About two hours later the captain announced we were making our descent into Hoedspruit and a quick glance out the window at the endless grassland and rolling hills confirmed that we were definitely not in the city anymore. As we taxied to the center of the tarmac, a family of warthogs trotted across the runway in front of the plane and a sound not unlike a squeal escaped my throat as I excitedly tapped Dan's leg. We were met by our driver, Lucky, and we were soon heading down a two-lane dirt road through the Timbavati Wildlife Reserve.
The three of us were bouncing along, engaged in conversation about a sign we passed reading "Dung Beetles Have Right of Way", when a herd of 8-10 elephants burst through the bushes and walked across the road about 20 yards ahead of us. I frantically searched for my camera, dropping my SLR lens on the floor of the van, before finally snapping one in-focus photo just before they disappeared from view. "You'll see SO many elephant," Lucky said, laughing at how our first animal-spotting sent me into a camera-fumbling frenzy.
After about an hour, we turn off the "main" dirt road and follow a sign for Motswari. Unlike many of the lodges and hotels in the surrounding area, Motswari Private Game Reserve is not fenced, allowing animals to roam freely through the camp, and ultimately beyond the Timbavati reserve into the greater Kruger National Park. There are a total of 15 suites, each tucked within a beautifully designed "rondavel", a traditional round hut-like structure with a natural thatched roof. The whole property is designed with an organic, minimalist aesthetic that helps the structures blend seamlessly into the natural surroundings. In lieu of a telephone in the room, guests are instructed to blow a small metal whistle if you need assistance, and instead of a gym, a yoga mat and jump rope are tucked inside the armoires.
We were assigned the Zebra room, complete with polished concrete floors, huge canopy bed, and beautiful ensuite bath and private patio... in other words, absolute heaven. At the check-in counter we learned we had arrived just in time for lunch, and were told to "listen for the drums" to know when it is ready. Sure enough, we heard the drums and made our way down the walkway to the open-air verandah where a beautiful buffet lunch was waiting. Just as we walked into the dining area, we saw an elephant in the distance, making his way across the dry riverbed that, in summertime, usually flows alongside the camp. I instantly reached for my camera, but after seeing the other guests casually gesture towards him in between mouthfuls of food, I figured that maybe Lucky was right, we would see "lots of elephant".
Side rant: I honestly can't rave enough about the amazing food that we enjoyed at every single meal at Motswari. As a vegetarian (mostly, I do eat fish occasionally) I never have high expectations for my meal options when traveling, especially in a resort/group-style setting, but the wide range of colorful, flavorful, and healthy choices available at every meal totally blew me away. And if you're having trouble picturing South African safari cuisine, it is incredibly intercontinental: greek salad, roasted red pepper hummus, jalapeno cheese bread, fresh fruit, gourmet cheeses, tuna salad, fresh marmalades, lemonade, local wine, indulgent desserts, and more. If you asked him, Dan would brag about his exotic meat-heavy dishes, but you'll just have to take my word for it that he loved everything as much as I did.
After lunch, all of the guests assembled at the front of the lodge and filed into two waiting open-air land rovers for our first game drive of the trip. (A whole post overflowing with photos and stories from our game drive experiences is coming soon.) Obviously, that is where the most safari-action was, but even during our downtime at the camp we had a chance to see a few friendly critters up close.
While Dan and I were hanging out by the pool, this handsome Nyala and his buddy helped themselves to the irresistible shrubs nearby. We sat quietly watching but neither of them seemed to mind me snapping their photos, from only 10-feet away at times. We also had a few vervet monkey visitors who were playing in the trees above our heads, most likely looking for scraps of something that, to their disappointment, we didn't have.
Not pictured is the massive bull elephant that was causing a commotion while trying to stampede through the camp. We heard loud clapping and hooting and saw a few of the staff members running around, and as we made our way back to our room, realized they were trying to scare off the elephant who was less than impressed. Because animals can literally walk through the camp whenever and wherever they would like, at night there aren't any artificial lights (just a few candles and lanterns scattered about), and guests are required to wait inside their rooms to be escorted by the trackers to dinner. I won't say who, but one of us was convinced that a pride of lions was hungrily hoping we would venture off our front step a few minutes too early. (they weren't.)
If the insanely beautiful surroundings, incredible service, delicious food, and luxurious accommodations weren't enough, Motswari took things to a whole new level with their gorgeous interior design. I mean, I cannot get enough of this space- the furnishings, patterns, textures, and personal touches including original artwork by second-generation owner, Marion Geiger, were super shwing-worthy. I was obsessed with this space in particular and have a feeling I'll be looking back at these photos for design inspiration many times in the future.
One of the highlights of our short stay at Motswari would have to be the afternoon spent in the pool, drinking local South African beer, and watching a lone cape buffalo make his way down the riverbed. The majority of our morning game drive had been spent tracking a herd of these slow-moving but surprisingly illusive beasts. Cape buffalo are amongst South Africa's "Big 5", the group of animals deemed most difficult to track on foot. A strangely gigantic cross between an American buffalo and a cow, cape buffalo seem harmless, but are actually highly aggressive and can easily gore predators with their sharp horn-helmet known as a "boss". Truth.
Thankfully though, cape buffalo can't climb small rock walls, so we were able to sit back and watch this guy make his way along the riverbed and indulging in the choicest cuts of grass, from the comfort of an awesome infinity pool. Hey, I never said we were roughing it. Tracking a male rhino on foot, however, is another story for another day.
Thank you to the amazing staff at Motswari- you guys are seriously A+. We never wanted to leave but have a feeling we'll be back again someday.
Stay wild, my friends.