“And into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul.” John Muir
and find my soul I did, before I even arrived at Mhondoro Lodge. The trip from the Welgevonden gate to the lodge is a mini game drive and our first encounter was a soul connection with a herd of elephant.
Ivan, our guide, heard them before we saw them. He pulled over, and there just 30 meters away was a herd of about 15 elephants playing in a large waterhole.
Killing the engine, he told us to relax and watch.
City stresses fell away, and the fatigue of a 4 am start was forgotten as we delighted in this rare sighting of elephants at play. Young ones ran along the edge of the water, trumpeting with joy, while older ones wrestled and pushed one another under the water. Four or five boisterous young males played in the deep, a tangled mess of trunks and legs. The matriarchs of the herd stood, semi submerged, spraying water onto their backs while keeping an eye on the antics of the younger ones, ready to intervene if things got out of hand.
There is a strong emotional affinity between humans and elephants and this display of the pure joy of being alive was imprinted on our hearts as we continued our drive to the lodge.
Love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. ~Frank Lloyd Wright
Eating is serious business and an adult elephant needs to consume about 120kg of food a day. We came across a large herd late in the afternoon. In absolute silence we watched, as on either side of our vehicle they rubbed against trees, grazed, and a large male pushed a tree over to get to the sweet, juicy leaves on top. In front of us a young bull flapped his ears, raised his trunk and prepared for a mock charge, then changed his mind and wandered off.
Leon explained the different behaviors and signals the elephant give to warn us to keep our distance, or to leave them alone and move on.
What a privilege, to get so close to the elephants and see the dust filled wrinkles, scarred ears and powerful tusks. To marvel at the dexterity of their trunks, to envy their eyelashes, and just for a second, to look into their eyes and fall in love.
Did you know that a young elephant take about 3 years to learn what its trunk is for, and 6 years to master using it?
For everything you ever wanted to know about the African Elephant, you can read my post about them here.
“All good things are wild and free.” Henry David Thoreau
At Mhondoro, when you are not on a game drive, eating a delicious meal or sipping sundowners on the deck, the photo hide is the place to be. Accessed via a tunnel from the main lodge, the hide allows you to observe the animals at the waterhole from ground level. Absolute silence is required, but is greatly rewarded. Set up your camera and tripod, get comfortable on one of the high chairs at the counter, then settle down and be absorbed by the sights, sounds and rituals of the animals who come to drink, or just hang around.
A very early morning visit yielded nothing, such is the nature of the bush, but I had two fantastic experiences, one in the afternoon and one late at night.
A group of zebras joined three eland and a couple of warthogs and the interactions between them were fascinating. In the enforced silence of the hide you hear so much more than when on a game drive. Snuffling, snorts, bellows and squeals, bird calls and even the sound of a zebra lapping up water.
We saw many zebras in the bush, but they are quite skittish, so getting a close up was a real treat. They are preyed on by lion, cheetah, leopard and hyenas, and as there is safety in numbers they often hang out with wildebeest, blesbok and other antelope as they share a love for grazing and staying alive.
Zebra do not have horns, and docile as they look, just like pretty donkeys, they have a mean streak when fighting. They kick with their powerful back legs and bite the legs of their opponent, aiming to sever the tendons. This will render the animal lame, and unable to walk to get food or water, it will die.
An evening visit to the photo hide gave a totally different view. The waterhole is lit up at night, causing a greenish reflection on the edge of the water. I was treated to visits by rhino, zebra, elephant and eland.
Even if you are not a photographer, just to sit and observe, unnoticed, is a captivating experience.
Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. Ralph Waldo Emerson
We sat in the game vehicle, engine off and cameras ready, waiting for a lion reportedly heading our way.
The rustle of leaves announced his approach and there he was, walking towards us fast. Shutters clicked and he was gone.
Ivan turned the vehicle around, and we spent the next hour driving slowly, spotting him through the undergrowth from time to time. We eventually came to a large clearing and once again turned off the engine.
