While South Africa offers travelers unique experiences in all shapes and sizes, there is nothing that compares to stepping out of civilization and experiencing the wonders of a safari. In the case of the Pondoro Game Lodge, the safari experience doesn’t stop when you return to the lodge: many of the animals in the area can be seen from your own back yard. A 2017 winner of Africa’s Best Honeymoon Hideaway, Best Luxury Safari Spa, and Best Safari Retreat in Africa, Pondoro Game Lodge offers guests a luxurious getaway without disturbing the wildlife or taking away from the remoteness of being in the African Bush.
Pondoro Game Lodge is located in the Balule Private Nature Reserve right on the banks of the Olifants River on the border of Kruger National Park. To get there, we flew into a very small airport and were driven through border control into the reserve. Like most tourists, we were forewarned about Malaria, however, once we arrived at the lodge we saw that was not a problem given the total lack of mosquitoes. One of my favorite things about the lodge was its location on the Olifants River which attracted all sorts of wildlife, some of which are not regularly seen on safari, such as hippopotamuses. Because of their aggressive nature, we admired them from a distance and enjoyed the chance to see these animals in their natural territory and, sometimes, could even hear them at night.
The lodge itself has three chalets, a rock pool for all guests, a restaurant, a small gym, and their award-winning spa; I was so excited to explore all of it!
The accommodations at Pondoro Game Lodge, awarded five stars by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa, are some of the most unique and spectacular that I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. The remote lodge has five suites, each with a private patio which includes a lounge and an outside shower. All have en-suite bathrooms, views of the river, and a wooden deck.
Each luxurious suite comes with complete privacy and its own unique theme: Water Suite, Buffalo Suite, Earth Suite, Tree Suite, and Rock Suite. These themes refer to the impressive decor of each suite; for example, we stayed in the Tree Suite which had a huge Jackalberry tree lying in front of the suite and a huge leadwood stump that decorates the room. Some of the tree branches were used for the headboard decorations which I found to be quite unique and beautiful.
Each room is a masterpiece of colorful textiles and African pieces combined with open areas and, of course, the brilliant views of the river.
I appreciated the beauty of the bathroom’s contemporary design, however, I wish they offered more privacy. The shower and bathtub are completely exposed to the bedroom, which might be a problem for someone traveling with another person.
During periods of free time, I enjoyed lounging on my patio with a book and a camera ready for when antelopes or monkeys came near. Just in case you haven’t seen enough luxury yet, the suites also have a Jacuzzi built into the wooden deck!
Our daughters stayed in the Water Suite which was named for the indoor waterfall that peacefully trickles down the headboard of their bed.
For those with a sense of adventure, the Treehouse Hide is available for guests who wish to experience a more one-on-one stay with nature. Located on wooden stills in the middle of the Bush, drop-off is at nightfall and pick-up is in time for the morning safari!
The luxury of Pondoro Lodge is only just trumped by the incredible encounters with wildlife. Game drives begin in the early morning and return back just in time for breakfast. Evening game drives go on until dark and then return to the lodge for dinner. In between drives, guests can go on a nature walk with a staff member, book a picnic lunch at the hide, bird watch, or enjoy a treatment at the spa. All game drives are in open-top Safari Cruisers with no more than eight people per cruiser at any time for the safety of guests and for the environment.
During the evening drive, there is a small break where guests dismount from the cruisers and enjoy snacks and beverages as the sun sets.
Once the cruiser has left the lodge, you are in the wild! On any given drive, we saw a huge diversity of animals and up close like you wouldn’t believe. One minute we would be watching giraffes quietly grazing on the tops of trees, then we would be surrounded by a herd of elephants. On our safaris, we saw all big five game animals: lions, leopards, rhinoceroses, African bush elephants, and African buffalo. Despite being in very close proximity to many of these powerful animals, at no point did we feel threatened or unsafe thanks to the knowledgeable and professional staff that accompanied us at all times. The thrill of seeing these creatures in person and in their own habitat is indescribable; you simply must go see it for yourself!
We even had the thrill of seeing a leopard resting up high on a tree in our evening drive. It was quite a memorable site to see.
Our first dinner took place close to the river, with candles and tiki torches lighting the way. It was a good opportunity to get to know some of the other guests at the lodge, which was easy since there were so few of us. No doubt this is part of the lodge’s romantic appeal: no chance of feeling overcrowded, and the youngest guests are 12 or older. The rest of our meals were served on a wooden deck far up in the trees, providing a beautiful view of the Olifants River and all the animals that flock to it.
There is nothing quite like eating breakfast while witnessing hippopotamuses gracefully sink into the river to escape the heat, or giraffes grazing across the water, or even having a monkey deftly steal your toast! That was the only time anyone’s food got nabbed, since after the incident, a staff member stood watch with a slingshot whenever the monkeys came near. All meals were scrumptious with assorted juices and coffee in the mornings, a hearty lunch in the middle of the day, and a delicious dinner accompanied by an award-winning wine selection or some of the fine whiskies available.
One evening we ate down by the river in a long table elegantly illuminated by candles and a camp fire. You could hear the hippos and other animals in the wild which was a magical experience.
The Serenity Spa is undoubtedly the pièce de résistance at Pondoro Game Lodge: total privacy, a tranquil environment, and expert staff. Suddenly, you’re in a calm oasis and it’s easy to forget that you’re in the African wilderness. Massages, facials, and other treatments are done using Africology products and traditional South African and African techniques, all meant to remove toxins and rejuvenate the body. Treatments can take place at the spa, outdoors, or in the peace of your own room.
On warm days its nice to soak in the outdoor pool which is tranquil and picturesque.
Not only is Pondoro Game Lodge a unique luxury destination with incredible amenities, but it plays a proactive, conscious role in protecting the environment and working with others in the community. A sponsor and partner of the all-women anti-poaching team, Black Mambas, have participated in their affiliate project: Bush Babies Environmental and Awareness Program. The Black Mambas are dedicated to protecting the diversity and livelihood of the wildlife along the Balule Nature Reserve and Kruger National Park border, a necessity given the endangered species that are under attack by poachers.