Ker & Downey® Africa’s PR & Content Manager, Julie Graham, is a travel writer at heart and has traveled extensively throughout the African continent. Her most recent adventure saw her flying from Cape Town to the Kapama Private Game Reserve to visit Jabulani – one of South Africa’s most revered five-star luxury lodges, where luxury and purpose meet.
Built on the foundation of rescuing and reintroducing orphaned elephants to new herds, a visit to this renowned lodge is shared by the gentle presence of the famous Jabulani elephant herd and guests play a crucial role in supporting and protecting the future of these majestic giants.
This was her experience…
A brisk 2.5 hour flight from Cape Town Airport (or 55 minute flight from OR Tambo International Airport) to Eastgate Airport in Hoedspruit, gets you to the grasslands, riverine bushes, and woodlands of the vast Kapama Private Game Reserve. Located in the Limpopo Province, this large expanse of wilderness occupies the region between the Greater Kruger National Park and the northern Drakensberg mountain range and covers 15, 000 hectares.
We touched down at Eastgate Airport and were greeted by our friendly Jabulani safari guide who assisted us with our bags and game drive transfer to our home for the next two nights. Within minutes, we were out of the airport and into the pristine African bushveld. The gate to the Kapama Private Game Reserve is right across the road, so your safari begins almost immediately. With not a human soul in sight, the stress of the city was already dissipating.
Jabulani is a proud member of the esteemed Relais & Châteaux portfolio which is synonymous with all-round exclusivity, luxury and the highest levels of service.
After a quick 30-minute game drive, we were welcomed into the warm arms of the Jabulani family, led across the river bed on the signature suspension bridge and checked into our luxurious suite – one of just six. It is clear that the focus at Jabulani is providing guests with a truly exclusive experience. An opulent three-bedroom self-contained villa, Zindoga Villa, is also available for larger parties or families and comes with its very own dedicated staff including a private chef, butler and ranger, as well as a private game drive vehicle.
The suite was spacious and luxurious and imbued with a sense of bygone safari days. Elegant furnishings, textured grass-pressed mud walls and classic thatch create a homely yet refined environment. Glass doors open up to a generous wooden deck, complete with a private plunge pool and views of the river bed where troops of baboons, the occasional warthog and various antelope species visited during our stay.
A highlight for us was the enormous stone bath which can easily fit two adults – needless to say it was used frequently.
Other amenities include a very comfortable King-size bed, fireplace, minibar and shower (indoor, but cleverly designed to feel like you’re outdoors).
In true Relais & Châteaux style, dining at Jabulani is a 5-star occasion. Skilled and adaptable chefs offer diners the opportunity to select from the gourmet menu, or simply ask for what they want. Nothing is set in stone. If they have the ingredients, they’ll make it especially for you. Fresh, seasonal produce combined with a creative flair and knowledge of flavors makes for some seriously delicious dining. Coupled with a breathtaking setting, and you have an unfailing recipe for success.
Meals can be enjoyed in the main lodge, either al fresco on the wooden deck or inside, comforted by the warmth of the crackling fire. Outside, tables are set up under the shade of beautiful Leadwood trees, overlooking a picturesque waterhole that is frequented by a variety of curious wildlife.
Meals can also be enjoyed under the stars in the traditional boma, in the intimate wine cellar, or in the privacy of your suite – a very romantic option. With the gorgeous stone bath in close proximity!
As with the flexibility and adaptability offered at mealtimes, game drives at Jabulani are tailored to suit guests’ needs. Our fantastic guide, Jaun, would consult with us throughout the day to make times for game drives. This is a really great feature at Jabulani – particularly for someone who doesn’t like to get out of bed at 5am for a morning safari. We opted for our morning game drives to start at 6:30am – a perfectly reasonable hour for us, and still relatively early considering it was the end of winter (August). Our evening drives started later (around 4/5pm) and went into the night, affording us the opportunity to experience the thrills of a night safari and spot some of the nocturnal creatures come alive.
We were spoiled with some incredible sightings in the Kapama Private Game Reserve including two thrilling close ups with two rhinos, a hyena den complete with 6 pups, a pride of lionesses, and one solo male lion, basking in the morning sun. There were also rare sightings of antelope, giraffe, elephants, zebra and an array of beautiful birdlife.
We even spotted an elusive honey badger. This was a bittersweet sighting. The poor thing had been badly injured from a fight with two aggressive males and was hobbling along the road looking for a place in the grass to hide and recover – presumably to be out of the sight of lurking predators. Hopefully he made it… We’ll never know. Nature is both beautiful and brutal that way.
A highlight of any stay at Jabulani is undoubtedly the opportunity to meet the famous Jabulani herd – a unique and close-knit family that all began with the orphan, Jabulani, and a herd of rescued elephants from Zimbabwe who took him in as their own. All the elephants in the herd were brought into the care of the HERD Orphanage because they were injured, orphaned or abandoned due to human-animal conflict (poaching being the biggest culprit).
The story of the herd is a truly touching one, and is best told by Tiger – a Zimbabwean carer who has been with the elephants for decades. I’m not going to reveal any spoilers here. It’s imperative that you visit and hear it for yourself.
The experience itself was magical. So much so, that a fellow guest we’d befriended started to cry as the elephants slowly ambled our way, their loyal carers walking alongside them. It was a breathtaking sight and I too felt a lump in the back of my throat.
The interaction is an extremely respectful one, taking place in the wild (where the herd roams freely during the day), with a clear division between guest and elephant. The rules of engagement are very clear, and the carers are present throughout, regulating and controlling the moments spent with these graceful animals.
Few things in the world are able to provide you with the kind of profound perspective (both spatial and spiritual) you experience when standing next to the world’s largest land animal. Again, it is not something that can easily be put into words. Standing under the imposing incisors of one of nature’s most majestic giants, looking deep into his knowing eyes, I can’t help but feel like I am in the presence of greatness. There is a tangible ancient knowledge deeply rooted inside this gentle and wise animal spirit. It’s a very powerful moment.
The experience ends with sundowners against the backdrop of a breathtaking sunset at the waterhole – the herd’s final stop for the day before calling it a night in the comfort of the sanctuary.
Jabulani truly is a soulful safari experience, going above and beyond with personal touches and thoughtful surprises around every corner. The vibe is unpretentious, and the team are warm and generous, making guests feel right at home. This, coupled with a strong focus on sustainability and ensuring that the work being done positively impacts the wildlife as well as the community, Jabulani embodies the traditional African concept of ‘ubuntu’ in the truest sense of the word.
Huge thank you to the whole team!
Julie & Jayne
If you are interested in experiencing a soulful safari at Jabulani Safari with Ker & Downey® Africa, get in touch with our travel experts who will help curate a unique itinerary just for you.