Stop for an alfresco meal during your game drive from Ivory Lodge.

South Africa | African Wild Dog, Big Cats & Cape Town | 9 Nights Madikwe Game Reserve, Sabi Sand game reserve & Cape Town

A luxury South Africa safari is all about living in the moment, from the thrill of watching wildlife at close quarters in reserves such as Madikwe and Sabi Sand to indulging in sumptuous luxury in a Cape Town boutique hotel. The thrill of the new sits easily with old-world pleasures.

Three nights at Madikwe Lelapa Lodge

Stepping out of the plane onto the dirt airstrip of Madikwe, I took a deep breath and then exhaled any stress and worries I had. We both felt an immense sense of freedom wash over us. Our guide, Gerhard, greeted us with a grin and asked if we’d like to see a dead buffalo. This seemed an odd opening gambit, but his enthusiasm was infectious. So absorbed were we in Gerhard’s running commentary on the tussle between hyena, vulture and jackal, that it was several hours before we checked in at Madikwe Lelapa Lodge. Quite a start! We’d lost the unequal struggle against sleep in our luxurious thatched suite, but woke refreshed and ready to explore this secluded eastern part of Madikwe. With so few other vehicles in the area, it felt as though we had our own private nature reserve. Gerhard pointed out just how close we were to Botswana (next on our list) and walked us up one of the fascinating inselbergs, or ‘island mountains’. From the top, we could see forever: a turquoise gleam caught my eye and we resolved that the afternoon would be pool time. Wood-fired pizza and cocktails completed our day. Late nights of bush stories and early starts had done nothing to diminish Gerhard’s energy, but even he had nothing on the wild dog we followed on our third day. We caught up with them in the cool of the morning, as they were preparing to hunt. Their lean bellies showed that they needed to. After elaborate bonding rituals they set off, their effortless loping gait disguising just how quickly they were covering ground. Gerhard gunned the engine to get ahead of them in anticipation of a kill, but somehow the impala escaped. At least we learned where the expression ‘hangdog’ comes from!

Stepping out of the plane onto the dirt airstrip of Madikwe, I took a deep breath and then exhaled any stress and worries I had. We both felt an immense sense of freedom wash over us. Our guide, Gerhard, greeted us with a grin and asked if we’d like to see a dead buffalo. This seemed an odd opening gambit, but his enthusiasm was infectious. So absorbed were we in Gerhard’s running commentary on the tussle between hyena, vulture and jackal, that it was several hours before we checked in at Madikwe Lelapa Lodge. Quite a start! 

We’d lost the unequal struggle against sleep in our luxurious thatched suite, but woke refreshed and ready to explore this secluded eastern part of Madikwe. With so few other vehicles in the area, it felt as though we had our own private nature reserve. Gerhard pointed out just how close we were to Botswana (next on our list) and walked us up one of the fascinating inselbergs, or ‘island mountains’. From the top, we could see forever: a turquoise gleam caught my eye and we resolved that the afternoon would be pool time. Wood-fired pizza and cocktails completed our day.

Late nights of bush stories and early starts had done nothing to diminish Gerhard’s energy, but even he had nothing on the wild dog we followed on our third day. We caught up with them in the cool of the morning, as they were preparing to hunt. Their lean bellies showed that they needed to. After elaborate bonding rituals they set off, their effortless loping gait disguising just how quickly they were covering ground. Gerhard gunned the engine to get ahead of them in anticipation of a kill, but somehow the impala escaped. At least we learned where the expression ‘hangdog’ comes from!

Three nights at Ivory Lodge

After a leisurely alfresco breakfast, we took a long last look at Madikwe before our flight eastward to the Greater Kruger. The views over the Sabie River from Ivory Lodge were just as striking as the sudden appearance of the line of white villas amid the green riverine forest. Ivory Lodge is unapologetic when it comes to style, and, we soon discovered, uncompromising in its care for guests and for the surrounding Sabi Sand game reserve. The arrival of a herd of elephant made up our minds; they spent some time drinking, and we followed their example as we drank in the scene and imbibed the wild energy of the Greater Kruger area. Our butler, Aubrey, kick-started the day with a pot of hot coffee and homemade cookies – as if we needed any more motivation for an early start. Our guide and tracker team, Jono and Juice, reported that they’d heard the distinctive coughing call of a leopard during the night. Juice picked up the tracks close to the lodge. Further on, a patch of disturbed sand made it clear that there’d been a struggle. Drag marks led to a nearby sausage tree; between the foliage and deep red flowers we saw the leopard, with an impala draped over the bough next to him. I assure you, seeing a big cat up close is an awe-inspiring experience! Next day, we returned to the scene of the crime, as Jono explained that even with the blood from its kill, the leopard would likely be thirsty. Right on cue, and lightning fast, it seemed to flow down the tree trunk. Jowly and with torn ears, he was more impressive than beautiful. A rut held rainwater from the overnight storm, and he languidly lapped at it, right in front of us. Amazing! The afternoon found us tracking white rhino on foot. For Juice, this was ‘easy tracking’, but a successful conclusion gave us a thrill that would be hard to repeat.

