Stuck between a hot tub, a splash pool and an elephant

Posted on 18 February 2021

There was a tinge of Schadenfreude for us Gautengers all the way back in December when the president closed the beaches. Coastal South Africans have always been so smug about their beaches while we up here inland are left high and dry (though not so much this summer, as the combination of La Niña and Tropical Storm Eloise turned our lawns into mushroom farms).

So who wants beaches anyway, when they can just get banned any time, and when we, in fact, have something just as special, if not more so, right here in our own backyard?

Look, I’m not saying getting sand all over you and having sunblock stinging your eyes isn’t a fun experience – I’m just asking, is it better than being served a gin and tonic in the bush to calm your nerves after an elephant has just ambled past your game drive vehicle, so close you could almost touch it? Opinions will always differ, of course, but I’m going to go with no. No, it isn’t better.

Masked ranger in the time of Covid.

There are few things quite as thrilling as getting stuck in an elephant traffic jam on a muddy game track on a Friday afternoon.

Even as a South African, you can never not be in awe of wildlife – even though now, after all this rain, there are hippos wandering around in Fourways and crocodiles getting stuck in people’s swimming pools. And that’s especially true for elephants and rhinos.

So while we here inland may not have beaches, we have the Big Five – and they’re just an easy drive from Johannesburg or Pretoria, in the Pilanesberg.

I’m ashamed to admit that until recently, the Pilanesberg registered on my radar only vaguely, and then only because of Sun City. But that all changed this past weekend with a trip to Black Rhino Game Lodge, in the Black Rhino Game Reserve, which falls within the greater Pilanesberg National Park.

The entrance to Black Rhino Game Lodge

It is a testament to the astonishing diversity and beauty of our South African landscapes that I could still be taken aback by the breathless magnificence of the Pilanesberg’s rugged, rocky hills – especially after the recent rains. It felt like, to paraphrase, the green, green hills of home.

And Black Rhino Game Lodge is a home away from home. That is, if you have a splash pool and hot tub at home.

No, but seriously, it is the typically warm South African hospitality that hits you first when you arrive at Black Rhino. Even behind the masks – and, rest assured, the most stringent Covid protocols are followed here – you can still sense the friendliness and hospitality of the staff. They are exceptional.

It’s one of the things that sets Black Rhino Game Lodge apart.

Deck area, Nr 25, honeymoon suite.

There are several other reasons to visit this lodge as well; I may have mentioned the hot tub? Well, it is an environmentally friendly jacuzzi powered by wood fire – noiseless (and loadshedding-proof) so you can enjoy your red wine under the stars with the sounds of the African bush around you. And when you get too hot? Just slide into the splash pool with its bracingly cold water. I believe this does wonders for your blood circulation, not to mention how quickly it makes you forget the stresses of living through a pandemic. And you do this in the middle of a tamboti forest.

But here is the unbeatable drawcard. Because Black Rhino is a lodge within an exclusive reserve, the game viewing is spectacular (game drives are included in the price). Private vehicles are not allowed, so there is no hooligan behaviour around game sights; it also means the animals are less skittish and make use of the roads fairly often, which makes for great sightings.

Hello, ellie.

Wildebeest in the veld

And because of the hilly terrain, it is a hotspot for sightings of black rhino – hence the lodge’s name. Some believe you haven’t really seen the Big Five until you have seen a black rhino (they are, for a start, critically endangered – even more so than the white rhino – and very elusive), so this is where you want to go if you want to tick that off your bucket list.

But you have to look sharp, lodge owner Mickey Joubert tells us. One minute they’re there, the next second they’re gone. Leopard, cheetah and wild dogs (another species that is extremely difficult to find) are all regular sightings, as well as the shy brown hyena.

Oh, and yes, lions are a dime a dozen, our ranger, Kobus, tells us as we head out on our late-afternoon drive – and they, too, like to walk on the roads.

Ready for a game drive.

As unluck would have it, we saw no lions that afternoon – but we did have another close encounter with a mother elephant and her baby.

Dusk was falling and we headed back to the lodge – passing some impala and a group of young male wildebeest on our way back – for a lovely dinner, surrounded by the sound of crickets and frogs next to the waterhole.

Do you get that at the beach, or overseas? No. No, you do not. How lucky we are to have the treasure of the African bush, right here.

Show me a wildebeest any time and I’ll be happy.

Water, water everywhere, after the recent good rains in the north.

 






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