We left rainy, cold Cape Town last week to visit Kwa Maritane in Pilanesberg. We flew out on Friday afternoon, our flesh covered in a mass of jackets, jerseys and scarves. As soon as we landed in Pilanesberg a wave of heat washed over us as we scrambled to offload our winter attire and swap in to shorts, slops and vests. The weather was incredible – reaching 28 and 29 degrees every day. I don’t know know how to summarize everything that we did, saw and experienced, but we really grew closer as a family this weekend. With the bustle of school, Graeme’s job, play dates and my business, we’ve grown comfortable in our homely routine. My mindset is mostly to ‘get things done’ and over the past few months we’ve lost the joy of just being.
There’s no adventure in routine, and no fun in chores, so I really appreciated this break. We stepped out of our comfort zones in a big way this weekend, but also really enjoyed the relaxing moments too. The boys are in love with this place, and I am too. They made a few holiday friendships and they were so relaxed the whole time. Usually when we travel with the kids, we worry about them going crazy (also known as ‘being kids’) but I think they were so enthralled by everything that we were doing that there was no time for them to get distracted or bored.
The ‘lodge’ is more like a resort, with all kinds of different accommodation options positioned like a village and nestled under ancient African trees. Green grass, thatched roofs and an abundance of bird life will get you in that ‘safari’ mood as soon as you arrive. You’ll immediately notice that the resort is fenced and as you walk to your chalet / lodge or room you’ll spot a few zebra, a wildebeest and maybe a few impalas on your way. You’ll probably literally walk in to a Loerie because they are so tame and friendly that you’ll want to put one in your backpack and take one home. So here are a few of our favourite things that we did during our 3 night, 4 day stay.
The Game Drives will get your heart rate going.
I jumped right in to this because the wildlife is incredible. I mean, I grew up in Kwa-Zulu Natal so obviously I had been on game drives before. At Kwa Maritane, we had a few breathtaking and heart-stopping encounters that have created buckets and baskets of family memories for us. Sheldon was our guide, and I mean what a great guy. The kind of guy that you want to invite over for a braai, but also the kind of guy that you really want to stay close to when you’re in the wild.
We went on 2 drives every day at 15:30. The days were hot, so this was a great time as all the animals were coming out of hiding and moving out of the shade. I was dead-set on seeing a Lion and to lift my ‘never seen a lion in the wild’ curse. In retrospect, I really enjoyed our game drives at Hluhluwe because of car windows that could close. Going in one of those “I HAVE NO WINDOWS” jeeps is next level vulnerable. We had some gorgeous, heart-stopping and wonderful sightings.
We had moments where we just switched off the engine and watched the animals ‘be’ and interact with one another. We watched herds of elephants move across a veld while zebras and wildebeest played and grazed in the foreground. The kids had little naps, we tucked in to some wine and we had picnics, stops and visits to the hides. Probably my favourite moment was being maybe 5 meters from a journey of Giraffes. Isn’t that the most beautiful collective noun? A journey of Giraffe. Thanks Sheldon! Other highlights included Graeme spotting a Leopard lounging on a branch of a Marula tree. As he leaped out of the tree and started moving… Well that was the first time I checked for my window’s handle. Awkward.
Another highlight was definitely stopping alongside an elephant bull just going about his usual elephant business. I really respected how well Sheldon knew the animals in the park – knowing and recognizing most by their nicknames among the staff and other guides. He knew their personalities and behavior patterns. He knew which ones he could get closer to, and which ones to be wary of. He knows their individual stories and their relationship dynamics with other herds and animals too. It was incredible.
We drove back to camp in the dark each day, with about 30% vision provided by the Jeep’s head and sidelights. We had our Boma dinner to get to, and as we came around a bend, we quite literally almost ‘bumped’ in to a mother elephant with her 3 youngsters. We were lucky that the youngest was closest to the vehicle at that point, and that we didn’t give the mother the initial fright. Sheldon quickly cut the engine and switched off the lights while we waited for them to make their next move. Can I please explain to you what it’s like to be that freakin’ close to a wild elephant? While freaking out (inside) about the safety of your own kids? The youngest was quite curious and touched the vehicle with his trunk. This made the mom get protective, so she moved toward us to put some distance between us and the others. I literally felt like I was in Jurassic Park and every step was like water shaking in a glass. Another elephant moved past Graeme’s side on the right and if he’d have stuck his hand out he would have touched it. The boys didn’t understand any of it. Disclosure: MY KIDS DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT OF WILD ANIMALS OR DANGER.
