It’s been a wild time in the South African bush these past few months.
While we’ve all been staying at home, dreaming about exotic adventures, game reserves and lodges have used this enforced time-out wisely: to renovate, upgrade, spruce up and dust off the welcome mat to greet their first post-pandemic visitors.
In conjunction with this, staff across the board have undergone extensive and strict training in COVID-19 protocols to ensure guests can book with absolute certainty about their health and safety.
And to put that to the test, Angela, from our Rothschild Safaris South Africa office, recently spent a glorious weekend at one of our most popular retreats: Jaci’s Safari Lodge in the Madikwe Reserve.
The Madikwe Game Reserve is a hidden gem. Despite being the fifth-largest game reserve in South Africa, it remains one of the lesser-known and publicized parks.
No day visitors are permitted on the game reserve, so no matter when you visit, you are assured of little traffic and no crowds as every fellow traveler is a guest staying on the reserve. This makes for a unique safari experience, helping to feel like you’re commanding views of your own private bush domain.
Named after the Madikwe or Marico River, the malaria-free game reserve is about 56 miles north of the town of Zeerust, against the Botswana border and close to the Kalahari Desert.
The park offers vast open plains of grasslands, woodlands, rocky outcrops and single mountains, bordered by the Dwarsberg Mountains in the south.
The Big 5 – rhinos, lions, Cape buffalo, elephant and leopard – roam freely in the 263 sq mile park that is considered one of the best conservation areas in Africa.
They are among the 66 large mammals and 300 bird species calling Madikwe home.
The game reserve is a particular favorite among families with small children and, being in a malaria-free zone, no malaria tablets are necessary.
A number of luxurious lodges and community lodge accommodation is available but Jaci’s Safari Lodge is a winner for its distinctly authentic African feel, plus its rich, vibrant colors and textures.
We love the eight luxuriously appointed tent suites – each with its own large mosaic bath, outdoor shower, under-floor heating, air-conditioning and private deck to drink in the sweeping views.
As added bonuses, guests are able to spend time at the Tlou Deck overlooking the waterhole and in the Terrapin Hide – a discreet underground hideaway to get close to the wildlife coming to drink from the waterhole.
The family suites, Nare and Safari, have their own private plunge pools and include their own guides and game-drive vehicles.
Angela, who stayed in the six-sleeper Nare Suite, wanted to put everyone’s mind at ease that all protocols are in place and being followed so guests can enjoy a worry-free safari.
The lodge has mastered the protocols with minimalistic contact between staff and guests.
Hand sanitizers have been posted outside each suite and all high-touch areas are deep-cleaned and sanitized prior to guests’ arrival.
Masks or buffs are worn by all staff and guests (if guests wish), and social distancing is adhered to.
The game-viewing vehicle is wiped down with sanitizer prior to guests going on each game drive and all hands are sanitized prior to climbing into the vehicle.
Not only does the protocol ensure that all staff have their temperatures and symptoms checked twice a day, but each morning and evening guests’ temperatures are taken and health reviewed to ensure no symptoms have appeared for peace of mind.
The lodges have taken a minimalist approach to staff while ensuring all guest comfort and cleaning regimens remain top priorities.
But the safari experience was the real highlight of Angela’s weekend.
“We were four guests and each had a ‘window’ seat on our open safari game-viewing vehicle,” she reported.
“The game viewing is phenomenal and having fewer other game vehicles in the reserve at the moment is like being in your own personal game reserve.”
Her weekend sightings included the thrill of arriving on the scene only minutes after three lionesses had taken down “a kill,” plus four lionesses at the waterhole near the game reserve’s Terrapin Hide and Tlou Deck, as well as a male lion slightly off the road on the way back to the lodge.
High concentrations of elephants and giraffe could be seen from the suite and on the game drives, along with plenty of rhinos.
Other creatures great and small encountered on the safaris included a rare sighting of the African Green Pigeon, plains game (kudu, impala, waterbuck and warthog) and the smaller critters such as ground squirrels and slender mongoose.
And seeing a genet and African civet while kicking back at the suite brings home just how special this country truly is.
Jaci’s Lodges provide guests with a wide range of activities to make the most of their safari experience.
Besides game drives, guests can enjoy walking safaris including river strolls, birding, participate in conservation work projects and indulge their photographic passions.
Then there’s the gym and the Masala Spa menu offering various ways to wind down, relax and rejuvenate after a big day on safari and the ever-popular Games Rooms featuring table tennis, foosball and a selection of board games to entertain the children and the young at heart.
And to complete the Madikwe Game Reserve experience and make the most of the stunningly clear skies, why not book the Jaci’s Star Bed: a four-poster bed perched on top of a hide, where guests can enjoy a night in the exhilarating wild with the Milky Way as their canopy.
“Everyone at Jaci’s Safari Lodge were super-eager to receive us and made the whole experience unforgettable,” Angela said.
With the South African Government opening up game drives and intra-provisional travel, Jaci’s Tree Lodge and the two Nare and Safari Suites have reopened and are operating as business as usual with all the COVID-19 protocols in place.
Rothschild Safaris will continue to ensure our Travel Designers and key staff members take advantage of these uncertain times to review our recommended properties to ensure they meet our stringent standards of high-quality service and experience for our clients.
But one thing never changes: the unique African wildlife will always be waiting to welcome you – again and again.