A Bush Paradise Near Joburg

Last updated: Oct 04, 2016

Carlo recently stayed at Itaga Private Game Lodge, a luxury game lodge set deep in the bush near Bela-Bela. Here he enjoyed a relaxing weekend game viewing and relaxing in the quiet of the bush .

Itaga Private Game Lodge seems a place apart. As soon as we left the tar, I could feel the strings of the city loosen. A convenient 2.5 hour drive from Braamfontein, it qualifies for the 1:12 vacation ratio: 1 hour driving there = 12 hours on holiday. Leaving at 14:30 from Johannesburg to miss any torturous Friday traffic out of town, it was a straight shot up the N1 to Bela-Bela (previously known as 'Warm Baths') in Limpopo. Besides a 20 minute toll road delay, the only traffic we hit was the Friday afternoon buzz of the Bela-Bela main road. From there, the route to the lodge was well signposted, and professional guards received us at each gate that took us deeper into the bushveld twilight.

On arriving at the lodge, we were greeted by friendly khaki'ed staff who seemed to have been waiting just for us. Simon, our waiter, refused to let me carry any of my luggage, but ensured me I would find it safely waiting at my chalet. We were ushered into the thatched central lounge where chilled cocktails, the colour of the African sunset, were served. Susan, the lodge chef, introduced herself and took our order for the 3-course dinner.

The food was more traditional fare, but it was always hot, cooked to order, promptly served, and of very generous proportions. I was, however, knocked off my feet at the tenderness of the steak. When I enquired after its preparation, our guide smiled and said it was something of an Itaga secret.

Itaga can accommodate 16 people at capacity, which means that you'll probably end up chatting to your fellow-guests over dinner or breakfast in the lodge. The Itaga staff caters for this well, inviting everyone to a complimentary drink before the game drive. At first I thought this was to guard against awkward silences if no game decided to show, but was proved very wrong. Henk, our hosting game-ranger, was able to give facts on fauna, flora and the general history of the area whilst expertly spotting game (and driving a 4x4). Apparently, Henk also had an intuitive sense on where the animals were: as we stopped for sundowners at a water pan, two rhinos casually ambled out of the dusky bush. We watched in awed silence as the mother and calf joined us for a chilled drink. The jackals serenaded us as the night fell and the stars came out revealing a magnificent show of the Southern Cross.

Itaga Private Game Lodge is part of the 12 500 hectare Mabalingwe Nature Reserve. As such, the quality and quantity of game is increased, with a number of private and commercial farms sharing their stock. Henk informed us that the Reserve is free of poaching and that bush patrols are on watch 24-7. In our short stay, we saw rhino, giraffe, nyala, black-backed jackal, kudu, waterbuck, wildebeest, warthog, hare, impala and numerous bird species (at which point my ornithology fails me!). Sadly, we didn't see any elephant, buffalo or leopard, who apparently come through according to the season.

On returning to the lodge, we walked the meandering path to our heated chalet. The en-suite units themselves are carefully secluded from each other, and beautifully prepared, complete with Nguni skin rugs and personalized bedtime stories left on our pillows. There were also bar and tea facilities, although the likelihood of proving peckish after our delicious meals was slim! My favourite was the large bath to warm up in after our chilly game-drive.

Itaga was set apart from previous lodge experiences by the extremely accommodating and impressively knowledgeable staff. Nothing adds to the authenticity of a place like a lesson in folklore from your waiter, or locally-made Marula jam on your scones.

Breakfast is also a 3-course affair, served on crisp white linen in the dining area, from where you can watch the nyala and impala drink at the waterhole just beyond the property's electrified fence. Charming and peacefully supreme. Fresh fruit and cheeses are followed by a hot English breakfast.

The décor was a mix of old-school lodge (read: leather and cigars) and fresh modern (read: orchids and crystal). A blazing fire was lit in the open hearth and, upon request, our table moved in front of it.

We regrettably did not take advantage of Itaga's in-house spa treatments. Nor did we have time to drive to the nearby lion viewing enclosure. We did, however, enjoy the "small-town" feel of Bela-Bela, which is in the middle of citrus-country.

After a kind farewell by the staff, we set off homewards- still savouring the glow of a restful bushveld weekend. It wasn't long before we'd re-entered Gauteng Province, but the intrigue of the Itaga's roaming wildlife and the refreshment of our stay remained with us well into the week.

To find out more about Itaga Luxury Private Game Lodge and to book a weekend away in Bela-Bela, click here.

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