What is there to say about a safari that hasn't already been said? Well, one thing is for sure: of all our travels, this one topped them all. We spent four days at Rhulani Lodge in the Madikwe Game Reserve to ring in my 30th birthday. It was the best way I could possibly imagine starting a new decade and long enough to be both restorative and reenergizing.
Why did we choose Madikwe? There are so many reserves in South Africa and we were overwhelmed with all the choices. Krueger is the most famous, but seemed too commercialized to be relaxing. Madikwe was 100% Malaria-free and there was the chance we'd see wild dogs. Sold!
After the fact, we realized Madikwe was the absolute best choice. The lodges work beautifully together and are extremely considerate of one another. They take turns so that all guests can get the best view possible, which is something that can't be said for some of the game drivers in Krueger. Additionally, we were able to off-road, getting up close and personal with the wildlife. And you can read more on thoughts on Rhulani here. Spoiler alert: we loved it.
Each day started by 5:30 am. We'd gather in the open-air lodge for coffee and a quick pastry before heading out on the morning drive. The drives last 3-4 hours, with a break in the morning for coffee or in the evenings for sundowners (arguably our favorite pastime).
After the morning drives, we enjoyed some hot breakfast, a nap, yoga, massages or read by our private pool. All in a day's work! We reconvened with our fellow guests for afternoon tea before heading back out on an evening drive. It's worth noting that our lodge had two game vehicles, each accommodating 9 guests, plus a game driver. Ours in particular, Sean, was hands down the best. The rest of the staff were equally as good and as a rule of thumb, always outnumber the guests (18:26).
Just before sunset, we would find an open area to enjoy cocktails and conversations. What's better than a gin and tonic in the bush while chatting with travelers from all over the world? The only thing is getting a glimpse of an animal nearby.
Throughout our experience, we were fortunate enough to spot the Big 5 (elephant, rhino, leopard, lion and buffalo). We got veryyyyyyy close in most cases, sometimes uncomfortably so. Watching a lion walk a foot away definitely made us uneasy, but it was exhilarating. The animals are accustomed to seeing the game drive vehicles (converted Toyota Land Cruisers). To them, it's just one big animal since they can't differentiate individual people. They also know that this strange animal is not a predator, nor is it a threat, so they really couldn't care less about it. Only once did we really feel unsafe, when an elephant in musk decided to charge our vehicle in the pitch black night. Luckily, Sean had spent years at an elephant reserve in Namibia and hardly broke a sweat.
As I mentioned, we also happened to be at Rhulani for my 30th birthday. Tim and the staff planned a day full of surprises, including traditional songs and a beautiful cake (with more than a few trick candles). It was the best experience I could've asked for and I can't recommend a safari enough.