Safaris don’t get more stylish than South Africa’s Kapama Karula. Ute Junker reports on her wildlife encounters and a stay in a luxury villa.
Three-day package – including game drives, game walks, airport transfers, all meals and local drinks – from $3,500 per person.
A huge bull elephant leads the way. Some smaller females follow him across the road, only a metre or so in front of our vehicle. Others trail behind more slowly, stopping to pull leaves from a tree or a tuft of grass from the ground as they pass. Nine, then 10, then 11, then 12 elephants saunter past, unconcerned by the frantic clicking of my camera. Just when I think the parade has finished, my ranger, Andrew, tilts his head.
“Here comes the baby,” he says, looking at the tall grass at the side of the road. A moment later, I see the grass moving slightly, then a tiny elephant pushes its way through and trots in front of our vehicle, hurrying to catch up with its elders.
It is my first wildlife sighting at Kapama Private Game Reserve, and it happens just 10 minutes after we’ve left the airport.
Several elements set Kapama Karula apart from the competition. The first is its location. Situated in the far north of South Africa, Kapama is tucked in between the soaring Drakensberg Mountains and Kruger National Park. And the gate to the game reserve lies directly opposite Hoedspruit’s Eastgate Airport, which means your animal-spotting opportunities begin even before you arrive at the lodge.
The 13,000-hectare Kapama Private Game Reserve is home to four lodges, of which Kapama Karula is the most exclusive. Perched on the banks of the Klaserie River are just 12 villas, each measuring at least 90 square metres.
My sprawling villa – decorated in a sophisticated blend of neutral tones and appealing textures, including a chandelier made of branches – includes a lounge area with a gas fireplace; a sleeping area; and a huge bathroom with indoor and outdoor showers, plus a bathtub with view. That is before we even get to the private deck with the full-sized pool and sun loungers.
It does not take me long to realise that I am going to be very happy here. My mood lifts even further when I discover the mini-bar, crammed with fine wine, champagne and spirits – all complimentary.
As gorgeous as the rooms are, they are not Kapama Karula’s main draw. That would be the wildlife. Kapama is one of a number of private game reserves that share an unfenced border with Kruger National Park.
The animals wander freely between the reserves, so you can see all the animals Kruger is famous for without the notorious crowds.
The Kapama Private Game Reserve is home to more than 40 mammal and 350 bird species, but of course it is the larger mammals people really want to see – and we see plenty of them.
Over two days of twice-daily drives – one in the early morning, one in the evening – we get up close to lions, leopards and even endangered rhinos, including a trio that lies down in the middle of the road and challenges us to find another route. We kindly oblige.
The night drives result in some particularly exciting encounters, including hippos seen wandering through the grass. (The hippopotamus is a nocturnal creature, leaving the water every evening to graze on the vegetation that makes up most of its diet.) I am also thrilled to see two porcupines – much, much bigger than I expected – and some hyena cubs playing outside their den.
By the end of my stay, I have ticked off all the animals that were on my must-see list, but I feel I have barely begun to explore the camp itself.
I have not had time to squeeze in a treatment at the gorgeous spa, which has four treatment rooms, a fitness room, a steam room and plenty of relaxation areas – all with floor-to-ceiling views across the bush.
I have not taken advantage of the sleep-out option, spending a night under the stars on an elevated platform out in the reserve.
I have had perfect eggs Benedict at breakfast, and smoked tomato risotto and beef fillet with bordelaise sauce for dinner, but I have not eaten anywhere near enough of Kapama Karula’s delicious meals.
There is only one solution. I will just have to come back, and soon.