My husband and I travelled to South Africa in August 2023. We chose to travel in Winter as it is the dry season and with limited rainfall the animals migrate to waterholes making them easier to locate.
We flew directly from Sydney to Johannesburg with Qantas in Premium economy class. We were at the airport 3 hours prior to our flight and check in was quick and easy via the Premium Economy and Business Class check in line. The service and food on the flight was pleasant for our 14 hour flight.
We stayed overnight at a Johannesburg airport hotel and returned to the airport the next day for our 1.5 hour South African Airlink flight to Hoedspruit Airport which is Northeast of Joburg. It was quite exciting to see impala (deer) beside the tarmac as we landed!
Our first stop was Moholoholo Forest Camp. This lodge is linked to Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre which was my primary reason for staying there. I was happily impressed with the beautiful accommodation, facilities and meals at the Forest Camp. There was Nyala deer wandering around the grounds and you could hear the calls of other wildlife deep in the bush. You can do game drives from here but we did not have time.
Our visit to the rehabilitation Centre was a bit distressing as you see and hear of the awful predicaments of animals usually created by humans in the way of snares, hit by vehicles, caught in fences, electrocuted by power lines or bought as pets who became too big/wild. The centre rehabilitates injured wildlife back to health and then release back to the wild when possible. Unfortunately, some animals have been injured too severely so would no longer survive in the wild so they stay in enclosures at Moholoholo to live out their life with the care they need. The centre primarily rescues Vultures, but there were white lions, cheetah, zebra, deer, and a famous honey badger named Stoeffel who is an opportunistic escape artist!
The next day we were transferred to our main accommodation for the trip at Makutsi Safari Springs, which is located within a privately owned game reserve, one hour west of Kruger National Park and about 60km NW (1 hour drive) of Hoedspruit.
Makusti’s Safari Springs is a low-cost property offering affordable packages of 1-5 weeks stay. Accommodation is in a traditional Rondavel (ron- dah- vel- a circular dwelling with a thatched roof). Packages include 2 home-cooked meals per day- Breakfast and Dinner. Lunch can be purchased by preorder at breakfast each day.
Makutsi has a resort feel with palms and bougainvillea planted around the grounds, so you could mistakenly think you are in Fiji except for the deer, monkey’s and warthog roaming around the grounds. There are many guests that return to Makutsi repeatedly which speaks volumes about the place!
There are two pools, a large outdoor pool plus a warm indoor mineral spring water pool, a tennis court, and a library. The lapa & viewing deck on the edge of the Makutsi River is for game viewing during the day, and for a sundowner as the sun sets.
The Rondavels have en-suite bathrooms with hot and cold water, electricity, a mini-bar, coffee/tea facilities, ceiling fans, air-cons, mosquito nets and a private terrace with lounge chair. I found ours quite comfortable and had everything we needed.
There is also Tented Camp part of Makutsi which can sleep up to 8 people in 4 twin/double safari tents under thatch. All tents have electricity, a private covered deck, standing fan as well as an en-suite bathroom with hot/cold showers and flush toilets. Stays here are generally as a 2 night, 2 day Sleep Out, the highlight the daily walking safaris. You need a reasonable level of fitness to do this.
As Makutsi si within a game reserve with no boundary fence around the camp, animals are able to roam around freely, so there is a ‘No walking’ rule from 5.30pm-7am. You need to be at the main lappa by 5.30pm, otherwise they will pick you up from your room before the 7pm dinner. This is for your own safety as predator wildlife become active in the early evening and through the night looking for prey! You are driven home after dinner and often sight special wildlife in that few minute drive- it is all very exciting!
Game drives within the reserve are in open Land rovers which is very exhilarating with wildlife so close! As it is a private Game Reserve there are strict rules and only experienced and qualified guides are allowed to drive here and no more than 2 vehicles are allowed to be with any animal at once, which gives the animals respect and space and allows guests the chance of spectacular sightings. A huge difference from other game parks which can have 20 vehciles beside a pride of lion.
We did 5 game drives within Makutsi Game Reserve during our stay (3 x 3 hour drives and 2 x 5 hour evening drives which were my favourite), and were fortunate to see the Big 5 a few times over- which is Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo, Lion and Leopard. Often considered the most elusive, our Leopard sightings were incredible, we were able to spend almost an hour on one night safari observing a leopard as there were no other vehicles in the park and we were not stressing the animal. A very special and memorable experience.
Makutsi staff operate anti-poaching activities by patrolling the reserve 24 x7 in search of snares, broken fences or injured wildlife. This is necessary as there are Rhino and Elephant with HUGE tusks in the park which would be prime targets for poachers.
We joined two full day trips from Makutsi- The Blyde River Canyon and 3 Rondavels in the Drakensburg Mountains which was stunning scenery, and also a day trip to Kruger Game Reserve for a full day safari which had wonderful wildlife sightings. I would recommend visiting both these locations but be aware it is a long drive from Makutsi in a basic minivan so not an overly comfortable or premium game viewing vehicle.
We were sad to leave Makusti at the end of our 6 night stay and felt we would have liked another 3-4 nights there to have had some relaxing days between safari’s and use the facilities. One of the guides transferred us back to Hoedspruit Airport for our fight to Johannesburg. From Joburg we had a private transfer waiting to take us to our next stop- Sun City. We considered self-driving this portion but were advised against it by South African friends due to the 'crazy driving' of the locals. Our driver Joe, was friendly and knowledgeable, and the minivan was of a high standard with air conditioning and wifi so I can recommend this option!
Sun City was a trip down memory lane for us, 27 years ago we began our 6 week African honeymoon with a stay here. It has that over the top Las Vegas feel with a variety of accommodation, a casino, restaurants, shops, discos, and beautifully landscaped grounds. It was a delightful 2 night anniversary indulgence after long driving days and bumpy game drives.
We stayed in The Lost Palace which is luxurious in every way from the rooms, décor, huge pools, amazing breakfast buffet with champagne, massages and staff- it is all just fabulous. The Aussie dollar holds up well against the Rand so despite being in a 5 star resort cocktails were only $5 AUD each and very enjoyable. My husband played on the Gary Player designed golf course and several holes had wildlife nearby including monkeys, mongoose and crocodiles!
Joe picked up from Sun City for our private transfer to our last stop at Ukutula Lodge & Conservation Centre- one hour drive South of Sun City, half way between Sun City and Johannesburg. Ukutula Lodge is a beautiful 4 star rated lodge offering self-catering chalets that sleep up to 6 guests. There are 2 pools, a restaurant, gift shop and wonderful animal sculptures scattered around the grounds.
With out a doubt the highlight of a visit to UCC is the opportunity to get up close to the cats. We took a tour of the Conservation Centre which has a Research centre with a biobank for embryo of endangered species. The UCC holds a world first achievement of IVF lion cubs!
We were in luck as there was a lion cub, named Phoenix, who we were able to have a play and cuddle with. We also pat a cheetah, watched male lions feed and play at a waterhole and the ultimate experience of walking with a pride of lions in the wild. Exhilarating and a tad anxiety inducing but we lived to tell the tale and would do it again in a heartbeat. The opportunity to learn about the work done here and get up close to the animals was a memory to last a lifetime.
We loved our Africa adventure and every aspect of the journey. Could have easily stayed longer if home commitments allowed. Thank you to African Safari Co for the opportunity to visit Makutsi Springs.