With a dedicated staff, for only us - including personal butler, our own chef, game guide and tracker - Morukuru Family Madikwe is completely private. Owner’s House, for 1-4 guests, comprises two identical en-suite bedrooms, an indoor dining area, comfortable lounge with coffee table books, plus a library with a TV. This dwelling - with its stone clad walls - is set in a glade of Tamboti trees, next to the Marico River, the only river in the Madikwe Game Reserve. Birdsong tumbles down from this canopy of indigenous trees. I listen to African scops owls duetting, as confiding thrushes hop along the wooden deck. A splash alerts us to a monkey that did not quite make it when leaping from tree to tree across the water. Immersed in the wilderness, yet ultra-luxurious, this is a perfect malaria-free and secluded enclave for our Big Five safari.
Outside the homestead an elevated thatched gazebo sports a view down onto the river, where a crocodile may surreptitiously glide by. As well as a wide wooden deck with comfortable couches covered in yellow linen, areas to relax and unwind include a fire pit - ideal for a pre-dinner cocktail - and alongside the infinity swimming pool, beneath canvas umbrellas. Each sun-lounger has a folded gamcha, a yellow and grey Indian towel. Our stay is dotted with surprises, like where and how meal tables are set up and decorated in each of these spaces.
Nothing is too much trouble for the discreet and professional staff, who know our names and take note of our individual preferences, down to how rich we like our coffee roast. Each day we visit the well-stocked wine cellar, to deliberate on which wines to try. After each late morning brunch, our favorite soft drinks and wines are presented at the poolside, in a galvanized steel oval tub that is filled with ice.
As Owner’s House is for exclusive use only, there is no schedule, guests are free to be completely flexible. We rise if and when it pleases us. Head for the open-topped Land Rover when we are ready for game spotting. With suggestions from our skilled chef, we decide what would like to eat for the next meal and at what time. When she hears that we all fancy a freshly baked cake, a decorated carrot cake appears before our afternoon game drive. In total freedom, we spend time as a group of four, as couples, or on our own, in and around Owner’s House. It's a privilege to have this holiday to reconnect with one another and with nature, in safety, ensconced in high-end luxury.
Image: Gillian McLaren
To include groups with multi-generational family and friends, Morukuru Family Madikwe offers two other bush properties - Farm House and River House - which are near to Owner’s House. All three options are for exclusive use, with customized itineraries, to satisfy the interests of each guest, whatever their age or ability. Each house has several nooks, corners and recesses, for solitude or for activities together. This philosophy of freedom to choose, in a home-away-from-home, was pioneered by Morukuru Family and characterizes our experience in Madikwe.
When our friends set off for a sleep-out in Morukuru Family’s hide, deep in the wild on their own, my husband and I have the run of Owner’s House. After a romantic dinner, staff surprise us with a bubblebath set up in a secluded area under the stars. The pathway to this magical spot is lined with flickering storm lanterns. We find lit candles, linen bathrobes and a bottle of champagne on ice.
Setting out for our morning game drive, I hear tales of the thrill of isolation in the hide, with sounds of rumbling from an elephant herd, a white rhino having an enthusiastic bath in the waterhole and the calls of fiery-necked nightjar. A highlight for our friends was a sighting of the rare Serval cat.
Image: Gillian McLaren
In Madikwe Game Reserve there is a healthy population of elephants, so we are able to drive close to a breeding heard, to quietly watch behavior of these pachyderms. A small male calf mock charges us, with bold, squeaky trumpeting, probably perceiving us as a threat, or wanting to practice his newly acquired skills. His mother ignores his outburst, as she continues to strip the bark off a tree, with her agile trunk. An older elephant youngster kicks the iron oxide laden ground with his foot, then takes the red dust into his trunk to spray over his body. At another elephant sighting, we are overjoyed to observe a newborn calf, still covered in meconium, being protected by its mother and doting aunties.
In an age where poachers have driven the ecologists of most game parks to saw off the horns of their rhino, in an attempt to save their lives, it is a privilege to see white rhino with their horns fully intact. We have several rhino sightings. They are relaxed, allowing us to drive close to them. We see scratches on their back, soil on their horns, plus busy red-billed oxpeckers searching for ticks.
One evening game drive, our guide takes us to a known spotted hyena den site. Our luck is in, as two curious youngsters apprehensively approach our vehicle. Our guide informs us that their negative reputation is ill deserved, as hyenas are successful predators, not only scavengers. They have a fascinating matriarchal clan structure and make good mothers.
Away from big game, in a safe spot, we stop for the quintessential safari treat, sunset drinks and snacks. The light is a vivid orange colour, suffusing the sky and enveloping us in a warm glow. Our tracker shows me how to look for signs and spoor in the dust. We identify leopard tracks, blue wildebeest, jackal and Cape giraffe - the only subspecies found in South Africa. We learn the names of surrounding trees and spot a Brown snake eagle, one of over 350 bird species documented in Madikwe Game Reserve. A lilac-breasted roller watches us from its perch on a Leadwood tree.
Back at Morukuru, after each game drive, we are met by the manager and our butler, bearing cold hand towels and a welcome drink. Returning to our room after lively discussions at the dinner table and our final swim of the day, we languish in the outside shower, open to dappled light from the moon.
Text: Gillian McLaren (@Jetset_Gillian)
Images: Morukuru Family Madikwe and Gillian Mclaren
For more features by Gillian McLaren, see: www.gillianmclaren.blogspot.com
Federal Airlines has shuttle flights from their private air terminal, near to Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, to two landing strips Madikwe Game Reserve. To Madikwe East Airstrip we were turbopropped in a luxurious Pilatus PC-12. Back to Johannesburg we experienced a comfortable flight in a Cessna Grand Caravan 208B. Covid protocols are observed in the private terminal lounge, as well as on the flights. The lounge has an indoor and outdoor area, where drinks and snacks are served as we wait. It is a simple, comfortable space, right next to their runway.
Self Drive from Johannesburg is a pleasant 3,5 hour road trip.
As part of a broader safari journey, consider extending your adventure to explore the iconic Kruger National Park, renowned for its diverse wildlife and captivating landscapes. Then, immerse yourself in the vibrant cultural tapestry of Cape Town, where stunning coastal vistas meet rich history and contemporary art scenes. Adding the magic of Kruger & Cape Town to your itinerary ensures a truly comprehensive South African experience, where each destination enhances the tapestry of your unforgettable African escapade.