator could have been far away either. Certainly, looking down the spectacular Lanner Gorge that afternoon as the sun set behind the distant Soutpansberg, it was easy to imagine oneself in Eden.

Back at the Lodge and returning to our ‘space’, as they aptly call their rooms, to change for a dinner under the stars, we were startled, as we were each time we walked in, by the sheer audacity of the design. The structures are blandly unimpressive from the outside but open the door and then the electric blinds … and you walk straight into the view and become part of it. Mosquito-netted beds stand against the only permanent wall. On one side of the open deck, looking to the east, lies an open bathroom and shower while, off to the west stands a daybed and beyond it, only trees and shrubs. Way below, the Levuvhu River glows in the moonlight.

We slept every night with the blinds open and the wind rustled in the trees, between which our deck seemed suspended from the sky. There was nothing between our ‘space’ and space itself, until nearby birdsong drifted gently through our waking minds.

The Outpost is all about people – the Makuleke people and their guests whom they greet by name. Their welcoming smiles, their warm handshakes, their cheerful enthusiasm and their cooling facecloths after a dusty game drive amongst the Big, the Small and the Ugly Fives, will always be etched on my memory of this peaceful, lovely calming place.

Remember Sam’s words: Only the Makuleke people can show you this.

 

Basics

Where it is – In the Makuleke Concession, Northern Kruger National Park. It’s a long way from anywhere by car – six hours from Johannesburg – but don’t let that put you off. Make a road trip of it.

Why go there – For the (not guaranteed by any means) Big Five, the Small Five, the Ugly Five and not forgetting the- dare I say it? – High Five of a superb Makuleke welcome. And 350 species of birds.

What it has – Eleven Luxury Spaces (or rooms) and one Honeymoon Space. All en-suite (or en-space?) with showers and stone baths. Swimming pool. Library. Excellent coffee. A view into Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

What it is like – Floating above the bush in the tops of the trees, with the night calls of Africa to lull you to sleep, safe from all manner of birds and beasts lurking below.

Rates – SA Residents Only. R2575 per person sharing, R3350 single. Includes accommodation, three meals and two game drives a day, snacks, teas and coffees. Last minute booking rate also available.

Getting there – The Outpost is just over 10 kilometres from Kruger’s Pafuri Gate and 380 kilometres from Skukuza. Four kilometres from Pafuri, turn off to the south and travel 6.6km to the lodge.

Contact – Reservations 011 327 3920 Email reservations@theoutpost.co.za Websitewww.theoutpost.co.za . The Outpost is operated and marketed by Rare Earth Retreats.

My Fair Holiday

Chris Harvie moves into a mansion away from Plett’s seaside hordes

Opening the oversized front door, we step into a panelled, yellowwood-floored hall which seems to extend for ever through a sumptuous but unpretentious drawing room and then onwards again through Georgian-style sash windows and into the fynbos beyond.

So my one of travelling companions does the only thing one can really do when faced with such magnificence. He sits down at the grand piano and plays Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Not perfectly, but well enough to pay tribute to a glorious setting …

Staying at Fairview is like having your own country house, away from the seaside hordes but close enough to be on the beach at Nature’s Valley in 15 minutes or shopping in Plettenberg Bay in ten. The house is fully serviced and it is managed from day to day by the unobtrusive but ever-enthusiastic Willemijn Murray.

The drawing room is well-furnished but uncluttered, the walls decked with understated artworks and shelves lined with a remarkable collection of books. Bedrooms ripple with crisp white cotton and modern bathrooms are fully supplied with soaps and smells.

The house is set in 30 hectares of fynbos and looks westwards over the Keurbooms indigenous forest to the mountains beyond where, on the night of our arrival, the sun sinks languorously between two distant peaks as we wander around the lovely semi-formal garden, a large gin and tonic in hand. Near the house stands a small pond with trickling fountain and deeper in the fynbos and almost hidden from view we find a swimming pool. This would also be a wonderful place to bring children, safe as houses in the walled-off garden.

