Rhino Ridge is based in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, and as the name describes, the first ‘private’ lodge overlooks a ridge within the 96000ha reserve, where the first rhino’s were (re)discovered after they thought extinct (pretty cool fact). To be fair, the lodge itself was built on bordering farm land that was bought from the community. The park’s borders were extended to engulf the lodge, and the community were offered jobs and own 50% of the lodge (that % fact should really be confirmed). The lodge is brand spanking new. In fact, when we booked – there were only artist impressions to go off. But the reality didn’t disappoint.
4 room types are on offer, and we opted for the Luxury Bush Villa over the Safari Room, for the price difference (R5900 and R4280 per night respectively according to website) I think it was worth it. The Honeymoon Villa (of which there are two) have their own private plunge pools, and if we were on honeymoon perhaps would’ve been worth it.
We had Villa 10, which was set a little back from the ridge, which disappointingly didn’t have the view – it proved a welcome thing when the biggest storm they’ve had in years hit us on night 2. If I could choose, however, I’d say Villa 5 is the best. All the villas are rather close together, and without a lot of vegetation grown back yet between villas, there’s not as much privacy as you’d like.
The villas are beautifully and tastefully decorated (ala Weylandts, and resembling how I hope my lounge will one day appear), the floors adorned with many nguni hides (slight sadness to think that those nguni’s were probably the true land owners before they lodge was built). The freestanding bath (surrounded by windows that unfortunately allow passerby’s, if there are any, to sneak a peak – grow back dear vegetation!!) and an open shower with a door onto the deck (which I couldn’t quite see the point of, but kind of cool all the same). The double-sided fireplace, that we put to use only because we could and there was a storm going on (and not because it was cold. At all) sat neatly between the ‘lounge’ area of the suite and the bathroom (with a hide a bath mat. yes really).
Arrival at Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge (after a hell-raising hill, potholes included, in a rented car) is like finding that little oasis in the dry desert. One that has refreshing facecloths and a cold drink as well. We handed our keys over and the team ensured our bags reached our room and our car was parked safely away for the two days we were there. Lunch was a feast (I’m always sceptical of buffets) but the food was fresh and interesting. And most divinely, different to day 2’s lunch).
Due to an extended but amazing nap (post all-night party the previous night), we skipped our first game but popped down to the bar for a drink and to advise what time we wanted to be collected for dinner as there’s no phone in your room, and in true ‘bush lodge’ style you aren’t ‘allowed’ to walk between lodge and villa alone (although I’m never sure exactly what a guy with a torch is going to do if we were to come across a big cat or similar). Later we joined everyone at the bar (where we were grateful to not overhear any stories of wild dog, hyena or cat sightings) and briefly chatted to our game ranger (known as field guides these days) named Lindi. Different from the only other ‘private game lodge’ experience we had where the guides rotated, Lindi was assigned to us for the duration of the stay. Also different to other lodge experiences, was the awkward moment the following morning when we returned from our game drive where there were two tables set up for breakfast – one for 5 and one for two (There were 6 of us on the drive, in pairs of two). I think Lindi was supposed to join two couples, but it all went a bit pear-shaped and we landed up dining with another couple. Which was weird. But hey.
Hluhluwe is public reserve with ‘private’ vehicles (which meant the opposite of what I thought it did). Gratefully we were in a landrover (or equivalent) as I never knew an African pothole until I ventured through Hluhluwe-Imfolozi park in a rental car. In 96 000ha, the game viewing experience is hugely different from a private game reserve, where every vehicle is from a lodge, has a radio, and spotting is a collective effort.
Private vehicles on our tail – they think we know something. We don’t (as there are very few lodge vehicles and they don’t work together as they do in a private reserve). It’s like a self-drive bush break, with no off-roading allowed and the same chance of seeing something, with the bonus of not having to decide left or right, being a little bit higher up and some knowledge being shared from the lady in khaki.
We were in luck on our first drive. 4 out of 5! Thanks for coming. Granted the lion were so far in the thick of the woods that it was like looking at one of those weird 3D posters and claiming “I see it!” when in actual fact – you only sort of had maybe a little outline of something. The kill however, a baby giraffe, was very clearly visible from the road, and while its the circle of life – seeing his mom walking around looking for him was a bit heart breaking.
An elephant herd, drinking at the almost dry river. A chilled buffalo herd, that renewed any misconceptions I had of them, and two white rhinos en route back to our lodge. Not a bad start I have to admit.
As you do on bush holidays in KZN, hours between the feast of breakfast, the feast of lunch and the evening game drive (which is really an afternoon drive as noone is allowed in the park at night – its a poaching thing) you catch a tan.
While the pool faces the direction of the view, its in the opposite direction of the sunshine – but not standing in the way of this capetonian’s quest for a tan some maneouvering later and I was well positioned to catch a few rays before we headed out again.
I always find night time drives a bit of a let down. (don’t shoot me all you bush loving crazies. Wait till I tell you about how much I like birds). I don’t have much night vision, and the most exciting part of the evening (besides the bark spider) was the storm clouds and the impending lightning. And oh, that storm.
To say I’ve been looking forward to lightning storm is an understatement. I just always thought I’d find it in Joburg. But when we woke up that day, we knew it was approaching and that we were in for a treat. The lodge itself, probably wasn’t ready for it. Remember when I said I was grateful that we were up on the hill? That was mostly because we avoided the landslide of mud that 80mm of rain in one evening caused, that flowed under the doors and into the rooms closer to the edge. 8cm in ONE night. This is a lot. (They tell me. I have no idea what a lot of rain is). It was exhilarating and exciting and wild (in the true ‘bush’ sense of the word). I considered the animals out there, and if for one night those little springbuck knew they’d be safe from the hunt.
Dinner (pre-storm, post-bark spider) was fantastic again. Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge, while the prices may feel high per night, the prices of drinks are completely reasonable. And better still, they don’t charge corkage. Hello bottle of Spier 21 Gables Chenin we’d been saving for.. you know, saving (need to do less of that, and more the actual drinking the wines in the winerack).
All the food at Rhino Ridge was special and carefully designed and presented. The service is a bit of a mishmash. Polite, presentable and courteous, but not experienced to know how a G&T is made (the lemon! don’t forget the lemon!) due to the team being, quite literally, straight from the bush. Its exciting to know that this lodge is supporting them, and equipping this truly local community with skills that will afford them more opportunities in the future.
Lowlights: inexperienced bartenders and waitresses take some patience, G&T’s without lemon on game drives (ewww), lack of vegetation (resulting mudslides or neighbours seeing me in the shower). Everything is teething issues, so in 6 months to a year, it should be an amazing visit.
Highlights: Arriving back at the lodge to refreshing towels, the excellent food, the beautiful decor and open plan bathroom. The goodie bag on departure.
What I learnt: Baby everything is amazing in the bush. Baby Rhino’s can run SUPER fast. I also learnt a lot of other things too. But this picture was too cute not to include.