My birthday present in 1966 was a family trip to the Kruger National Park and it was there that my love of being in the bush was born.
In the intervening years I have been to many game lodges but I had never been back to “Kruger”.
When my wife and I were offered the opportunity to visit Lukimbi Safari Lodge, a private camp in the southern region of the Park we were happy to hop into my Jeep and entrusted “Simon” the voice of my TomTom GPS to get to Malelane Gate.
Lukimbi, named after elusive mythical creature that is half Owl, half Lion, covers 15000ha within the Park boundaries that means guests are required to pay the relevant Park entry fees.
When we visited in early November it was very dry and the game seemed to be spread out looking for both water and food.
This scarcity of animals did not deter us, as we never have an agenda when visiting game lodges.
During our drive to Lukimbi we had seen several herds of Impala and the occasional White Rhino when I spotted an Impala carcass hanging in the fork of an Acacia tree. With some “binocular exploration” we were able to spot a large male leopard lying in the shade nearby!
From that point our drive took on a whole new energy and we were treated to a variety of Raptor sightings as well as a welcome from the “bird ambassador of Kruger” the Lilac Breasted Roller.
Eventually, with a bit of “map work 101” we found the private road to Lukimbi and we received an enthusiastic welcome from the waiting staff.
The lodge reception is breathtaking and houses the largest guest book we have every encountered (in retrospect we wondered if the book had been put in place and the reception area built around it)
Dion, who together with his wife Kirsty, manages the lodge, showed us around the property before taking us to our room.
Like the horns on a buffalo, the lodge accommodation extends out via wooden walkways from both sides of the main building. There are 9 units in the Warthog wing and 7 units in the Elephant wing. All the rooms face the Lwakahle River which, when in flood we were told, is spectacular.
Our standard room had a large bedroom as well as an indoor seating area and covered deck. We had views of the dry riverbed (the river last flooded in April) and the remaining pools from our bath, toilet, outdoor shower and covered deck!
These pools encouraged several game species into the open and within minutes of our arrival we had spotted Saddle-billed storks, buffalo, an elephant and her calf as well as a couple of Hyena! Who needs to go on a game drive when the animals come to you...
But there was lunch to experience before our afternoon drive and we unpacked quickly and headed for the dining area where we were met by Sous chef Daniel.
Although he has only recently arrived at the lodge his signature dishes are certainly making an impact with guests and food magazine editors alike.
After a quick post-lunch nap it was time to meet our ranger and tracker and to head off to see what we could “spot”.
Unlike many other private concessions where there are almost as many vehicles as a Presidential convoy, Lukimbi only allows a maximum of five vehicles on its property and radio “chatter” is kept to a minimum!
Considering what we had seen from our veranda, the game drive did deliver Elephant, Rhino (the White variety and not its evil tempered Black cousin) and a family of Giraffe.
An early dinner had been organized for us and we headed off in that direction as soon as we returned from the drive.
If we thought the lunch menu was good, Daniel out did himself at dinner. Not a buffet table in sight as it was a plated dinner that would not have been out of place at any 5-star hotel anywhere in the world.
Butternut soup followed by supreme of Quail on a toasted Brioche with a poppyseed sauce as starters. This was followed by Eland fillet with cream potato, spring vegetables and a Port jus for me. My wife chose the Scottish Salmon with a sweet potato fondant, roast vegetables and red pepper puree.
I am not going to mention the desserts except to say they were decadent and we will both have to serve penance in the gym for our indiscretion! But they were worth it.
After spending most of day in a vehicle of some description, our bed was calling (screaming actually) and we both fell asleep to the sound of Hyena calling close by.
As a bonus, we spotted a porcupine wandering through the undergrowth as we made our way along the walkway back to our room...a first for both of us!
My wife is NOT a morning person (I have learned this from bitter experience),so I went on a “private” early morning drive.
It started quietly (although we did hear a lion roaring) and ended on a high with an extended sighting of a female leopard called Nulu. Even with a cub nearby she was very relaxed and walked close to our vehicle on several occasions.
As a result of this sighting breakfast time had come and gone by the time we returned. However we did apologize to the chef and asked if we could still get something to eat!
Daniel was only too happy to accommodate us and in no time we had hot plates of delicious food on our table.
My wife chose kippers while I decided to try the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs.
For those who do not want a cooked breakfast there was a choice of fresh fruit, cereals and yogurt.
I had to interrupt writing this article for a while as a breeding herd of Elephant was making its way to the dam in front of where I was working...
Unfortunately they decided to browse and move on but I then got sidetracked by a pair of Saddle Billed storks and a rather cheeky Red-billed Hornbill that is trying to get my attention, and some of my toast!
Game lodge etiquette dictates that food is followed by a nap, a game drive, more food and then bed...and Lukimbi maintains that protocol to the letter.
Their outstanding food is certainly a major breach of this unwritten protocol but one that both my wife and I were willing to overlook.
We had our meals either indoors or on the deck and although there is an option to eat dinner in the Boma, inclement weather did not allow us to do this.
At dinner we were joined by several Foam nest tree frogs which use the light fittings as camouflage from where they can catch insects.
It was at dinner that I got to see my first kill...well, just a little one.
A Gecko took on a Cicada and walked off with its dinner proudly clutched in its tiny jaws!
Our final afternoon game drive was called off due to a thunder storm and the fact that we did not want to spend 3 hours getting damp and cold while watching herds of wet Impala.
We arrived at dinner on our final night to find a fire blazing away in both the lounge and the dining room to keep the edge off the cold and wet weather that set in at lunchtime.
While chatting to an American couple with a young child, they mentioned to us that Lukimbi was extremely child friendly and as a result they were able to relax and enjoy their game drives knowing that their son was in good hands.
At dinner a small bat joined the frogs to forage for insects as my wife and I looked over the menu. Daniel once again did justice to the menu and my wife only complained about having too much to eat once she had finished her chocolate mousse...and my Malva pudding caused me to have second thoughts about having ordered it, but only for the briefest moment.
Unfortunately our last morning game drive did not produce either the elusive Balck Rhino or the lion we had heard calling the day before.
It did however end with a small herd of buffalo and a plethora of bird species. All in all it was a satisfying end to our time at Lukimbi.
The legend says that wise and strong Lukimbi safeguards all travelers in the African bush. We certainly hope that this mythical creature will look after us on our future adventures
A big thank you to all the lodge staff and especially to our ranger Danie and tracker KK who were prepared to go out in the rain!
Reservations: 011 431 1120