“A trip of a lifetime” is truly the best way to describe our time in South Africa. We ended our amazing journey at the ultra-luxurious Royal Malewane located in the Thornybush Reserve one the Western boarder of the Greater Kruger National Park. Royal Malewane is one of Conde Nast’s Top 20 Resorts in the World.
You can get there by flying a short 20 minutes by bush plane or drive from Sabi Sabi. I would definitely recommend the flight. However, it was fascinating to continue to see more of the South African countryside.
We arrived at Royal Malewane just in time for lunch. We were greeted by a gracious and very welcoming staff, including the Austin with fabulous cocktails and Robert, who would be our tracker on safari. After our tour of the main lodge, we were escorted to our villa.
We stayed in Villa Number Three, which is directly over the watering hole around which the Royal Malewane is built. Our beautiful villa had a very large bedroom with a living room and fireplace, and an equally large bath with an open shower and a freestanding tub. The centerpiece of the bedroom was the British Colonial four poster bed, beautifully draped with white netting.
This luxurious lodge feels like you are back in colonial Africa. Both rooms overlooked our wonderful deck that ran the length of the villa and included a covered pavilion with lounge chairs overlooking our private plunge pool. (For a full video tour of our villa and all of Royal Malewane you can visit my Instagram profile and look for the highlight tab that says “Royal Malewane”)
After getting settled in our beautiful villa, we walked along the boardwalk to the main lodge area for lunch overlooking the watering hole, which was filled with more than 200 Cape buffalo lounging and grazing. The main lodge is an open pavilion with a thatched roof, filled with exquisite antiques and designer fabrics. It features a series of beautifully designed and furnished pavilions, including the dining area, new Masyai Bar, gift shop, and library.
Royal Malewane is part of the Thornybush Reserve, a reserve created by a consortium of landowners which is also open to the Greater Kruger National Park. Animals roam freely through the property as they did at our previous lodge. The staff told us that the elephants like to drink from our plunge pool, but we didn’t see one during our stay. However, a monkey did visit our villa during lunch one day. He was quite interested in stealing our bread basket, but unfortunately for him we had already finished the freshly baked bread. Later, he tried coming into our villa! “No no monkey!”
After lunch, we unpacked and changed for teatime before the evening game drive. We met our ranger, Nik, and the very nice couple from St. Petersburg, Russia who would be sharing our truck for the safaris. I love the opportunity to meet people from around the world when we travel. It’s truly one of the most treasured parts!
As we started off on our first evening game drive at Royal Malewane, we encountered a large herd of over 200 Cape buffalo. The coordination between the rangers is incredible. In Thornybush Reserve, no more than two groups are allowed to observe the animals at one time. This helps make your experience quite special and intimate.
Nik heard on the radio that the Blackdam Pride had been spotted waking up from their nap, so we were the number two group for this event. The Blackdam Pride numbers a little more than 20 and has a new matriarch. I truly find it incredible how well they know the animals, their activities, and which lion runs the show! To my surprise, it’s the matriarch, not the male lion.
This night provided one of the most memorable moments of our entire trip. We watched the pride wake up and then Nik repositioned the truck down a path the lions often take. His timing was impeccable, and each member of this beautiful pride strolled right by us. The photo of the Giraffe Male looking up at me is something I will always remember! Being able to witness this up close and personal is absolutely breathtaking! That might be the moment that sealed the deal on South Africa having a piece of my heart forever. (This video is also on Royal Malewane highlight tab under my Instagram profile – you will definitely want to watch!)
This particular experience also generated many questions about whether we were afraid or felt safe. The answer, in short, is yes, we felt safe! It’s a little paradoxical to feel like you should be scared but to know that you’re safe. The rangers spend many years tracking animals and honing their skills before they ever guide a group on safari. There are 7 master trackers in the world, and 3 of them are at Royal Malewane. Our ranger, Nik, was named FGASA Safari Guide of the Year in 2012. He also helped to create one of the most prestigious ranger apprentice programs in South Africa at Royal Malewane. Nik and the others who complete this program spend two years living in a canvas tent in the Thornybush Reserve, learning about the animals, their habits, and patterns, etc.
We ended this gorgeous evening with a sighting of a White Rhino and the Safari tradition of sundowners in the bush. You know I love a sunset and this is such a great tradition.
Once we arrived back at the lodge, we sat down with Nik for a fun discussion of his experience as a ranger and all that we had seen that evening. We then changed for dinner. It was a bit cool, as it is was the beginning of fall in South Africa, so we enjoyed dinner fireside at the dining area of the main lodge. Fall is a perfect time to visit South Africa, as it is not crowded and the weather fantastic. We were two of only four guests there at the time.
