A guestroom at Karongwe River Lodge, one of Karongwe Portfolio’s five properties // © 2016 Tanja M. Laden
Feature image (above): South African cheetahs can be spotted within Karongwe Private Game Reserve. // © 2016 iStock
Located in South Africa’s northernmost province of Limpopo, Karongwe Private Game Reserve is not only home to lions, elephants, Cape buffalo, leopards and rhinos (Africa’s “Big Five”), it’s also host to five lodges that collectively make up the Karongwe Portfolio.
Although each property offers specific accommodations, all provide the same level of access to the stunning variety of wildlife on the private reserve’s 20,000-plus acres outside of Kruger National Park.
Each of Karongwe Portfolio’s lodges suits different needs. Offering thatched dining areas, a pool, lounges with Wi-Fi access and more, Shiduli is the most family-oriented of the lodges, while Chisomo Safari Camp on the banks of Makhutsi River is ideal for those who want to get up close to wildlife. Karongwe River Lodge has a comparatively communal feel, whereas Kuname has a more luxurious, boutique vibe.
There’s also a new addition to the portfolio: Kuname Manor House, a three-bedroom property ideal for those who prefer a more private experience. But no matter which lodge guests choose, everyone has the opportunity to participate in early morning and late-afternoon game drives in order to spot the real attractions of Karongwe: its flora and fauna.
During my visit to the game reserve, Keenan Houareau, head ranger for the Karongwe Portfolio, took us on an exciting series of game drives in a custom Range Rover. The vehicle is modified to accommodate bigger parties and to handle the rocky terrain, and we marveled at the bounty of raw, natural rose quartz against the stunning backdrop of the Drakensberg Mountains.
Houareau was accompanied by an expert tracker who grew up in the area and knew exactly where the giant paw prints of the area’s elusive leopard would lead us. Along the way, we witnessed 3-month-old lion cubs stalking a male nyala before the unsuspecting creature got wise and ran away — just as the mother lion called her cubs over in search of dinner elsewhere.
We passed a puff adder snake slithering in the twilight between heart-shaped weaver nests and gazed at groups of zebras and giraffes. We also encountered a herd of elephants that lumbered past us as though we were part of the landscape. Maybe it was because none of us were wearing hats — Houareau mentioned that elephants like to gently take a hat off a guest’s head from time to time and won’t always give it back.
Not only did our party get to spot each of the Big Five, including a majestic black-maned lion, but we also had the rare chance to get out of our vehicle to follow a cheetah who plopped down right in front of us, lounging in the sunlight like a common house cat.
The best part about staying at Karongwe is that the wildlife experience doesn’t end with the organized excursions. Coming back after an exciting game drive, I was greeted by a surprisingly cute family of warthogs grazing on the grass right outside my hut. By the time I went to bed, they were gone, but judging by the chorus of soft snores that lulled me to sleep, they didn’t go too far.