The lion had stopped and lifted his head, sniffing the air. We heard a deep throaty rumble, then another one that seemed to vibrate right through our bones.
And then he roared.
It is like no sound on earth. So much loader than you imagine, thrilling and petrifying at the same time.
The sound echoed and reverberated over the plains, through the mountains and bounced across the water. Everything else was silent.
Satisfied that he had stamped his superiority over his domain he continued walking, emitting rumbles and growls as he went.
“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment, until it becomes a memory.” Dr. Seuss
Mhondoro is well known for its elephants who love to come and drink from the swimming pool which is on the deck of the lodge.
It was our last night and we were having dinner in the Boma, being entertained by the manager of the Lodge.
As the main course was being served, Elias, one of the staff, ambled over to me and whispered “the elephants are at the pool”
My manners deserted me, I dropped my knife and fork and ran.
Oh my goodness, there they were, two huge beauties, snaking their trunks under the pool cover and having a drink. (the pool is a salt pool and quite safe for the ellies to drink from)
Before long, all 20 guests and most of the staff were standing silently watching. I swear the ellies were smiling. They pushed and shoved one another, stamped their feet, and drank from the pool. After about 15 minutes they turned and walked over to the waterhole, where they stayed for another hour before wandering off into the night.
This was the highlight of the countless magic moments I experienced at Mhondoro. I did not get a single photo of the elephant at the pool but it does not matter. It it a memory I will never forget.
Accommodation and facilities at Mhondoro Safari Lodge and Villa
The Villa and Lodge accommodate a maximum of 20 people at a time, so it will always be a friendly yet intimate experience.
The décor throughout the property is a refreshing change from the traditional “African Lodge” look.
Soft natural colours and shades of taupe and ecru compliment the leather, wood and stone of the buildings, making soothing spaces and providing contrast to allow the vibrant tones of the outdoors to be fully appreciated. Creative light fittings and lamps bring a different beauty and warm glow after dark.
Children thrive in nature and Mhondoro caters for children of all ages. They offer child minding services and have a fenced play area with swings, a trampoline, sandpit and jungle gym. A soundproof indoor playroom includes toys, board games, puzzles, an air hockey machine and Play Station.
Under 12’s receive a Kiddies Pack that includes a handy Mhondoro bag and activity book.
Special game drives for families with children under the age of 6 are offered and other activities like kids walks, baking and learning about animal tracks and signs are all part of the Mhondoro kids experience.
The Lodge comprises of 5 suites and can sleep a maximum of 14 people. Each suite is separate and accessed via walkways, ensuring privacy to enjoy the peace, the outdoor shower or the views of the activity at the waterhole.
The communal area consists of a huge deck overlooking the waterhole. It has lounge areas and tables and chairs for dining with a view. Inside there are gorgeous couches, artwork and the reception area.
It is the central hub of Mhondoro and where you will find the swimming pool where the elephant make regular visits to drink, in spite of the watering hole being a a very short few steps away.
Access to the underground hide is via a 65 meter tunnel from this area and is a must to visit.
The Boma is a large circular area screened by a wooden lattice fence with a huge fire pit as the centre piece, and dinner and entertainment here is a true African experience.
The exclusive use Villa is ideal for families or a group of friends. The master suite is huge and truly magnificent, and the additional 2 bedrooms are just as fabulous, on a slightly smaller scale.
The Villa has its own heated pool, private gym and yoga room. Exclusive use includes all meals, hot beverages, local beers and hand selected wines, and you have your own chef and game ranger, a butler and housekeeping staff to make your stay a memorable one.
Foodies will be very reluctant to leave Mhondoro. The focus is on home grown and healthy, offering beautifully plated culinary artworks from the creative and talented chefs. Every meal is both a treat for the taste buds and an epicurean adventure. I’m no foodie, but if you click here to see samples of their menus you will be booking your stay in no time.
