Location: 90 kilometers from Port Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela Bay on the N2 towards Grahamstown.
Date Visited: 9 -11 March 2012 (Summer)
Where we Stayed: Mark’s Camp, one of the three four-star lodges in the Game Reserve, this one specifically designed with families and children in mind.
What we did: We had scrumptious food, awesome game viewing from open vehicles with knowledgeable guides & fantastic African entertainment alongside great conversation and time together.
Recommendation: This is an amazing African weekend for a family who wants to do something very special. The proximity to Nelson Mandela Bay and the malaria free environment makes it especially wonderful when traveling with children. Lalibela comes highly recommended.
Website: Lalibela Game Reserve
‘For whom the bees have foretold greatness.’
Over the weekend I have seen this sentence again and again.
On a stunning postcard.
On welcome stationary.
On a simple questionnaire about quality of service.
‘What greatness do you envision’, I ask Lee as we drive from Mark’s Camp to Tree Tops.
Lee is showing us the other lodges Lalibela has on offer. As we drive she is telling us the story of how this reserve came into being. How it found its name and how it grew from a seed of desire into a place to which so many come to find a moment of African bliss.
‘Lalibela was an Ethiopian king who built a magnificent city with churches carved from stone. He created a capital city from nothing. The bees foretold his greatness & it came to pass.’
Perhaps some of this Lalibela’s greatness has already come to pass.
Perhaps some of it is yet to be realized.
The lodges are an interesting mix of Africa with artifacts, sculptures and photographs from across the continent adorning walls and shelves and secret corners, often surprising the curious visitor who takes time to drink deeply of the rich environment.
Each lodge has its own personality.
Treetops is an amazing semi-tented camp hiding in the tops of trees, creating perfect shelter for only ten guests with elephant and antelope grazing undisturbed below.
Lentaba Lodge accommodates a few more, but in a completely different atmosphere with old world charm and blazing fires.
We stayed at Mark’s Camp.
The attention to detail & the quality of staff astounded us.
‘We strive to excel at service and detail’, Lee explains. ‘When all three lodges are completely full we’re hosting forty guests. At all times we have sixty-six people on staff. It is the only way to make sure we create a unforgetable experience.’
Cush spoilt our children. She did arts and crafts with them. She played with them, drew them into the world of Africa & game & nature. On Saturday she prepared a special picnic for them in the middle of a beautiful field. On Saturday night she hosted a sleep-over. They made jewelery from biscuits, glittered wind-charm snakes and three-dimensional photo frames. On Sunday when we said goodbye, our Pippa had to fight back the tears. They shared something. Loved something. Enjoyed something.
And so did we.
The kids were never bored.
They never complained that they felt excluded.
Or weren’t welcome.
On Saturday, as the sun showed itself from behind persistent rain clouds, we spent some time at the swimming pools. The children screamed with laughter.
No one complained.
Yet, Nkosi was always close to make sure our every need was taken care of.
A dry towel.
A fresh magazine.
Meals were marvelous.
Game drives were awesome.
During our weekend’s stay we enjoyed four game drives. Lalibela has such a diversity of plants & animals, each expedition was different.
Across savannah grasslands we drove to valley bushveld, through fynbos to riverine forest and acacia woodland.
We saw elephant & buffalo.
Rhino & hippopotamus.
Lion & Cheetah.
Herds of blesbuck & red hartebeest & impala always in sight.
On Sunday morning we drove to a section of the reserve we had not even seen on any of the previous game drives. This 7500 hectare-reserve is so spacious & diverse, I imagine there are still parts unseen & beauty undiscovered.
As we topped a hill Giraffe awaited us amidst large trees.
An entire herd.
‘This is the tallest land mammal’, explained our ranger & guide.
Along the way he had shown us how Khoisan people made rope & created extremely hot fires.
He showed us the tracks of cheetah which, although it look ‘cat’-like is a closer relative of the dog with claws that do not retract.
We saw zebra.
We tasted the cool African air.
Smelled fynbos soothing our being.
On each game drive the rangers spent more than three hours sharing knowledge & beauty.
It felt like moments.
We met interesting people from Germany & Holland & Knysna.
‘Africa is magnificent’, the German couple blurted.
‘You are very fortunate to live in a country so beautiful, so rich & diverse and exquisite’, the Dutch couple say, as we say goodbye.
And I wonder how much of Africa we see.
For as we drove amongst trees & wide blue sky I felt the pulse of the continent on which I was born and knew, despite my pale skin & the precarious way in which my forefathers came to this place, I am not European.
Saturday night, Xhosa dancers entertain us with traditional song & the dance of the maidens.
The rhythm resonates in my soul.
I am they & they are me.
It is sin that we live in concrete and brick, swept away on black rivers rushing relentlessly amongst high-rise canyons.
If only we could taste Lalibela more often.
We would be more.
Perhaps the greatness of which the bees have foretold is exactly this – making mere people more as the spirit of Africa is shared?