Barely two hours’ drive from Pretoria, I find - to my utter astonishment - a place so raw with beauty it almost shocks me into silence.This hidden bushveld gem is known as Monate Lodge, ke-monate being a Sotho word that loosely translates as "delightful".
After being stuck in rush hour traffic leaving Pretoria, we’re on our way and the road is clear. We drive into an emerald bushveld painted jade by abundant January rain. After giddy slippery ride on the last few kilometres of gravel road, we arrive at 7pm to a warm welcome from our hostess, the delightful and charming Ruby.
Our room comes in the form of a colossal thatched asylum fit for visiting dignitaries, made up of a huge living area flaked by two en-suite master bedrooms with our own pool, Victorian bath, outdoor shower and mounted big-screen television.
The other elite luxury tented suite on the property is just as rustically opulent and private without the intrusion of a TV. The adorable Willard who looks after us for the rest of our stay serves dinner of fillet steak in honey mustard sauce in our quarters. An early night is followed by a delicious hot breakfast in the boma the next morning and the lodge reveals itself in the light of day.
Monate is nestled in manicured gardens on an 1839-hectare private reserve in the Limpopo province. This malaria-free area is beautiful in its diversity, ranging from open plains to typical bushveld and interesting rocky outcrops, caves and koppies, and the lodge itself is built in an enclave among these ancient rock formations.
We take a walk up the natural steps between the rocks to the piece de résistance of Monate - the "cave". The path leads over a waterfall and curves around the koppie to open up to a magnificent view of reserve and the cave’s opening.
Formed around 300 000 years ago when a huge inland lake slowly drained out and the swirling water weathered away the sandstone, the cave is also used for dinners, and the bushveld views are simply breathtaking.
The other dining venues at Monate are the lodge boma and the bush boma.
The bush boma is located in the middle of the reserve. This setting has no power and is entirely lit up by candle and paraffin lights, which lend a romantic feel to it. It’s situated between two rocky outcrops on either side of the dining area with the soft light embracing the rocky walls. As a fire dances to the African beat, this dining experience is something to treasure forever.
We take a stroll around the grounds after breakfast the next mornign and I realise that the lodge is superbly designed - the two executive tents ensure total privacy, while the double and family chalets around the main reception areas are cosy with their own outdoor areas and two pools situated away from each other.
In between game drives, families can enjoy a variety of activities at the main lodge - volleyball, Putt-Putt, board games, horse riding, swimming, mini golf, volley ball, swing ball, and a trampoline will keep the kids busy for a week!
We spend the afternoon in our cosy palace watching cricket while the rain comes down. Dinner is presented in the form of a scrumptious kudu steak with red wine reduction. The food here is superb and simple, with none of the fancy over-the-top fare one so often finds at these lodges.
The next morning the rain has cleared up and the weather finally allows for our game drive, even though we are reluctant to leave our luxurious cocoon. It’s early and the bush smells of new life everywhere. The lodge boasts three of the Big 5 - rhino (although very few), leopard and buffalo. It spans just under 2000 hectares and we spot kudu, zebra, giraffe and buffalo.
Monate is an affordable and easily accessible paradise for the entire family right on your doorstep. So next time you need a break, think “ke-monate”!
For more information, call 014 718 7000 or visit www.monatelodge.com.