Mhondoro has its own veggie garden and hothouse to assist in getting fresh and seasonal food onto your plate as often as possible. Organic material is composted, and no fertilizers or pesticides are used on the veggies, herbs and fruits grown here.
Kosher meals can be catered for by prior arrangement.
Set on the slopes behind the main lodge the spa has an indoor or outdoor option for pampering sessions. Elemis products are used for facials, and body treatments celebrate the traditions of ancient African healers and the use of indigenous African plants in the product range from Rain.
Treatments are for individuals or couples and include hot stone and deep tissue massage, aromatherapy, manicures, pedicures and facials.
Gym and Curio Shop
Bouncing in a safari vehicle for 3 hours at a time is jokingly known as an African Massage, but Mhondoro has a well equipped gym if you want to work out the kinks or maintain your health and fitness regime while on holiday. You can also take advantage of the infra-red sauna.
The Curio Shop stocks the Rain products used in the spa and provided in the bathrooms, allowing you to take home a little reminder of the African bush. Also available are unique jewelry pieces, design items, luggage, curios and accessories.
Planet friendly ethos.
Forty percent of Mhondoro Lodge and Villa is solar powered, with phase 2 in its final stages which will make it 100% solar powered, off the grid.
Mhondoro is totally plastic free, and all excess waste, glass, cans, paper and food is recycled or repurposed.
No plastic water bottles are needed as the water is safe to drink due to the owner’s investment in a water purification plant that produces drinking water fresh from the surrounding Waterberg mountains. Every guest is given a stylish branded stainless steel water bottle so that they can continue to be plastic free when they leave Mhondoro.
Mhondoro is just under a three hour drive from OR TAMBO International Airport in Johannesburg.
Eco friendly ethos.
First aid trained staff
Two airstrips if you want to fly in.
Wi-Fi throughout the lodge and suites.
English, Afrikaans and French speaking safari guides.
All suites have fireplaces, air conditioners, ceiling fan, outdoor shower, a deck or balcony, umbrellas, mini bar, mosquito net over the bed, although this is for comfort only as the reserve is malaria free.
About Welgevonden Private Game Reserve
Welgevonden is the benchmark of how to run a successful private game reserve.
430km of gravel roads to explore and experience our wildlife in their natural environment.
Situated in the Waterberg plateau in Limpopo province in the northern part of South Africa, Welgevonden is a wonderous 35 000 hectares of mountains, ravines, valleys and kloofs, with sections of grasslands where previously the land had been cultivated for farming.
Welgevonden falls within the Waterberg Biosphere and conservation, good building and land management practices are embraced by the reserve’s owners, collectively known as the Welgevonden Land Owners Association.
There are no internal fences within the reserve and although there are 61 sites, only 12 have been developed and approved for commercial use, and 41 are privately owned by companies or individuals. This means there is never overcrowding or even much chance of encountering more than one or two other game vehicles when you are out. It also means that the wildlife are free to do what they do, without the stresses caused by frequent encounters with humans and vehicles.
Welgevonden recently increased the stock of impala, wildebeest, zebra, waterbuck and hippo after extensive research into the carrying capacity and nutritional conditions in Welgevonden.
The Plains Project is currently working to change the type of grass to one more suited to the region and the labourers are the rhino, wildebeest and zebra. As they graze, removing the grass, the preferred species is planted.
Mhondoro’s owners, Frank and Miriam Vogel founded the MF Foundation as they are determined to make a difference where they can.
As Frank says “man has a responsibility to protect nature where he can”
Wildlife and birds.
Keep your eyes and ears open because there is so much to see and learn about in Welgevonden. The Big Five, which are lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard, as well as giraffe, cheetah, brown hyaena, caracal, aardwolf, pangolin and aardvark are on everyone’s wish list, but don’t ignore the delicate small antelope, comical warthogs, majestic eland and of course the many smaller creatures that scuttle and burrow in the ground. In this diverse eco system there are 2000 plants species and 350 bird species.
My stay was hosted by Mhondoro Safari Lodge and Villa, facilitated by Five Star PR.