2 family-friendly game lodges worth bookmarking NOW!

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Not sure how to gear yourself up for the last hurdle of 2019? A quick trip to the bush always makes for a great escape from the daily grind and we have just the destination to get you on the road. The malaria-free Mabula Game Reserve in the Waterberg near Bela Bela, Limpopo, is only about two-and-a-half hours from Johannesburg and is inviting for families with young children – and you can have your pick between a chic tented camp or the resort experience.

We timed our trip perfectly for mid-August and were rewarded with azure skies during the day and star-studded heavens at night, with just a hint of a breeze to take the edge off 33-degree heat. With it being the end of autumn, the lack of lush green foliage made for better game viewing, but be warned that it is dry and dusty if you go there before the first spring rains – nothing a refreshing washcloth can’t wipe away after a game drive.

There’s nothing plain about Safari Plains

I love being in nature, but have never been a fan of down-and-dirty camping, so when the opportunity arose to glamp in style, I couldn’t resist. Of all the game lodge experiences I’ve had I can honestly say that even in its infancy, Safari Plains ranks up there with the best! It already has a 5-Star Premium Status rating from the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa, but I decided to give it my own five stars for the following:

1. Service with a smile

From the moment we arrived until our reluctant departure, we were embraced by one big smile. There is a feeling of collective joy by Safari Plains staff and why not, when this is underpinned by confidence in their offering to visitors. I cannot think of a moment when we didn’t feel welcome and attended to with professionalism and enthusiasm, from Dries, the camp manager, to the wait staff, Esther the spa therapist and the ladies who tidied our room – not to forget our dedicated ranger for the weekend, Elias.

Tented suite at Safari Plains game lodge
Safari Plains: Tented suite

2. Tented suites and sala treats

When I think of tents, I think of sand, bugs and cramped spaces. Fortunately, this was not the case and I have to admit that my expectations were sublimely exceeded. Our tented suite came with two bedrooms, a lounge area with coffee facilities and a stocked mini-bar, as well as a large bathroom (with both shower and luxury bathtub) accessed by both bedrooms. The wooden deck with wicker swing seat (only outdone by the sala) allows for those quiet, lazy moments between meals and game drives.

Children on wicker swing at game lodge
Safari Plains: Wicker swing chair

3. Adventure and leisure

Whether you’re looking to enjoy all the bush can offer or prefer to laze on loungers alongside the crystal-clear pool (or read a book stretched out on your sala), the choice is yours.

Covered sala at Safari Plains game lodge
Safari Plains: Sala

If you prefer to have your hands on the reins or at the wheel as it were, why not try a horseback or quad-biking safari? There are even hot-air balloon safaris available should you prefer a bird’s eye view of the reserve, or step out on a guided field walk. Children under the age of six years are not allowed on the adult game drives, but they are taken on bumbles where a field guide will teach them about the environment.

Guided bumble for kids at Safari Plains
Safari Plains: Guided bumble for kids

We opted for the game drives and were not disappointed. For me, it’s not about how much I can see, but rather the full sensorial experience of being there. So, it’s not what I see, hear or smell, but rather how I feel when I see it or hear it or smell it.

Giraffe siting on a safari game drive
Safari Plains: Safari drive

It’s moments like these that allow me to disconnect from big city life and relax into a more natural state of being. Yes, you can expect to see the Big Five there along with plenty other fauna and flora, but don’t let your determination to see something take away from making actual memories.

“It’s moments like these that allow me to disconnect from big city life and relax into a more natural state of being.”

Family morning game drive at Safari Plains
Safari Plains: Family morning safari drive

4. Fine wine and dining

From continental breakfasts to four-course dinners, mealtimes offer opportunities to relax and let not only the food settle, but also the events of the day – considering the early morning game drive is before breakfast. I have learnt over the years to pace myself when it comes to indulging as there really is such a thing as too much food!

Dining hall at Safari Plains game lodge
Safari Plains: Dining hall

A typical day starts with snacks before the first game drive of the day, followed by breakfast and then lunch, followed by high tea and then dinner after the late afternoon game drive. If this isn’t enough, each game drive includes drinks and snacks as you watch the sun either rise or set. While I’m not a big drinker, I did notice the impressive selection of wines on offer, as well as the spacious bar with airy lounge.

Bar area at Safari Plains game lodge
Safari Plains: Bar

5. Sounds of silence

My biggest take-home from our weekend away was the sheer silence at Safari Plains. Leaving the city behind, you expect less human noise and more sounds of nature, but even these were subdued enough that it was noticeably silent in the most peaceful way.

Main lodge lounge at boutique game lodge
Safari Plains: Main lodge lounge

6. Kids are top of mind

I have to add a bonus star rating for the effort Safari Plains has made in catering for families with kids at such an exclusive lodge. It’s not easy marrying the two, but they have pulled it off and then some. This is thanks to the thought put into the site layout, where the tented suites are spaced in such a way that you feel as if you are the only guests until you meet up at the main lodge, allowing for individual and family privacy.

Kids bedroom at Safari Plains guest lodge
Safari Plains: Kids’ room with activity booklets and treats

Not only that, but little guests receive a special welcome pack with a cute, colourful activity booklet and crayons, as well as personal touches such as bookmarks with bush tales that are left on their pillows every night to help parents with bedtime stories. The conference centre is properly set up to cater for kids’ activities, movie and game nights (the popcorn machine is a great touch!), and parents can request a babysitter (at an additional charge) if they want to spend some alone time or take their time over dinner.

Children watching T.V. in the kids activity room
Safari Plains: Kids activity room

Enjoy the resort life at Mabula Game Lodge

Mabula game lodge outside pool and spa
Mabula Game Lodge: Pool and spa area

If you’re looking for a busier environment and enjoy having people around you, then give Mabula Game Lodge a try. We took the short drive to the lodge for lunch and it was abuzz with activity in stark contrast to restful Safari Plains. Flashes of Dirty Dancing crossed my mind, sheerly because of the vibe with the inside and outside restaurant, chalets, swimming pool and tennis court, as well as the well-equipped kiddies’ programme centre.

Cubz Club area at Mabula game lodge
Mabula Game Lodge: Cubz Club

The two lodges might offer polar opposite lodge experiences, but depending on your personal preference, you and your family are sure to have a time to remember. I know I did.

Images supplied. For more information, bookings and promotions at Safari Plains or Mabula Game Lodge, visit Extraordinary Travel at https://extraordinary.co.za/.
Two nights for two adults and two children u12 can start at:
Safari Plains: R18 533 (incl. taxes and charges)
Mabula Game Lodge: R16 214 (incl. taxes and charges)