Safaris & Martinis at Monwana Game Lodge
Experience the Luxury of Africa at Monwana
Guests can expect exceptional African luxury and hospitality at Monwana Game Lodge because the owners designed it to feel like your home away from home.
The luxurious Monwana Game Lodge is secluded in the heart of the Thornybush Private Game Reserve within the Greater Kruger National Park. It is readily accessible within an hour’s drive from Hoedspruit Airport which is less than an hour from OR Tambo International Airport. Getting a transfer from the airport to the lodge is as effortless as requesting one.
From the moment I arrived at Monwana, I knew that I was about to experience the exceptional. The lodge is designed as an oasis of light and space where guests can take refuge from the heat of the day and the dryness of the environment. The interior decor doesn’t blend with the outdoors to bring the outdoors in, instead it frames the vista as every room opens to a panoramic view of the outdoors.
I am not qualified to do the architecture and interior design justice, even though I appreciate thoughtful design, but it struck me as a modern way of designing a game lodge. Bringing the outdoors inside sounds like a catchy design phrase, but incorporating heavy woods, dried floral arrangements, and hunting trophies can feel oppressive. Monwana’s aesthetic is cool rock and concrete elevated with marble and steel. Luxurious fabrics and finishes add comfort while the artwork adds intellectual interest.
It is interesting to note that while Monwana was designed to feel like your home, it is a reflection of the owners’ taste. They commissioned every artwork, sat in every chair and handled every piece of cutlery. Nothing went into Monwana unless it met their exacting standards. Needless to say, they have impeccable taste.
Another example of the luxurious hospitality at Monwana, upon arrival, we were escorted to enjoy refreshments overlooking the lodge’s waterhole. Monwana is more concerned about making your comfort a priority than confirming your personal documents. The heat demanded something more refreshing than a sugary cocktail or hard liquor, so I welcomed the Bitterlekker aperitif that I was offered. The non-alcoholic, slightly bitter, herbal/citrus beverage was the perfect tonic.
The accommodation at Monwana is unsurpassed. My needs are very simple when travelling because all I need is a clean bed and a clean bathroom- anything else is a luxury, but I am a water sign so I do love a great bathroom, so I was thrilled to discover that in addition to a very generously sized bathtub, my suite boasted twin showers overlooking the waterhole and an outdoor shower. Additionally, my private patio had a plunge pool – which I believe is also called, more appropriately, a cocktail pool!
My suite included a walk-in closet, two writing desks, a cocktail bar, an In-room and outdoor dining area, and an extra-long bed. I’m 6.4 ft tall, so a bed slightly longer than I am is what my dreams are made of. I would have been quite happy if I was never allowed to leave me suite at Monwana!
It is the wildlife that sets Monwana apart from other game lodges. Game drives are an opportunity to see wild animals interacting in their natural habitat. You can neither predict nor anticipate what you may see. I always say that when you have the opportunity to go on a game drive, you take the opportunity because no two game drives are ever the same.
Fortunately, our guide, Almero Klingenberg, and his tracker, Nic Sithole, were expertly trained and experienced to make the most of our sightings. They were equally generous when identifying the different wildlife and sharing their encyclopedic knowledge. Nic even spotted a chameleon camouflaged in a tree from a moving Land Cruiser!
I love nature and conservation, so any game drive is a good game drive in my books, but nothing captures my imagination like a big cat. I have seen four of the Big Five, and my favourite big cats, except for a leopard. Leopards are notoriously reclusive, so when Almero spotted a leopard’s kill hidden in a tree, I was cautious not to get my hopes up about seeing an actual leopard. Ironically, I was more impressed that he could see a leopard’s kill hidden in a tree from a hundred paces even if we couldn’t see the leopard.
We couldn’t see the leopard, and it was unlikely to show itself, so we proceeded with our drive. Almero promised that we would return to the spot on our way back to the lodge. Just in case the leopard decided to reveal itself.
