The four ultra-luxurious tented villas and family villa at Noka Camp, in the Waterberg, are situated on the edge of a thirty meter cliff. Sensational views extend down to the Lephalala River, across the wooded grasslands of the Waterberg, to the eastern the horizon beyond. Standing on the transparent deck of my villa, I see sunlight glinting on the serpentine river below. Above me is a semi-circle of rainbow with each color distinguishable. A dramatic electrical thunderstorm has passed through, so the air is clean and fresh, with a fragrance of earth and wild herbs.
As the front of the villas are floor to ceiling glass, the beauty of the bush is visible from every
vantage point. With a panel of glass open to the elements, I revel in the sunken bath, as I liberally sprinkle bath salts. These glass walls can be opened or closed at the flick of a switch on a control panel, or from an iPad that is provided. Shades and blinds can also be commanded to rise or fall.
Surely one of the most spacious villas in South African lodges, the open plan design includes a stylish lounge with coffee table and tea station; sunken bedroom space; bathroom area with an unforgettable loo-with-a view! Local designer Sarah Ord was inspired by the verdant flora in summer, then transitioning to autumnal colors. She has included hues of burned sienna, pinks and even purple in the palette of the accent pieces in her decor. Attention to detail is impressive, with leather covered guide books on mammals, reptiles, insects and trees; jars of home baked cookies; a bar fridge stocked to my requirements before I arrive. I find a pair of Swarovski binoculars for my use and a straw basket that is handy on the game drives to hold my camera, jacket and sundries. As I often find toweling robes too hot for me, I am pleased to find a choice that includes a light, pure cotton dressing gown. Pre-planning by Noka Camp means that I was able to select my preferred foam pillows from their list.
Another memorable feature is the heated infinity pool, built into the platform of the villa. I watch a rainbow skink and a water monitor basking on the rocks, Lesser masked weaver building their nests and giraffe browsing on the other side of the river. The open air day bed is an indulgent spot to languish in the sunshine. My butler delivers a bottle of Pierneef La Motte Sauvignon Blanc (2019) in an ice bucket, with an elegant thin-rimmed stemware. Duel indoor showers have underfloor heating, and a private outdoor shower has bio-degradable amenities available, to freshen up after a swim. To experience sleeping under the stars, the day bed can be made up under a mosquito net. Each night - with the characteristic magic of this exceptional place - home-made candies under a mini bell jar appear next to my bed.
The communal area of Noka Camp includes an indoor dining room with glass walls, a verandah for al fresco dining, a bar lounge with adjacent wine cellar, plus a shop with curated curios, clothes and a library. Meals are all delectable, as Chef Thapelo conjures up African-Asian dishes from scratch, using fresh ingredients. For sundowners on my game drive, canapés include tempura prawns.
The Land Cruiser game vehicles have particularly comfortable seats, with a console in between , so a maximum of six guests per game drive. In the 50 000 hectares of bushveld, Lapalala Wilderness has over 60 species of mammals, and more than 300 bird species. As well as the famed Big Five - the most dangerous animals to hunters of yore - we find two male cheetahs, a variety of antelope, plains game and a family of rock hyrax. A highlight for me is spotting a flap-necked chameleon steadily crossing the dust road. My game guide, Sinhle is a fountain of information and sensitive to my individual interests, so he stops to teach me about some of the Waterberg’s endemic trees.
Other activities to lure me to Noka Camp are boating, fishing, frogging, astronomy, and an informative ecology lecture about the biome and its history. One can walk to see ancient rock art by the San people, with one site right below the camp. I am privileged to meet Kate, part of the owning family of Lepogo Lodges. Noka Camp is the fulfillment of a dream to create a conservation legacy. One of the first lodges to be non for profit - an impressive 100% of the profits from Lepogo Lodges are ploughed back into Lapalala conservation projects. Noka Camp is also the first in South Africa to completely off grid and carbon neutral. The utmost care was taken when designing Noka Camp, ensuring that the villa’s stilts impacted minimally on the environment. During construction, flora found under the villas was moved and placed into balcony planters. I treasure my gold-colored metallic bottle, that I fill with sweet water sourced from the nearby springs. The walkway from my villa to the social areas has a series of solar panels that light up in front of me as I walk at night, making me feel like a film star. I’m accompanied by a guard, as the camp is unfenced.
After our challenging 2020, I am aching to travel, yet need to feel safe. Noka Camp fits the bill as it is small, immaculately cared for, adheres to sensible protocols and yet it is a cornucopia of surprises and treats. The environment and the view are inspirational. This is an African experience par excellence.
• One hour flight to Lapalala’s airstrip on a charter flight
• One hour helicopter flight directly to Noka Camp
• A leisurely three and a half hour drive from Johannesburg
• The Waterberg is malaria free
• Children under 10 are not permitted unless the whole camp is reserved
• This area of Limpopo Provence is cooler than in many other game reserves, making it a more pleasant locale, especially in summer
• Massages are offered in the privacy of one’s villa
• A tree-top gym offers state of the art equipment and a splendid view
Article by Gillian McLaren (@Jetset_Gillian)
Images by Gillian McLaren, except lead photo by Lepogo Lodges
For more features by Gillian Mclaren, see www.gillianmclaren.blogspot.com