Boarding the Cessna Caravan light aircraft, I sense a quickening of my heart as I prepare myself for the flight to Marataba Trails Lodge.
The bush and safari are only a few hours away and I am always like a five-year-old at Christmas before these adventures. It's been two years since I've been to the African bush and withdrawals have definitely set in. I'm bound for the Limpopo province of South Africa, which is a first for me, and a stay at the lodge in the Waterberg ranges, some four hours from Johannesburg.
Marataba is a malaria-free eco-property set high up on a mountain slope in a 23,000-hectare private concession in the Marakele National Park. It's unbelievably peaceful and jaw-droppingly beautiful, accommodating only eight guests at a time. Marataba is remote and private in a Waterberg wilderness world all of its own.
As we make our approach and I spy our lodgings high up in the mountains, my inner child is bursting with excitement and I can't wait to put on my boots and go on my first ever game-hike.
The biggest challenge for me is when we are told that we must remain silent for the two-hour duration of the walk. This will be a big test for me, but as our ranger Andre explains, we will be at one with nature and fair game to be eaten, so we need to try and remain as unobtrusive as possible.
“Walk in single file,” he tells our group and “watch me.” I am watching him…and his big rifle very intently and hoping there is no need for him to use it.
Walking in the bush as opposed to driving is a very different experience. You become part of nature and the environment and there's a sense of peace and calm and amazingly I am managing to keep quiet.
We walk for a good 10 minutes, stopping here and there for Andre to tell us about a bird or a plant. I have fallen in love with the colourful lilac crested roller that he explains is the drag queen of the bush. Ostentatiously beautiful, but when it opens its beak the noise is a deafening screech!
Then Andre's right arm goes up and he is pointing at something. We all look round to see a huge mummy rhino and her baby. They are approx 40 metres away and incredibly well camouflaged. He tells us to follow him further into the bush to get closer and as we tiptoe behind, the mother smells us and snorts very aggressively.
We are now only 20 metres away and I can see that mamma rhino is definitely not comfortable with the Australians gatecrashing her nursery.
Andre whispers to me that she can smell us but can't see or hear us and that she needs double confirmation (meaning two senses simultaneously) before she will do anything. Just then, she turns her head and stares straight at us. Oh oh - that's double confirmation. It is all I can do to stop myself tearing off in the opposite direction but Andre, who remains in total control, calmly escorts us away.
I’m relieved to get some distance between us as I don't fancy one of those horns (rare and valuable as they are) in my rear end! The adrenaline is pumping but I know we are safe – a great experience and one I could never have in a vehicle.
My stay at Marataba is magical and while I love game drives, the walking safari elevates the bush experience to a whole new level.
Author's footnote: For those of you who have been following my safari adventures over the years – no, I didn't see a leopard! Everything else in abundance, though. Bitter sweet...sad I didn't get to see him but happy to have another reason to return.
MICHELIN STAR MARATABA
Going on a hike is a great way of minimising the overindulgence as the hospitality at Marataba is worthy of a Michelin star. Every evening our chef comes out and introduces his food to us. We are very pleased to make its acquaintance!
Springbok crackers and biltong to go with pre-dinner sundowners followed by steaks, stews and tagines so full of flavour you can’t resist a second helping, while attempting to leave enough room for the exquisite desserts.
Marataba is a place that remains on your waistline for a little while after you leave but forever in your heart long after you leave.
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