The next morning started early again with hot tea before our morning game drive. This morning was very chilly and I was so thankful I had brought different pieces to layer. I actually wore a lot of the pieces I brought this morning, including both jackets! You can see everything I wore on the safari here and packing list suggestions here.
We enjoyed a beautiful sunrise over a watering hole as we watched several hippos bobbing in the water. Next we encountered a sounder of warthogs and a herd of impala.
Once again, we encountered the Blackdam pride. Nik heard on the radio that they were on the move, and once again put us in perfect position to see the entire pride emerging from the bush. One by one as they came out of the thicket, walked directly toward us and then turned to cross the road. One of the lions saw his reflection in the truck and walked straight up to the side and stood there for several minutes. He was about 18 inches below Scott, but only four inches away! (You can see this video as well on my Instagram highlights under Royal Malewane)
The terrain at Thornybush Reserve is quite different than that at Sabi Sabi and some other areas of Kruger and surrounding reserves. Many reserves burn to clear the land and provide wider open spaces. Thornybush does not practice this method of land clearing and it results in a very thick brush reserve. The hills covered in scrub and trees reminded me a lot of the Texas Hill Country where I grew up.
After a beautiful lunch overlooking the watering hole, Scott went on another bush walk with our ranger Nik and tracker Roger while I enjoyed the spa. The Royal Malewane Bush Spa was quite luxurious! Just down the boardwalk from our villa, the spa is a beautiful oasis surrounded by a 50-meter lap pool. The spa has beautiful treatment rooms and a workout facility. I indulged in the Age Smart Anti-aging Facial. My skin was truly glowing afterward. During my treatment, the aesthetician noticed that my nails had began to show a little wear after so much travel and sweetly painted them as I dozed! Now that is attention to detail and amazing service!
We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on our deck by the pool and watching the animals come and go from the watering hole. We again enjoyed the time with Nik and our friends from Saint Petersburg before leaving on the evening game drive.
Royal Malewane has a new lodge called the Farmstead. We were treated to a VIP tour of this property. The Farmstead consists of 3 one-room villas and a four-bedroom home that can all be rented independently or as one compound for a large group or family. Liz Biden, founder of the Royal Portfolio which also includes La Residence in Franschoek, where we stayed in the wine country, is a visionary hotelier and talented interior designer. I would love to bring our family back to the Farmstead.
Leaving the Farmstead we saw a beautiful group of giraffes. It is truly amazing to see them in the wild moving so gracefully and realizing how truly tall they are. The highlight of our evening game drive was an encounter with a herd of elephants, which tend to knock down trees as they reach into the branches. We had just passed a felled tree when we rounded a corner and surprised a female elephant. She trumpeted loudly and wildly flapped her ears. Knowing just what to do, Nik cut the engine and stood his ground.
After a few moments, he restarted and inched forward as she backed up and then moved aside. She then turned to run alongside us on my side of the truck! At this point I’m a little nervous! As we move forward, we realize there are 20 or more other elephants, including babies, to our left, which is probably why she was so upset. It was kind of my version of “Hey! Slow down!” when people drive fast down my street! This encounter is another great one to watch and was captured on my Instagram stories as well.
As we enjoyed our final sundowners in South Africa, we enjoyed a truly incredible sunset and great conversation with Nik, Roger, Alina, and Vladimir. When we returned to the lodge, we sat fireside with Nik and enjoyed his favorite version of gin and tonic while trading stories about South Africa and learning more about their politics and culture. Before dinner, we were given the pleasure of meeting Liz and Phil Biden, owners of the Royal Portfolio including Royal Malewane. Dinner this evening was a wonderful menu created by the Chef just for us.
Our last morning game drive yielded one of the sightings I had hoped for our entire trip, a leopard in a tree! We came upon a male leopard who had hoisted his kill about 30 feet into the branches. Such an amazing feat!
As we enjoyed our last meal overlooking the watering hole, several elephants appeared as if to say goodbye, just as they had at our last location. Such a fitting farewell.
I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing our adventures in South Africa with Natural World Safaris with you. You can see Three Days in Cape Town, Two Days in the Winelands and Two Day Safari at Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge by clicking those titles.
Your comments and feedback through email and on Instagram have been so much fun. It’s not lost on me that it’s because of you that I receive opportunities like this and then, in turn, share them with you. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your support of Alicia Wood Lifestyle.
Many of you have said that Africa had not been on your bucket list but now is. To that, I say move it to the top and reach out to Natural World Safaris. They truly knew how to put us in “the right place at the right time!” This was the trip of a lifetime and one we will not soon forget!
Here’s to more adventures in 2019!
Thank you to Natural World Safaris for hosting us in South Africa and to the Royal Malewane for hosting the perfect ending to our stay. All opinions are my own. Photos are mine from my iPhone X and my husband’s taken with a Cannon 3500 with 100-300 zoom lense.
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