The boys were getting bored and couldn’t understand why we were sitting motionless and in silence in the dark. I get it. Sheldon was doing a super job at keeping calm, and keeping us calm as he watched the mom’s behavior and decided what to do. We were stuck, because if we put the lights or engine on, then we’d scare her and she would probably have charged. She was just standing there in her giantness, right in front of the vehilcle, just watching us. She’d moved forward to close the gap between us and her family. As she started to lose interest and move past us, we’d just whispered “Shhhh” to the kids, but G and I did it at the same time which upped the volume. She turned like a woman on fire and faced us with her ears flared. I have never in my life felt so tiny or insignificant. I was scared, my heart was racing. Sheldon was talking us through the possibility of starting the engine and making a run for it, and warning us that she might give chase. Graeme was (finally) getting a bit freaked out and the kids were like “what time is supper and do they have pudding”.
Eventually after Sheldon standing his ground and showing that we’re not a threat, she moved past us and we switched the lights on and kept going, all of our hearts beating at about 140km p/h and feeling rather relieved. I hadn’t felt adrenaline like that since jumping off a bridge with a rope tied to by ankles. It was intense, and incredible. I was super happy to get to dinner and drink a LOT of wine. There are no pictures of this incident because quite honestly I was afraid to even breathe. Another thing we loved about Kwa Maritane was…
Alllllll the kids activities, play centers and pool areas
Everything from rock climbing, chess, swimming, super tubes, snake shows, pool tables, table tennis, foosball, trampolines, jumping castles, play areas, secret tunnels and hides and especially the wildlife center. They have this program called “Junior Rangers” where a guide takes the kids out for a few hours to track animals and learn about the bush. They saw fresh lion tracks, found nests, spider webs and even saw an elephant carcass. They each got a book with lists of all the things they need to find in the wild, and ticked them off as they went. They also get a certificate, badges, stickers, treats and a colouring book. When we collected them at the wildlife center they were SO CHUFFED and felt like the smartest, most important little boys in the world with all their goodies. I love it when our kids are out and about in nature, so this was especially special for me. We’ve been back for a week and they’re still filling in their little wildlife books and gushing to everyone they see that they know how to track and find real animals in the real wild! Graeme and I had taken our laptops with, in case the boys wanted to watch a movie or something. Needless to say, they didn’t ask for any kind of technology even once. Even the televisions in our rooms had live-streamed footage of the watering holes around the lodge. Every time we got back to our room, they rushed to the TV to see if the hippo had moved, or if a new little bird or animal had arrived. While there is SO MUCH good, wholesome and educational fun for the kids to do, I really loved
All the fun things for adults to do too
While the kids were at the wildlife center and out in the bush, Graeme and I retreated to the Kwa Maritane Spa. It’s such a gorgeous setting, with the heated pool and loungers overlooking the game reserve. We saw Kudu and Zebra and more Impala as we lounged around in our robes between massages and manicures. I had my nails done while Graeme opted for a full back, neck and shoulder massage, which he obviously loved. The spa is gorgeous and quite busy, so be sure to get your name in their diary as you book your stay.
The boys were very occupied at the pool, where we also had lunch every day. They have a really good poolside menu, so you can order salads or prego rolls, hotdogs, burgers, sandwiches and seafood from the comfort of your lounger without disturbing your tan. The boys spent all day on the super tube, which freed up a lot of time for Graeme and I to watch them and catch up with each other while tanning and indulging in a few delicious cocktails.
I have so much more to write and tell you about, so consider this my first post. I need to tell you what happened when we saw the lions, and HOW it happened, and how I freaked out… again. We need to talk about the Boma dinner and drums and dancers which was completely magical. All that for another day. If you live close to Joburg or Pilanesburg, you absolutely must visit and take the whole family. Find the rates and book here > http://www.legacyhotels.co.za/en/hotels/kwamaritane
If you live around KZN or Cape Town, then know that SAA flies directly to the Pilanesberg airport, which is 3km from Kwa Maritane. We had an incredible time and we’ll definitely be back, probably this December holiday. The boys have not stopped begging since we got back, they really did have the time of their lives (and us too!) A major thank you to Patrick, Sheldon, Megan and Trevor for making our stay that much more special, and to Emma and all the other guides that took such great care of our boys. We’ll be back real soon!