While Fairview would undoubtedly be a great place to do nothing but soak up the, let’s face it, very fair view, it is I think probably best suited to doing the exact opposite and to assembling a gang of mates with walking boots, fishing rods and mountain bikes and making the most of all that this unspoilt corner of the garden route offers without mingling with the masses.

As dawn streaks the sky orange the next day, we head down the winding pass to Nature’s Valley for a potter around the lagoon followed by an hour-long walk along one of the region’s most unspoilt beaches and then breakfast in the village shop.

By midday, we have made our way through Plett to the car park at the outset of one of our country’s most magnificent day walks, and headed right to the end of the Robberg Peninsula, with its dense flowers, long views and bobbing seals. It is not an easy walk but, on a sunny day, it’s an absolute must.

In the evening, shoes and socks off, we knock up a toothsome kudu salami salad in the kitchen-cum-dining-room-cum-parlour where a roaring fire in the grate means that everyone can snuggle down after supper, nibble on a delicious Emmentaler from Nature’s Way Farm Stall and sip on a Boplaas Port from the excellent Thyme and Again deli.

Plettenberg Bay has so much to offer the weekender apart from the obvious shopping. There’s a snake park, there’s Monkeyland and there’s Birds of Eden which, under a two-hectare dome, is the world’s largest free flight bird sanctuary. If you prefer your birds completely unfettered, Fairview is also right on the edge of the Tsitsikamma National Park and there’s any number of walks and Big Trees with great birding.

If you are really bonkers and up for even more superlatives, the world’s highest bridge-based bungy-jump is just up the road on the Bloukrans Bridge.

Plettenberg Bay is a prime tourism town and as such there’s a wide range of restaurants from which to choose. We lunch at the delightful Emily Moon and then enjoy a really good dinner at Simon Ash’s restaurant, The Fat Fish, where under pressure from the maître d’ we even try some of the local wines. Plettenberg Bay is a relatively new Wine Region and the LuKa Sauvignon Blanc is excellent with the Hake en Papillotte, steamed in a paper bag. Strongly recommended.

After a night out on the town, the ten minute drive back to Fairview fades into nothing. We pour ourselves another port, just to round off the evening as the moon rises over the silent fynbos. It is hard to imagine that the N2 is less than a kilometre away and that we are deep in tourism country. We soon fall for the allure of the rippling cotton-sheeted beds and our contented snores become our own Nachtmusik in our own baronial mansion.

BASICS 

Where it is: Just inside the Western Cape at The Crags, between the Tsitsikamma Forest and Plettenberg Bay.

Why go there: To fool yourself that you have your own mansion within minutes of the beach and to make the most of all that Plettenberg Bay has to offer without actually having to stay there.
What it has: In the main house, a master bedroom with en-suite bathroom and a family suite upstairs with two bedrooms and a shared bathroom. In the cottage there are three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

What it’s like: Classic, classy, cool, comfortable.

Rates: R800 per person per night in the main bedroom and R700 in the family room. R670 in the cottage. Off-season from R560. Exclusive use and self-catering options also available.

Getting there: Fairview is 10km from the Keurbooms River Bridge, heading from Plettenberg Bay towards Port Elizabeth. The entrance is before The Crags village and just past the entrance to Royston farm.

Contact: Fairview belongs to the Rattray family. For reservations, contactreservations@fugitivesdrift.com or call 034 642 1843. Website www.fairview.fugitivesdrift.com.

Emily’s at Emily Moon – open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and daily for dinner Tel 044 533 2982

The Fat Fish – open daily from 11.30am to 10.00pm Tel 044 533 4740

Nature’s Way Farm Stall – excellent cheeses and a small coffee shop menu available. 044 534 8849

Thyme and Again – on the N2 just east of Plettenberg Bay. 044 535 9432