After a leisurely alfresco breakfast, we took a long last look at Madikwe before our flight eastward to the Greater Kruger.

The views over the Sabie River from Ivory Lodge were just as striking as the sudden appearance of the line of white villas amid the green riverine forest. Ivory Lodge is unapologetic when it comes to style, and, we soon discovered, uncompromising in its care for guests and for the surrounding Sabi Sand game reserve. The arrival of a herd of elephant made up our minds; they spent some time drinking, and we followed their example as we drank in the scene and imbibed the wild energy of the Greater Kruger area.

Our butler, Aubrey, kick-started the day with a pot of hot coffee and homemade cookies – as if we needed any more motivation for an early start. Our guide and tracker team, Jono and Juice, reported that they’d heard the distinctive coughing call of a leopard during the night. Juice picked up the tracks close to the lodge. Further on, a patch of disturbed sand made it clear that there’d been a struggle. Drag marks led to a nearby sausage tree; between the foliage and deep red flowers we saw the leopard, with an impala draped over the bough next to him. I assure you, seeing a big cat up close is an awe-inspiring experience!

Next day, we returned to the scene of the crime, as Jono explained that even with the blood from its kill, the leopard would likely be thirsty. Right on cue, and lightning fast, it seemed to flow down the tree trunk. Jowly and with torn ears, he was more impressive than beautiful. A rut held rainwater from the overnight storm, and he languidly lapped at it, right in front of us. Amazing! The afternoon found us tracking white rhino on foot. For Juice, this was ‘easy tracking’, but a successful conclusion gave us a thrill that would be hard to repeat.

Three nights at Cape Cadogan

We treated ourselves to massages in the private Wellness Centre before our departure … it was so good that we all but floated from the lodge back to the airport for the flight to Cape Town. We’d been excited to return to the Mother City, one of our favourite places, and walking through the manicured gardens to the whitewashed grandeur of the Cape Cadogan reminded us why. This boutique hotel has got old world charm down, but like the city, it wears its nostalgia lightly and is never stuffy. Only breakfast was offered, which made perfect sense in this epicurean capital. Traditional fish and chips in Kalk Bay for lunch; oysters and local Méthode Cap Classique for a romantic early dinner. It takes a special meal to distract from the views here; our guide did just that with his recommendations. We’d long suspected the term ‘fairest Cape’ referred to this region’s bountiful vineyards, and a private wine-tasting tour of some of the best estates was an excellent way to test this theory. Along the way, we learned how to expertly pair wine and cheese, witnessed a bottle of Méthode Cap Classique being opened with an old cavalry sabre, and indulged in a vertical tasting of Pinotage. As we tasted each year, we again experienced both the nostalgia and optimism that South Africa exudes. A late picnic lunch on a blanket in the shade of Cape Dutch gables rounded out a memorable day. Cape Town’s climate and character are shaped by the ocean, and a private Cape Peninsula tour proved to be a wonderful way to both admire it from afar, and get up close and personal with some of its denizens. We met the comically serious penguins of Boulders Beach, and took a boat out to visit the seal colony on Duiker Island. Our guide’s knowledge of the peninsula and its history was fascinating; happily, it included a few secluded picnic spots with stunning views and no crowds.

We treated ourselves to massages in the private Wellness Centre before our departure … it was so good that we all but floated from the lodge back to the airport for the flight to Cape Town.

We’d been excited to return to the Mother City, one of our favourite places, and walking through the manicured gardens to the whitewashed grandeur of the Cape Cadogan reminded us why. This boutique hotel has got old world charm down, but like the city, it wears its nostalgia lightly and is never stuffy. Only breakfast was offered, which made perfect sense in this epicurean capital. Traditional fish and chips in Kalk Bay for lunch; oysters and local Méthode Cap Classique for a romantic early dinner. It takes a special meal to distract from the views here; our guide did just that with his recommendations.

