The road journey to Entabeni for my highly anticipated safari tour is one that will remain in my mind for a long time.
Out of the thousands of available coach drivers in Johannesburg, we had to get the driver from Hell. As we made our way from Johannesburg Airport to Sun City, the monotonous droning from the coach engine was suddenly broken by a loud exclamation from the driver.
“What? I am not staying there! I want to go home. No, no. The agency did not say I have to stay. I can take you there and then I’m going back home!”
Home for the coach driver from Hell, is in Pretoria, about 144 kilometres or a 2-hour drive from Sun City. The local guide tried her best to explain to him that the tour itinerary had been confirmed with the travel agency well in advance, and that his accommodation, meals and overnight stay allowance had already been paid out to the agency. The exchange between the tour guide and driver continued for some time with the driver grumbling loudly that he was not informed of the arrangement.
Fast forward to early next morning when we set off for Entabeni Game Conservancy, approximately 4 hours away from Sun City. After some attempts at making small talk with the driver, the tour guide managed to find out that the driver had never been to Entabeni. She reassured him that it was okay as she had been there several times and knew how to get there. I think the driver from Hell was still reeling from the fact that he had to stay overnight at Sun City and wanted revenge. When we came to a junction where he was supposed to take a right turn, he flatly refused, citing heavy traffic during that hour and that he didn’t want to get caught in a traffic jam. He took the left turn instead, telling the tour guide that he knew what he was doing, and that the road should eventually join back with the one to Entabeni. Well, that didn’t happen. Pleas by the tour guide to turn back fell on deaf ears.
We spent more than an hour in unfamiliar territory looking for a signboard or person to ask for directions. If you have ever driven on a highway across the savanna, you would probably know that the landscape looks the same everywhere and signboards are few and far-between. Finding another human being in No Man’s Land is practically an impossibility! Finally, our driver from Hell decided to exit from the highway to find a town where he could ask for directions.
I won’t go into details about this excruciating journey that seemed to last forever! We were all relieved when the coach pulled up at Legend Golf and Safari Resort an hour-and-a-half later. While we refreshed ourselves in the resort’s luxurious washroom, our driver from Hell went to the reception desk for directions to Entabeni. The final leg to our elusive destination entailed a dead-slow drive on an isolated 20-kilometre stretch of very bumpy, unused dirt road, before finally arriving at the security entrance of Entabeni Game Reserve. What was supposed to have been a 4-hour drive turned out to be a 7-hour drive!
Entabeni, also known as “The Place of the Mountain”, is a private game reserve in the World Heritage Waterberg region of South Africa’s Limpopo Province. The reserve traverses over 22,000 hectares showcasing a wide variety of landscapes. It is home to the Big Five and a diverse range of African wildlife and bird life.
Five eco-systems can be found here. The upper escarpment offers majestic craggy rock formations, wide-open grass plains and forested hills. 600-metre-high cliffs separate the upper escarpment from the lower plateau made up of sandy wetlands, with the temperature about three degrees warmer than the top.
The security entrance to the game reserve was as far as the coach was allowed to go. Thereafter, you can only get around in the reserve’s 4WDs. Entabeni has five lodges spread over different locations of the Conservancy. We waited 15 minutes for the 4WDs to arrive and ferry us to our accommodation – Ravineside Lodge, 4.5 kilometres away.
The fun started almost immediately when we climbed onto the 10-seater 4WD. The ostriches around the security entrance began to chase our vehicles as we drove off, running side-by-side with the open-top 4WDS. These big birds can really run! From driving on the open plains, the vehicles continued into a wooded area. The ranger slowed down and told us to look on our left. I strained my eyes and got my first glimpse of a giraffe eating leaves off some tall branches.
I was thrilled to spot some more wildlife in the distance as the vehicle made its way towards the lodge. The ranger reassured us that we would get the chance for a closer view during the game drive scheduled that same afternoon.
By the time we arrived at Ravineside Lodge, it was 2:30pm – way past lunch time which was to have been at 12:30pm. As we were already behind schedule, we rushed through the buffet lunch and skipped high tea to get ourselves ready for a 3-hour game drive while there was still daylight left.
Ravineside Lodge sits under the shadow of Entabeni Mountain on the upper escarpment overlooking the gorge. The lodge caters for three meals, which is commendable considering that it is quite a distance away from civilisation. The cuisine served here is very palatable – comprising a fusion of traditional South African and European elements, accompanied by fresh garden vegetables and fruits. Guests can have their meals either in the African-themed dining room or in the bar.
The rooms are not found in Ravineside Lodge itself, but situated some 500 metres away. As the lodge is in the reserve itself, it is not uncommon to get four-legged visitors in the vicinity. So guests are discouraged from walking from the rooms to the main lodge due to the likelihood of running into wildlife. This means that guests are heavily reliant on the rangers for transportation between their rooms and the shared facilities.
The thatched-roof en suite bedrooms at Ravineside Lodge sit on stilts by the cliff side. There are 22 rooms altogether, grouped in clusters of 3 or 4. You can’t see the rooms from the cliff. A wooden and stone stairway hugs the sides of the cliff and leads down to the rooms.
When the 4WD turned onto a sloping clearing at the edge of the cliff, a sudden panic came over me. I did not see any rooms – only a huge gorge in front of me. Worst of all, the ranger seemed to be going straight for the cliff’s edge. Oh, my God! We are going to die, I thought to myself. It was only after the vehicle had come to a complete stop that I realised the “lookout point” at the edge of the cliff was actually a stairway leading down to the rooms! Even thinking about that little clearing gives me the shivers until today! What if the brakes fail?
The ethnic-themed rooms are simple, yet clean and comfortable. There is no air-conditioning, television or internet but each bed gets an individually controlled electric blanket. In light of the many activities available during the day, however, all you really want to do after returning to the room is have a nice hot shower, get between the warm sheets and fall asleep!
The cluster rooms share a private open-plan lounge and bar area that extends out to the walkway and sundeck/balcony. From here guests can indulge in bird-watching and enjoy great views of the valley with its ravines and wooded hillsides.