Caroline Hurry
Caroline Hurry

Caroline Hurry enjoys some R&R at River Lodge set within 26 000 hectares of pristine wilderness  in the north-eastern lowveld

I fell in love with Makalali years ago. Conceived by architects Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, alpha designers in the safari lodge pack, it won Tatler Travel’s Most Innovative Hotel Design of the Year for its thatched Moroccan-style spires, earthy walls, and ancient artefacts.

The swimming pool at aha Makalali’s River Lodge

So that was the 1990s, but Makalali’s recent refurb has done it proud. Having spent a night at the intimate River Lodge, deep in my comfort zone amid swathes of jackalberry and sycamore fig trees on the edge of Makhutswi River, I can report that owners, aha Hotels & Lodges, have retained its authentic safari charm.

Now bright pops of colour – lemon yellow or orange cushions – lift the taupe palette blending with the surrounding bushveld, but the star of the show is the indoor shower and free-standing bath.

Indoor shower for two and free-standing bath pictured inside the chalet at aha Makalali’s River Lodge

Actually, the outdoor shower is sensational too, but what I really appreciated was a sweet note addressed to my husband and me, and toiletries packed in glass bottles, as befits Makalali’s reputation as being one of the leading pioneers in Ecotourism in South Africa.

Welcome note amid the glass bottles of toiletries. In my view lodges still using horrid plastic containers need to up their game!

Apart from the en-suite bathroom, outdoor shower, enormous bed and fireplace, each Luxury Suite has a raised, private timber viewing deck (sala) from which to observe the birds or enjoy a pre-prandial drink overlooking the Makhutswi River below.

The timber viewing deck at aha Makalali’s River Lodge is a great place to sit and watch the birds.

Guests are treated to up-close glimpses of nyala that come down to graze on the banks of the dry river and  monkeys swinging from the branches of a sycamore fig tree.

Coffee time on the game drive served by our ranger Isaac Mdluli and tracker Anton Ubisse.

We enjoyed two game drives with our ranger Isaac Mdluli and tracker Anton Ubisse and saw  a pride of lion basking in the afternoon sun, a rather skittish jackal, both black and white rhino, impala, kudu, giraffe and plent of zebra.

Flickering lanterns and a pit fire light the aha Makalali open-air boma under the stars at River Lodge

Dinners of kudu steaks, salad and malva pud are served in an open-air boma under the stars, the area lit by flickering lanterns and a pit fire.

Inside our chalet at aha Makalali’s River Lodge

All that is natural, pure and pristine about Africa is right here on your doorstep; you just need to soak it up. This is Big Five territory with elephant, leopard and large prides of lion often sighted, as well as wild dog, white rhino, black rhino, buffalo, hippo, cheetah and sable.

The swimming pool at aha Makalali’s River Lodge
  • Rates include enjoy two game drives (morning and afternoon) in open vehicles
  • On site amenities include spa treatments, and room service
  • Makalali Private Game Lodge is an hour’s drive from Hoedspruit. Flights can be arranged into Hoedspruit Airport and transfers organised.