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Tales from our visit to Makanyi Safari Lodge, Timbavati, Kruger Park, South Africa
Wrapped in fleece blankets with a hot water bottle on my lap and the crisp air of the African bush gently waking my senses, I smiled at Steve – this was the honeymoon we’d dreamed of.
Going on safari topped our list of reasons to visit South Africa. We planned our trip around it and spent hours choosing the perfect lodge. We wanted to go to the kind of place we’d lusted over on Pinterest – a luxury lodge with style, romance and charm. Makanyi Safari Lodge fulfilled all of that and exceeded everything we’d imagined. Its warm hospitality, alongside the magnificence of the bush, combined to create five of the best days of our life. We look back on it with longing.
This was Steve’s first safari and I had done a much more basic one in Tanzania when visiting there and Zanzibar on a school trip back in 1999 (showing my age now!).
Our honeymoon at Makanyi Safari Lodge
Days on safari began at 5am. Coffee and pastries were served before we headed off on the morning drive. It was the morning time that I loved the most. Not an early riser, I worried that I’d struggle with the early alarm calls – I imagined that I’d perhaps skip a drive at some point and enjoy a little lie-in. But rising with the sun felt apt; safari is all about immersion in nature, and each morning, I left my bed with pleasure.
I was hooked on the raw grandeur of the bush, and the anticipation and thrill of searching for animals. Not a drive passed where we didn’t see something that took my breath away – the grace of a giraffe, the stare of a hippo, or the mighty roar of a full-grown lion. Everything, from the warthogs to the cats to the birds, inspired a childlike wonder that nourished that part of me that sometimes shrieks “Oh my, we’re alive!”.
Amazing safari guides
A huge part of the experience was the expertise of our guide, Brad, and our tracker, Rondy. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and their knowledge impressive. Brad had just got back from a holiday when we arrived and we were amazed by where he’d been: on a safari in Kenya. Safari isn’t just his job, it’s his passion, which makes him a first-rate guide. He has goals to be one of the best guides in South Africa, and I’m sure he’ll achieve it. He and Rondy are a great team, and a big part of our enjoyment was simply spending time with them and learning about the bush.
The luxury mega range rover
Our vehicle was a beautiful beast of a range rover with four tiers of seats, two for each level. It could take just six guests at a time so we never felt crowded. And it was open to the elements, which made us even closer to the animals we saw. A brilliant feature of the car was a little table that folded out from the front. It was to my upmost delight on our first night that we stopped half way through our drive and Brad and Rondy cracked out some snacks and a cooler filled with drinks. We drank champagne and chatted in the open bush. It was a nightly ritual that we relished. And in the mornings, we stopped for cookies and coffee – laced with Amarula if we were feeling decadent. It was these little touches and treats that made it the honeymoon experience of our dreams.
Food at Makanyi
All the food and treats at Makanyi are included in the cost of your stay, which means, unlike many luxury hotels, you never have to worry about what you’re spending. And the food and drinks are plentiful. Breakfast is served after the first drive in the morning, followed by lunch, then teatime, and dinner after the second drive. Then there’s also the drink and snack stops during the drives, and drinks at the bar in the evening. There’s no chance for hunger, but plenty for indulgence. And all the food was delicious. As vegetarians, we were well catered for with a high-quality, European-style menu.
Makanyi Safari Lodge
For the times between eating and exploring the bush, the lodge itself was a beautiful place to relax. The shared terrace looks out onto a waterhole with a resident hippo and other animals who come to drink there. And the inside has a plush lounge, library and bar. But my favourite thing to do when relaxing was to visit the spa for a massage. Make sure to book the five elements image if you go.
Beautiful, luxury safari rooms
The rooms at Makanyi were the first thing that caught our eye. Steve is obsessed by baths and each suite has a freestanding tub that looks out onto the bush. That alone was enough to sway us. But the rest of the room was also outstanding with a huge four poster bed, a private terrace, indoor and outdoor lounge – and, my favourite, the outdoor shower. We felt like royalty.
The extra touches at Makanyi Safari Lodge
Aside from the twice daily drives, other things you can do at Makanyi include stargazing, hot air balloon rides, bush walks, photography lessons and more. For us, the drives and spa were enough.
Private bush picnic at Makanyi
Included in the honeymoon package is one private bush picnic, which is exactly what it says – a picnic in the bush by yourselves, and all the animals. That last bit was what made me apprehensive. This was the same bush where we’d seen lions, elephants, and rhinos. What if we saw one while we were picnicking? Wouldn’t they be attracted by the food? Brad explained that he would leave the jeep, keys and radio with us, and he’d be no more than 300 metres away with the other radio. Despite this, I was still a little nervous as I wasn’t sure what we’d do if a lion approached from the other direction to Brad! But we did it, and it was exhilarating – the most wild picnic I’ll ever have. Afterwards, Brad told us that he’d been sitting below a tree not far from us when he saw a huge elephant approaching. Luckily, the elephant changed direction, but we saw it on the drive back, and it was the biggest elephant I’ve seen – as tall as a double-decker.
The animals of Timbavati
And finally, there were the animals, the undoubted stars of the show. Within our first two drives, we had seen the entire Big Five – lions, elephants, rhinos, leopard, and buffalo. And the next day, we saw a cheetah and wild dogs, which made it the Magnificent Seven. These animals have earned the title the Big Five, not because they are the most rare, but because they are the most difficult to hunt. In fact, some of my most favourite sightings were outside of that group – I loved the giraffes, zebra, and hippos. The birds were also incredible; we saw one that fakes death as part of its mating ritual, falling within inches of the ground before swooping back to the sky. Through Brad’s commentary on all we saw, we learned so much. No question was ever too much. See the photos below for a taste of all we saw.
Before going on safari, I imagined that lions would be the most dangerous animal – the ones to be wary of and keep your distance from. In fact, we could park close to a lion with it barely blinking an eye. It was the elephants we had to worry about. They’re temperamental, territorial creatures, and, although most often calm, we did encounter a few stressy ones. One was particularly terrifying.
Unlike the plains of Tanzania where you can see for miles, the bush in Kruger is dense and you’re never sue what you might find around the next corner. One day, we suddenly came upon a group of elephants who were as startled as we were. The biggest female went into protection mode and trumpeted at us, flapping her ears and shrieking. Next thing we knew, she was chasing us! Brad stayed calm, I freaked out, and Steve smiled with glee, as we sped away with the elephant on our tail. It was certainly exhilarating.
Photos from Makanyi Safari Lodge
Perhaps the best way to explain the magic of Makanyi is to share some photos from our time there. We have hundreds, but here’s a selection of the best. We really can’t recommend it enough.
Makanyi Safari Lodge facts
Makanyi Safari Lodge was originally a private residence, but was bought by a British woman and her dad who turned it into the commercial lodge it is today. It opened in June 2015 and is the only commercial lodge in the southern part of Timbavati, meaning you rarely bump into other vehicles. Timbavati is a private game reserve, but it’s open to Kruger so the animals can roam as they please. The owners of the lodge have hired staff from some of South Africa’s top lodges to create an incredible team that are keen to make Makanyi one of the best lodges in the country. We think they’ve already achieved it.
For more special places to stay, check out our special stays series, or if you’re planning a trip, see our travel planning resources. And if you’d prefer a self-drive option, here’s a guide to doing a self-drive safari in Krueger National Park.
And you can see the full itinerary of our South Africa and Mauritius honeymoon here.