South Africans seem to have a peculiar indifference to safaris because whenever they travel it seems that they simply exchange one city for another and call it a holiday.
If a change is really as good as a holiday then a city swap is perfectly fine, but the untouched beauty of the wild can hold her own against the bright lights, and gaudy charms, of any city.
We spend enough of our time trapped in shopping mauls, hooked to the internet and mindlessly thinking we can keep up with the Kardashians, Khumalos and Joneses.
Now, I love living in the 21st century, especially Johannesburg, where I can drive from my home to my office without ever having to walk across a street. Everything is climate controlled, connected to Wi-Fi, and runs according to schedule, but sometimes city life feels more like a laboratory experiment managed by mad scientists, and we’re the lab rats being conditioned to work longer and harder hours without having any time to get off the wheel and think about our lives.
A weekend retreat on safari is perfect to detach yourself from the craziness of city life, and reconnect you with yourself. It’s not just the change of scenery, unpolluted environment or fresh air, but it’s the silence you find that surrounds you and you notice the silence within yourself.
There’s no advertising, television, radio, billboards or newspapers to constantly bombard you with ideas of living a better live by buying better products. Without the constant marketing harassment you brain has an opportunity to drop back into a lower gear, and another, and another. Suddenly, you realise that there is a natural order in the world that cannot be man-managed with schedules, timetables and pay checks.
South Africans are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a weekend getaway; anything from the rustic to the sublime, and fortunately don’t have to travel too far. I’ve had my fair share of camping, caravaning and hiking getaways, so my ideal holiday is defined by luxury, leisure and pampering.
I don’t mind the odd walk, but I don’t want to have to make my own bed and I don’t want to cook my own meals, in fact, I want a five-star dining experience. And, if there is a spa- well, call me a happy camper!
Tucked in the Dwarsberg Mountains, four hours north of Johannesburg, is the privately owned Tau Game Lodge in the Madikwe Game Reserve.
The terrain is almost alien, as if the dry, unrelenting heat has stripped all the bushes, trees, and even the earth of their natural colour. Everything is a monochromatic shade of grey, from light ash coloured stones to the gun-metal grey mountain range. It is a barren landscape of scorched earth that can only be soothed by the summer rains because even the gentlest breeze would only serve as a painful reminder of how incredibly hot it is.
The scene is a desolate still life punctuated by scores of animals that stand motionless trying to conserve their energy under whatever shade they can find.
I’m not complaining, because I’m observing everything from the other side of the electric fence in a crisp pool of blue refreshment while sipping on my second Tequila Sunrise. It’s not even noon but it’s a stark contrast to how the animals live, where every day is a constant struggle for survival, while guests languish in luxury.
Call me Marie, but I’m not complaining. Let the animals eat cake!
Everything is five-star at Tau Game Lodge, from reception straight through to your departure. The service, hospitality, and the food (especially the food!) create indelible memories that one will cherish forever. We are greeted at reception by name, because, I assume, the guards at the entrance inform reception before guests arrive, but before signing in (and swiping our credit card), we’re ushered to a lounge and offered home-made lemonade.
It’s a four hour drive that includes an extensive and dusty dirt road, so any form of liquid refreshment is a welcome touch. The emphasis on our arrival is to ensure that we are as comfortable as possible before the formalities of checking in and swiping credit cards begins.
Our room is gorgeous, understated and luxurious with French doors that open onto a patio overlooking the nature reserve’s waterhole. This is the genius of Tau Game Lodge: rooms are built around the waterhole so that the animals come to you, instead of you having to look for the animals. You could spend your entire day in bed watching herds of buffalo, zebra, giraffes and warthogs amble around the waterhole. Tau Game Lodge is the place of the lions but they also host all the other big five in addition to 27 major animals and 250 species of bird life.
I didn’t go looking for birds, but you can go on sightseeing safaris around the game reserve. You could also just stay in your room and wait for the wildlife come to you. There’s an abundance of wildlife at Tau, and they all need to come to the waterhole. The lodge is surrounded by an electric fence but you are potentially less than four metres away from touching the wild animals.