We’d long suspected the term ‘fairest Cape’ referred to this region’s bountiful vineyards, and a private wine-tasting tour of some of the best estates was an excellent way to test this theory. Along the way, we learned how to expertly pair wine and cheese, witnessed a bottle of Méthode Cap Classique being opened with an old cavalry sabre, and indulged in a vertical tasting of Pinotage. As we tasted each year, we again experienced both the nostalgia and optimism that South Africa exudes. A late picnic lunch on a blanket in the shade of Cape Dutch gables rounded out a memorable day.

Cape Town’s climate and character are shaped by the ocean, and a private Cape Peninsula tour proved to be a wonderful way to both admire it from afar, and get up close and personal with some of its denizens. We met the comically serious penguins of Boulders Beach, and took a boat out to visit the seal colony on Duiker Island. Our guide’s knowledge of the peninsula and its history was fascinating; happily, it included a few secluded picnic spots with stunning views and no crowds.

What sets it apart

Although this was our second visit to South Africa (and certainly not our last) we were again struck by how easily – and with such good grace – this country could surprise us. The sense of space at Madikwe, with vast tracts of land interrupted only by mountains, and endless skies above, gave us a real sense of liberty and possibility, and of course the safari experience did not disappoint. It was wonderful to have such a change from our normal routine, to get more in tune with the natural rhythms of day and night, and to be greeted at every turn with smiles rather than glum city faces. While Madikwe Lelapa Lodge channelled classic safari style, Ivory Lodge in contrast was determined to be different, and pulled this off in a cool, contemporary way that didn’t jar with its wild setting. It was the ideal sanctuary from which to venture into big-cat country. Time in Cape Town will never get old, and ending the itinerary here provided the softest of landings as we slowly reconciled ourselves to returning home. It’s often described as the most European city in Africa; what makes it so enjoyable of course is just how African it really is. Yes, there were recognisable elements of European elegance, but they had been given a new lease of life by the warmth, energy and inventiveness of the people. Not to mention the astonishing end-of-a-continent setting.

Although this was our second visit to South Africa (and certainly not our last) we were again struck by how easily – and with such good grace – this country could surprise us. The sense of space at Madikwe, with vast tracts of land interrupted only by mountains, and endless skies above, gave us a real sense of liberty and possibility, and of course the safari experience did not disappoint.

It was wonderful to have such a change from our normal routine, to get more in tune with the natural rhythms of day and night, and to be greeted at every turn with smiles rather than glum city faces.

While Madikwe Lelapa Lodge channelled classic safari style, Ivory Lodge in contrast was determined to be different, and pulled this off in a cool, contemporary way that didn’t jar with its wild setting. It was the ideal sanctuary from which to venture into big-cat country.

Time in Cape Town will never get old, and ending the itinerary here provided the softest of landings as we slowly reconciled ourselves to returning home. It’s often described as the most European city in Africa; what makes it so enjoyable of course is just how African it really is. Yes, there were recognisable elements of European elegance, but they had been given a new lease of life by the warmth, energy and inventiveness of the people. Not to mention the astonishing end-of-a-continent setting.

Day 1–3

You’ll enjoy spectacular, unimpeded game viewing at Madikwe Lelapa Lodge. © More Private Travel

You’ll be met as you disembark from your international flight at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, and assisted through customs and immigration. After a scheduled flight to Madikwe, you’ll take a transfer to Madikwe Lelapa Lodge, where you’ll spend three nights.

Day 4–6

Stop for refreshments and enjoy the views when on game drives from Ivory Lodge. © More Private Travel

After a transfer from Madikwe Lelapa Lodge to the airstrip, you’ll take a scheduled flight to Johannesburg, and a connecting scheduled flight to Skukuza. You’ll then take a transfer to Ivory Lodge in the Sabi Sand game reserve, where you’ll spend three nights.

Day 7–9

Cape Cadogan is an exclusive boutique hotel in the heart of Cape Town. © More Private Travel

After a transfer from Ivory Lodge to the airport, you’ll take a scheduled flight to Cape Town. You’ll then take a private transfer to Cape Cadogan in the city centre, where you’ll spend three nights.

Day 10

Table Mountain is Cape Town’s crowning jewel.

A private transfer will take you from Cape Cadogan to Cape Town International Airport, where you’ll take a scheduled flight to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, to connect with your international flight.

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