Friday, November 4, 2011

Escape the Urban Jungle

Escape the Urban Jungle  

The Monate Lodge 

and Game Reserve

 Neal McKenna © 2011
When you live in an urban jungle, there’s nothing quite like a get-away to the peace and quiet of the bush. And, less than three hours away from Johannesburg, you can escape to Limpopo’s best kept secret – the Monate Lodge near Waterberg. Situated on just under 2000 hectares, in a malaria free zone, Monate’s private game reserve is comprised of bush, open plains and koppies – home to rhino, buffalo, hippo, crocodiles, giraffes, zebra, wildebeest, brown hyena and a variety of antelope.
From the main road, the trip to the lodge is a bit farther than you might expect and there is a decided lack of signage informing you still have another 4.5 km to go. But simply follow your nose once you are through the gate and you’ll be fine. As a matter of fact, the trip to the lodge is a game drive in itself. Suddenly there are warthogs scurrying at the side of the road with their tails raised like flags while giraffe and zebra calmly look on as if wondering what’s got the piggies in such a tizz? Kudus graze and ostriches stare aghast, like nosey old biddies.
The lodge area finally comes into view and it is an oasis of groomed gardens, green lawns and flowing pools. It looks like a thatch-roofed village with the suite bungalows surrounding the main lodge building.  Here, you will find accommodation to suit just about every need including two bedroom family suites. The standard suites are “four-star” standard, so they are pretty comfortable with queen-sized beds, air conditioning and four-piece baths.
At full capacity, the Monate Lodge has room for 25 single guests or 40 people sharing. Aside from catering to the leisure market, the resort also can accommodate the corporate sector and government for workshops, conferencing and teambuilding. Cell phone connectivity and free wireless internet connection with good transmission speeds are available in the main lodge building and the conference centre. However, the signal is quite localised and soon gets spotty. Additional top drawer facilities include an airstrip, helipads and covered parking – just in case you’re bringing along the old private jet, the chopper and the Bentley.
Leisure activities include mini golf, volley-ball, table tennis, swing ball, trampolines, clay pigeon shooting as well as horse riding trails. The lodge also has two swimming pools, a heated outdoor Jacuzzi as well as a fully equipped gym. Monate is a family friendly destination where children of all ages are welcome and babysitting services are available upon request.

Monate also offers a number of dining experiences from noshing al fresco to their unique, natural cave, which is an ideal spot for a romantic candlelit dinner. If outdoor activities don’t particularly tickle your fancy, the lounge in the main lodge is ideal for kicking back and relaxing. There, you’ll find a large flat screen TV linked to DSTV plus a fully licensed bar. And, if spa treatments float your boat, then simply make arrangements when you make your reservation.

For those preferring a little more privacy, and have deeper pockets, there are two luxury tented suites just a short walk away from the main lodge. Each has its own patio, plunge pool and outdoor shower. The larger of the “tents” is really more like a villa with just a few canvas walls. With Lounge and dining area – including fireplace, air conditioning and flat screen TV – as well as two massive bedrooms with their own enormous baths, this is roughing it in style.

The second tent actually is a tent albeit, one that could easily have originated in an Arabian Nights fantasy. Canvas walls billow in the breeze, candles glow and wind chimes tinkle. This suite has one enormous bedroom and full bath, a lounge and dining area. There is no flat screen TV or A/C in this unit but hey, you’re supposed to be communing with nature. Suck it up, stop whining, eat your foie gras and down that martini!
Early morning and afternoon game drives keep guests entertained, intrigued and busy clicking their cameras. Another exciting activity is the very, very early morning “cheetah run” where, Ranger and big cat specialist, Megan Lategan, takes guests on tracking expeditions. Both cheetahs wear radio collars, so it is easier to find them than doing it the old fashioned way – following their tracks in the sand.
However, the cats’ transponders only provide a general location, so there is a fair amount of zeroing-in to actually find them. Once they have been located, the viewing – at less than five meter’s distance – is truly amazing. The cheetahs are sisters and just two years old and still travel together. Soon, as they mature, they will separate as adult female cheetahs are solitary animals.
Monate also offers a unique drive to a recently discovered “working” archeological site which dates back 12,000 to 23,000 years. Here you will see several cave drawings and broken pottery is still scattered over the site. This is one special feature most other game parks cannot provide.
For all its elegance and charm, Monate is still a game resort, so leave the designer gowns, stilettos and diamonds at home. Instead bring comfortable closed shoes for outdoor activities and bush dinner venues. Comfortable, casual clothing is a must as is your bathing suit and sun block. And even though summer is more or less here, evenings still get cool, so bring a light jacket. In summer, you’ll also need a raincoat because that’s the rainy season in Limpopo. Now, if sweets and snacks are your thing, lay in a good supply of treats before you arrive because there is no tuck shop on the premises and the nearest town is 45km away.
Finally, here is a word of warning. Do not entirely depend on your GPS to get you to a bush destination. I clicked in the resort’s coordinates: 24° 44' 42.9" S; 28° 40' 03.0" E and hit the road. All was tickety-boo until I got within 15km of my destination. Then, the GPS completely ignored the road we were supposed to take but offered up two alternatives. The first was closed and fenced off.
About one kilometer down the road, ‘the voice’ said: “Turn left. Drive 15km to destination.” At first, the road was pretty good. It seemed like one of those artfully groomed game park roads. But very quickly, it got narrower, rougher and sported deep, nasty ruts, the kind that high-centre old Merc 300s in the bat of an eye. My problem was there was nothing to do but keep on going until I found enough flat earth to turn around. Finally, this did present itself but what really made my blood run chilly was a sign saying: “Private property. Trespassers WILL be shot.”
Long story short, we got out of there okay and I am very impressed with my old car for going places a water buffalo wouldn’t consider. It’s fine to use your GPS for most of the trip but for the final bit, get road directions from the Monate staff. You’ll get there sooner – the gate closes for the night at 17h00 – and your car will stay cleaner. So, that was my additional adventure for the weekend.
For more information or to book, call +27-14-718-7000 or visit the Monate website. If you go in the next little while, you’ll get to see their new-born baby giraffes. ...Or maybe you'll meet  an 
accommodating crocodile who'd love to have you for lunch.

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