On our drive, we saw a pod of hippos bathing in the sunset, a lone hyena shunned by its pack, and a migration of buck. We even stopped en route to enjoy sundowners under the setting sun. Monwana even packed some dried fruit, nuts, and biltong as padkos to sustain us during our drive. But, nothing could have prepared me for what we were about to see when we made our way back to the lodge.
The leopard had returned to finish feasting off its kill. Its enjoyment had also attracted the attention of a hyena that was anxious to distract the leopard and hopefully steal the kill. Leopards and hyenas are natural enemies. The leopard may be stronger but hyenas have the strength of the pack. In this case, it was an opportunistic hyena taking a chance that it could outsmart the leopard.
The reality of living in the wild is that it is not a game where you win some or you lose some. You either kill to eat or you die. Or, you steal something that another animal killed. There are no rules, it is simply a matter of survival. On this particular day, fate favoured the hyena because in a remarkable twist of fate, the leopard was distracted and lost its grip on its prey which came tumbling down from the tree to land in front of the hyena. The hyena got to eat the leopard’s kill, and the leopard wasn’t going to fight for it. As luck would have it, I got to watch the action unfold in real-time, but not capture it on my phone!
Fortunately, I did not have to catch and kill my own supper.
Monwana prides itself on offering its guests fresh, healthy, non-contrived food that speaks for itself. Produce has been sourced from sustainable and ethical suppliers and prepared by Executive Chef, Natalie Stevens. Chef Natalie presents a selection of daily menu options based according to what produce is freshest on the day. You can work up quite an appetite on safari, and you need to eat!
An amuse bouche preceded our meal. Chef Natalie prepared a cucumber gazpacho, served in a shooter glass, topped with smoked salmon served on a sliver of melba toast. It worked beautifully to refresh our palates and set the tone for the following courses.
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I opted for the Tempura Prawns as my starter which were served with a fragrant soy and ginger dipping sauce While the prawns were creamy and sweet, and the tempura batter was exquisitely light, it was the dipping sauce captivated me because Chef Natalie had tempered it to be as unique as her signature. It was served with an Asian Slaw that looked like it was just there for garnish but it was seasoned with the same dedication that it almost stole the show.
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I ordered the Venison Fillet for my mains which were served with shimeji mushrooms and a red wine jus. I couldn’t imagine going on a safari and not enjoying local venison because it is so much more flavourful than farm-raised beef, not to mention healthier. Chef Natalie’s red wine jus was the perfect addition to the plate because it enhanced the meat rather than overpowering it. (Vegetarian options were available.)
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I hesitated before ordering dessert because I knew I was rapidly approaching an elegant sufficiency, but in the spirit of adventure, I knew I had to indulge myself. I ordered the Poached Pear Chocolate Tart. Chef Natalie uses the finest ingredients, so I expected excess and decadence from this dessert. The poached pear was set in molten chocolate ganache encased in a buttery shortcrust shell. It was served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to balance the richness. As much as I regret my decision to order dessert, I don’t regret finishing it either. It was perfection.
I was not inclined to drink too much alcohol during my stay at Monwana. The heat and the adventure of the safari had me reaching for softer refreshments even though I was sorely tempted by Monwana’s covetable wine collection and inviting bar. I did, however, ask Monwana’s mixologist to surprise me with a cocktail that he thought would suit me and the occasion. He presented me with an amber martini.
I thought that the amber martini was the perfect metaphor for Monwana. It’s sophisticated and chic, it’s earthy and wild, and you don’t want to share it with anyone!
BTW: You can drive to Monwana Game Lodge if you are up for a road-tripping adventure, but I preferred to fly there as quickly as possible with Airlink.
Airlink is a privately-owned, independent airline offering flights to more than 45 destinations in Southern Africa (including Hoedspruit!). I found Airlink to be convenient and comfortable, and they co-sponsored my flights, so I am eternally grateful. Thank you Airlink!