Lions, and rhinos, and massages, oh my. Zoe Macfarlane experiences the Big Five and the big wins at the wellness-inspired Mhondoro Safari Lodge and Villa in South Africa’s Welgevonden Game Reserve.
One of the hottest trends in South Africa is the wellness safari. A safari is a sure-fire way to put a solid distance between you and the largest of your woes. Add in a wellness-focused lodge, and you’ll leave so relaxed that an elephant nudging your vehicle wouldn’t raise your heart rate.
Mhondoro Safari Lodge and Villa is one such lodge. This luxurious 32-person property is located in the Welgevonden Game Reserve, a 35,000-hectare malaria-free reserve that is home to the Big 5, and a range of other African wildlife.
CHECK-IN & BEYOND
Perhaps the ultimate check-in, the Mhondoro ranger meets all guests at the Welgevonden’s main gate, and the safari starts immediately, an hour before you and your bags make it to the lodge. While I love a good check-in by a friendly human, a warm welcome by a dazzle of zebras and two giraffes cannot be beaten, both spotted minutes from departing the gate.
At the lodge, the tasteful décor is ‘Africa’ without being cheesy or ostentatious. The chaise sofas, poolside loungers, and cocoon-shaped hanging chairs face the plains, allowing relaxed observation of the game that wander metres from the deck and pool.
Mhondoro’s suites and villas are roomy with plush-yet-subtle furnishings that shift the focus outward. Whether hanging in the room, on the deck or cosy day bed, you miss no action at the watering hole or across the reserve.
At Mhondoro, the day starts early with a sunrise safari, and, I discovered, the best use of an outdoor shower. I’ll happily rise at 4:30 am for a shower under the Milky Way before heading out to spy lions, rhinos, and elephants. Wouldn’t you?
FOOD & DRINKS
Mhondoro is not a place for the diet-conscious. Not only was every morsel divine, but abundant to the point where I regularly declared I may never eat again.
Three menu options are offered at each meal, except for the communal boma – a traditional South African outdoor barbeque. No one dines without decadence at Mhondoro, even if you have dietary requirements.
Twice-daily safaris are the standard at any South African lodge, but I doubt all have such intuitive rangers lead them. Our guide, Greg R, was highly attuned to the animals and their movements. I credit this, plus his patience, as to why we were the only group in the reserve that day to witness a female cheetah and her four cubs walk past us.
Alongside the jeep safaris, there are optional (exhilarating) bushwalks, plus stargazing with the aid of a mammoth telescope. A property highlight is the underground passage that allows close (and safe) observation of the thirsty animals at the watering hole.
Mhondoro’s wellness focus extends beyond their spa and gym; they offer an annual ‘wellness week’, along with guest hosts holding yoga retreats.
A stay at Mhondoro is a worthwhile splurge. From the moment you meet (and bid farewell to) your ranger at the Welgevonden gate, you’re immersed in the Mhondoro bubble without a care in the world.
While being on safari raises your heartbeat to the speed of a lion making a kill, the passionate staff, stylish lodging, and decadent meals reduce it to the pace of a rhinoceros sleeping in the midday sun.
Fly direct to Johannesburg’s Or Tambo International Airport with Qantas or South African Airways. From there, rent a car for the 3-hour drive to Welgevonden’s main gate.
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