The Epitome of South African Luxury:
Everything about the Jamala Madikwe—the cuisine, the design, the incredible setting—evokes luxury and elegance. Set amongst 75,000 hectares of pristine nature in the malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve, one of South Africa’s lesser-visited but exceptional conservation areas, means you’ll get all the wildlife to yourself.
With an abundance of animals—over 130 mammal and 300 bird species—as well as diverse landscapes filled with all kinds of vegetation, there are constant opportunities to spot the safari-goer’s ultimate ‘Big Five’: rhino, elephant, lion, leopard and Cape buffalo. Keep your eyes peeled for the ‘Super Seven’, which includes the cheetah and the endangered wild dog, something that the game reserve is known for.
At this ultra-exclusive lodge, there are just five secluded villas set apart from each other for privacy, each with their own overflowing outdoor mini-pool and views over the expansive lands. Decorated in a classic style of dark teak and mahogany contrasted with crisp white linens, the colonial style is elegant and chic.
The intimate scale of the lodge also means you’re guaranteed a personalized and genuine experience; our good friend, owner-operator Rodney Steyn, who, alongside GM and award-winning executive chef, Nico Verster, keeps the team and the resort running smoothly. “The best part about our setup is that we’re so invested in the guest experience: there’s always at least one of us on-site at the lodge.”
The experience here is luxurious and comfortable, but never formal or uptight; you can feel relaxed and at home without pretensions, no matter whether you’re at your villa or hanging out in the common areas, which include a brand new pool, a watchtower ideal for wildlife photography, on-site spa and gym—all in the midst of nature.
Chef Nico Verster has not only one, but two books out which highlight the contemporary African cuisine of the lodge. Custom menus change from day to day, but could include some favourites you might expect, like salmon, chicken or pasta, but also could include exotic eland or impala, depending on what’s available. While the food is fine dining, Rodney mentions that it’s hearty and satisfying South African cuisine—so those needing proper fuel throughout their day will have more than enough to satisfy their appetites.
A typical morning at Jamala Madikwe usually begins at the crack of dawn, but you may hear the animals long before then. Rodney mentions that just the other night, guests heard the roar of lions at 3 a.m. This being the middle of a game reserve, you may encounter the myriad calls of zebras, monkeys, or birds, depending on the day and the time of year. With no other sounds of motors or ‘city sounds’ around you, urban folk may find it serene and quiet, although, you will soon find your ear attuned to the sounds of nature.
Hop into a 4×4 for a sunrise game drive with the lodge’s exceptional rangers and guides. There’s nothing quite like the heightened excitement and anticipation as you head out into the bush: activating all your senses, the smells, sounds, and sights are like no other.
What will you see? It really depends on the day. It’s a bit of a reverse hunt, as rangers review reports from the previous day’s sightings and will use their knowledge of the bush, tracking prints and going on the prowl, as it were: but even if the animals elude you, you will still have a fantastic time being out, roaming the reserve and taking in the landscape and terrain. And, as I like to say, you are not in a zoo; this is untamed nature, and these are wild animals, so absolutely anything can happen. From the largest animals to even the small and ‘insignificant’ (let’s say, a dung beetle sighting, or tracking glow-in-the-dark scorpions at night), everything will inspire a sense of awe in you, especially if you are travelling with kids or teenagers.
Even when you return to the lodge, you never lose that connection to the land and to the animals, since the property is situated right in front of a major waterhole. “The animals will come up right to the edge of the lodge. There are no barriers. It’s an amazing feeling to see our guests’ reactions, especially when they realize how close they get to the animals and the range of emotions they go through. It’s such a rush [for them] when an animal approaches.”
And so, at any given moment, whether you’re taking in a leisurely ‘sofa safari’ at the deck, drink in hand; reading a book in the lounge, working out at the gym, or enjoying a ‘pool safari’ while doing laps in the new pool, keep your eyes peeled: anything can happen as you look out at the nature and wildlife that surrounds (and approaches!) you. Don’t miss sundowners on the deck (or perhaps a private wine tasting at sunset in the middle of the bush?) with an opportunity to soak in the vivid colours of the sunset, as a cloak of brilliant stars appear once nighttime approaches.
As we speak on the phone, I hear a brilliant profusion of birdsong burst through the line, and Rodney casually mentions that about forty or fifty weaver birds—three species in all—are beginning to build their nests right alongside the deck. And that’s precisely the charm of Jamala Madikwe: you’re truly in the middle of it all. (That could mean seeing sixteen giraffes and a herd of sixty playful elephants, as I saw on a recent visit).
After Your Visit
Your visit to Jamala Madikwe is easily combinable with other spots on the continent for the ultimate Africa trip. With its proximity to the closest airport in Johannesburg, travellers will be able to make flight connections to continue their journey home or further afield, such as to nearby Botswana and the Okavango Delta, or even Sabi Sands.