At This Luxury South African Resort, You Can See Black Rhinos, Crocodiles, and the Milky Way
Getting into bed at Tintswalo at Lapalala, a new luxury safari lodge in South Africa’s malaria-free Waterberg, is like getting into a sensory deprivation tank. As a typical city slicker, I can’t remember the last time I experienced such an overwhelming sense of quiet, save for the sound of a few animals in the distance.
The next morning it took me a while to remember where I was. It was hard to believe I’d spent the night in a tent — the word doesn’t capture the standard of the luxury suites, complete with all the modern amenities you’d expect from a top hotel. Even in the middle of the bush, with no power lines and all the electricity generated through solar, there’s hot water and even air-conditioning (which will come in handy when summer temperatures reach as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit).
Sweltering heat felt like a distant memory on the morning I woke up, eager for my game drive but kicking myself for not stoking the fire properly before bed. Fortunately, there were plenty of provisions to keep me warm in the safari vehicle, including hot water bottles, blankets, and ponchos to tame the freezing wind.
On a typical game drive in a more populated park, rangers communicate with their walkie-talkies and share details about where to find what. This can be a good thing for people who have animals to tick off their list but it can cause the kind of traffic jams you wouldn’t expect in the bush. Given that Tintswalo at Lapalala is one of only two commercial lodges in the entire reserve (one of the largest in southern African), we just had to hope for the best.
We’d been lucky the night before, not only because we’d arrived at the spectacular lookout point at Rapula Rock just in time for sunset and craft gin cocktails with our pre-dinner canapés but because we’d seen five black rhinos, which our ranger said is more than he’s ever seen in a single day. Lapalala become the first private reserve to acquire black rhino in 1990, when five of these endangered animals were brought there. According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are only about 5,000 left in the world today.
All that driving, with stops to marvel at creatures that seemed more fascinated by us than we were by them, worked up an appetite. Tintswalo at Lapalala offers the option of a bush breakfast for those who want to eat outdoors, albeit while watching out for mischievous monkeys that are likely waiting overhead to steal food at the first chance.
You can also indulge in peace back at the lodge, with the likes of a full ranger breakfast (think full English breakfast but meatier) or whisky bacon French toast (make mine a double), all while watching animals take their turns at the nearby watering hole.
I didn’t feel guilty about fueling up because we worked it off during a pre-lunch hike. It was here that we learned about the different plants and leaves that the native people used for medicinal purposes. We also got to see Bushmen rock paintings (some dating back over two thousand years) that depict their history and rituals.
Things took a more leisurely turn when we enjoyed a picnic along the banks of the Palala River. And while some dipped their feet in the cool waters (I saved myself for an invigorating but brief plunge in my private pool back at the lodge), others enjoyed outdoor spa treatments where there was no need to use an audio track with fake nature sounds because the bush gave us the real thing.
But nobody dared dip their toes in the water as we enjoyed a sunset cruise on a dam; not because we were too busy sipping on champagne or enjoying the view but because we were warned that the waters were home to hippos and crocs, some of which we spotted lurking beneath the surface.
Back at the lodge it was time for dinner. And while our first night was more of a formal sit-down affair, the second was a casual outdoor braai — the South African term for barbecue — including a hearty soup for starters, and bread pudding for dessert.
The highlight of the evening, besides swapping stories about adventurous travels around the world, was looking up at the stars. After a fascinating presentation about the different constellations, I couldn’t stop staring at the Milky Way. Never mind that dinner was done and that a very comfortable bed was calling — this is the kind of experience that will make you want to stay up all night.
More information: Tintswalo at Lapalala