From the moment you are met by your Makanyane Safari Lodge guide at Madikwe airstrip, you are engulfed into a world like no other.
This was our first safari visit to South Africa and wow it was incredible. Jacque meet us at the airport. He told us that the five day safari we were about to begin would blow our minds. He wasn't wrong! He drove us the 30 minute trip to Makanyane Safari Lodge in the back of a Land Rover which gave us our first taste of what was to come. Madikwe airstrip is just over an hour's flight on a small 12 seater from Johannesburg.
Once you arrive at Makanyane, you begin to realise how special this place really is. We stayed in the "Obama Suite" (Villa 6 - unofficially named due to some people who stayed there a few years back). It is very cool! The villa is beautifully appointed and we loved the view. Glass windows surround you 180 degrees with a view out to the passing river just metres away.
We couldn't believe it but on the second day, an elephant was bathing in the river and then walked up right past our villa (see image below) just like it’s shown on their website (which we remembered thinking was probably unlikely to happen).
But wait, there's more! On the second last day we had two Hippos walk down the embankment into the river right in front of our room it was truly incredible especially when Dylan told us earlier in the week that hippos hadn't been seen for two weeks.
The food and service was great. We loved that on a couple of nights there was outdoor dinner by the river with fire place to keep us warm. When the sun was up, it was warm, but as soon as it went down, it was freezing. We were there in June - which is winter there.
All the staff were great but I have to make special mention of Lynette and Alfi. Lynette is great. Always there to welcome you back from the dawn and dusk drives and she got as excited as we did listening to our our stories from each day’s drive. Alfi was the perfect host - very attentive and always remembered our names.
And then there's Dylan! Wow where do I start with Dylan! He is Makinyane's biggest asset. An amazing person, guide and now friend. Basically, Dylan made our safari! He went out of his way to make us feel welcome, to show us everything including what we now call the "Dylan 11".
We were hoping to see "The Big 5" (elephant, buffalo, rhino, lion & leopard) and within the first dusk drive upon our arrival, we had nailed three of them (lion & lionesses with warthog kill, rare white rhino and elephants). But Dylan wasn't happy until we saw "The Super 7" (The Big 5 plus cheetah and rare wild dog).
On our first afternoon at the lodge, we were teamed up with two other couples who became our "team" who we did each day's drives with. Gorgeous newlyweds from the UK. We all became good friends over the course of the days we were together.
There is a dawn safari drive and a dusk safari drive. The dawn one starts off cold. We had thermals on, then jeans and t-shirts, shirts, jumpers, thick coat, scarf and beany. Then once we got in the open top 4WD, we were given parkas, blankets to go over our knees and hot water bottles! I am not kidding with all of this. We needed it. But only for the first hour. As soon as the sun was up, we would slowly start to peel everything off. To the point where by the time we got back to the lodge at around 9.30am, we had t-shirts and pants on.
Once you get back from the dawn drive, there is a full breakfast laid on for you. Then the rest of the day is yours to do whatever you wish until high tea in the afternoon at around 3.30pm and then you head out for the dusk safari. You can even take on a massage in a little hut in the middle of the lodges. The other end of the day is the reverse os the start when it comes to clothing. Starting out with t-shirt, shirt and pants on and slowly increasing the layers as the sun disappeared over the Madikwe Reserve horizon. Driving along in open top 4WD's can get quite cold with the wind chill factor.
Within a few days drives we had spotted and photographed lion, cheetah, elephant, rhino, giraffe, hippo, rare wild dog, baboon, crocodile, hyena, impala, monkey, warthog, wildebeest, zebra and ostrich. Everything apart from the elusive leopard, which had been heard but not spotted for a week or so.
Dylan asked us one day whether we'd all like to do something different than the usual dawn and dusk drives. We jumped at the opportunity and he took us for a day drive instead, which meant we could travel further from the lodge. We ended up at Elephant Dam, where we encountered at least 100 elephants playing in the muddy waters, with one lonely giraffe waiting on the sidelines for them to finish so he could go for a drink. It’s all about hierarchy in the wild.
Then, literally on our last morning as we dropped the final newlyweds to the airstrip, Dylan too Paul & I on our final drive. With three hours until we were also dropped at the airstrip, there was a spotting. Dylan found the leopard! We parked next to a tree and it slowly walked towards us from the bushes and effortlessly jumped straight up the tree and climbed out over the branches resting high above ready to spot any predator or possible food.
This was the money shot of the holiday. A leopard eyeballing me as I took photos of it from about 3 metres away - under it - where it could have easily jumped into the open top car and had breakfast - had 3 breakfasts actually - me, Paul and Dylan. This is how safe we felt with Dylan the entire trip. He was always in control and knew what was safe and what was not.
This moment - was a moment in time. You can see the eye ball moment below.
Then to cap it off we spotted two lions with a zebra sleeping next to one of them (see image below). We couldn't have asked or planned for a better exit!
FACT #1: Did you know giraffe's are loners? They don't pair up and travel together in packs or even as couples.
FACT #2: Did you know elephants only have 26 teeth - for their entire life! The incisors, known as the tusks, 12 deciduous premolars, and 12 molars. Unlike most mammals, which grow baby teeth and then replace them with a single permanent set of adult teeth, elephants are polyphyodonts that have cycles of tooth rotation throughout their lives. As their teeth wear out, they grow new ones, so they really only have 6 sets of 4 teeth (plus tusks). This is why elephants rarely die of old age - they usually die of starvation - when their last set of teeth wear out. Sad.
We experienced so many adventures with Dylan from sipping G&T's at dusk one moment, to suddenly hearing him yell "get in the car", with us all jumping in the car leaving our beautifully set up drinks table behind and speeding off into the distance to get glimpses of the rare wild dogs that had come down from the mountain to silently feed. The most exhilarating drive - ever. We ended up covered head to toe in red dust, with one smashed sideview mirror - but we saw the dogs. Absolutely worth it.
Madikwe Game Reserve is for "lookers" only. There is no hunting allowed. Therefore, the animals are all quite cool with vehicles moving around them. They don't run off. They don’t pounce. If you stay seated in the open Land Rover and don't get out of the vehicle (why would you?), then they will not be fussed. Get out of the vehicle - and you're probably lunch!
You can even stay out overnight in "the lookout" which is perched high above the ground complete with bed, doonas and mosquito nets to watch the nightlife of the Madikwe Game Reserve wander by. Check it out below.
The five days we spent at Makanyane Safari Lodge were some of the best days we've had on this earth and we've had some pretty good ones. When you go to South Africa to do a safari, there is only one place to stay.