Obviously, these are wild animals, so you wouldn’t try touching them but they are very comfortable around humans. The three crocodiles swimming along the restaurant were certainly very comfortable around us humans.
Our safari guide, Grant Botha, explained that the animals would obviously avoid humans if they associated them with guns so they don’t allow any form of hunting. Tau offers two three-hour long safari drives through the reserve which are highly recommended. We only went on one, but there were American guests who went on all of them, and came back excited each time.
Grant is an exceptional nature conservationist and tour guide, sharing his knowledge freely and generously. He even packed a picnic basket for us which included Amarula coffee. I’m not endorsing that one drinks alcohol before 8am but let’s just say that I didn’t say, “NO!”
I love wildlife and conservation but one safari drive was enough for me. I saw more animals in three hours than what I can recall, which was a treat because most of the safari drives I’ve been on at other game reserves were mindless trips through the bush looking for wildlife, as opposed to actually seeing any.
The wildlife at Tau is so abundant that you don’t have to go very far to see any, and there is the convenience of being accommodated along the waterhole so that you don’t even need to leave your room.
Ironically, our game drive was scheduled for 6:00am but when we arrived back at the lodge for breakfast, all of the game that we saw during our drive were making their way to the waterhole. Talk about a double dose of animal spotting!
In addition to lions, you can also expect to see elephants, rhinos, hyenas, leopards, endangered wild dogs, giraffes, ostriches, impala, springbok, kudu, wildebeest, eland, blesbok, nyala and sable. The highlight for me was when we came across four male cheetahs that walked around our jeep for a good fifteen minutes completely undisturbed by our presence or our cameras clicking.
Bundu bashing done and dusted, I did what was the first thing on my To Do list when I went to Tau- visit the spa.
A spa treatment is the ultimate luxurious decadence in contrast to harshness of the natural landscape. Which is not something to feel guilty about but it does make it even more of a treat. There is nothing better than a hydro treatment at Tau. You really are very conscious that water is a scarce resource in the game reserve, so it is also the ultimate luxury.
You can’t just have one treatment without having another, so set aside enough time to enjoy yourself. I opted for everything except a facial (sunburn!). I initially chose a hot stone massage because it just seemed like the most logical choice considering everything in the environment is a stone, pebble, rock or mountain, but decided to have it after a full body scrub and a coffee & mint body wrap. Nothing stimulates your circulation and energises your skin better than a scrub, followed with a mint wrap that tingles on every single level.
Coffee is great stimulant which my therapist advised me helps reduce cellulite- something I reminded her is not something I had to worry about. The spa has an African-Zen feeling about it, not out of touch with its location, but blissfully detached from everything around it.
On that note, Tau Game Lodge is the ideal five-star safari getaway that affords you the opportunity to completely detach yourself from the trappings of the city. It is here that you find time for your mind to unwind and reflect upon how much time you have for yourself and how you use it- and also remind yourself to make your personal time a priority. Days at Tau are unhurried and leisurely where you have the time and space to connect with nature and yourself.
Tau Game Lodge is not just a destination; it’s an experience that will leave you yearning to return.
#1 Our GPS took us through some desolate places so I suggest that if you are travelling from Johannesburg that you go through Zeerust- which was the route we chose when returning home.
#2: As you turn off the R49 (Just before the border to Botswana) prepare yourself for a bumpy ride. The road to Tau is a gravel road that stretches for a few kilometres- and will stretch your patience, but we arrived unscathed. Other guests who were travelling in little Citi Golfs said they made it without a hitch.
#3: In addition to the wild life you encounter, you’ll probably encounter more than your fair share of a few mosquitoes. Tau does provide insect repellent and the beds are covered with sumptuous mosquito nets- straight from Out Of Africa, but I would suggest that you take back-up in the form of citronella essential oils. Apparently, drinking Tonic Water repels also repels mosquitos, which is the perfect excuse for a G&T!