September 5th, 2010
I first mistake the flashes up ahead for lightning. But it's three lions holding up traffic on the road to Lukimbi and the occupants of nine vehicles are photographing like there's no tomorrow in the growing dusk.
When we arrive at Lukimbi, in the greater Southern Kruger National Park, it's after dark and raining. My partner is grumpy and I'm just plain tired. We've been on the road for a few days now after covering over 4 000km - I am really hoping Lukimbi is every bit of its five-star rating. We pull in flustered and hungry and generally out of sorts. The valet parking service quickly gets the car and everything else out of sight and out of mind.
We're ushered through khaki interiors, warm without being dark, rich and romantic without being stiff or stifling. Our luxury suite feels like stepping into an intimate corner of a local village; it has some lovely thatched nooks and crannies, lots of asymmetrical designs which someone went to a lot of trouble to conjure up and then build. Very quickly we're very sorry that we didn't arrive hours earlier, because it is so easy to just love being here.
And Lukimbi, it turns out, wins the Kerfuffle Award.
Once the warm and exotic deliciousness begins to rub off on the both of you [which is, as I say, virtually immediately] you can't wait [or help] grabbing your significant other for a soothing soak in a smooth pestle-like marble bath - designed to accommodate two without any pinching - and a sip of complimentary sherry, leads to further kerfuffling before dinner.
I feel a twinge of guilt eating a succulent Impala steak - one of the most beautiful antelope as far as I'm concerned. My partner's eating fish, also good. If you're a wine connoisseur, you'd do well to order something from their award-winning cellar.
After dinner the romantic interiors in every khaki hue imaginable, speak to us. The suites and the communal lounges and library delight with African textures, inclusding brass, thatch, ostrich eggs, and porcupine quills. This is the sort of sanctum you want to remain in - and you just find a herd of elephants in the garden under your balcony. Take a look at the Lukimbi Gallery here.
The next morning at a reasonable hour we depart with our ranger, Albert, on a game drive. Lukimbi Safari Lodge has 15 000 hectares at its disposal, part of a concession awarded to a small consortium. Although a private reserve, there are no fences, which means Kruger's game flows unfettered in and around Lukimbi. Everything from leopard to wild dogs have been spotted around the lodge.
After breakfast in the veld [hot chocolate and cookies, or coffee] we come across a few elephants near the lodge. Lukimbi offers guided walks too, the highlight being that after hours on foot you come upon [by chance it seems] a clearing where chefs have prepared steaming meals and frosted drinks, a feast for you and your companions. This alone is an unbeatable experience.
I'm told that a lot of Sandtonite families regularly book out half the lodge and it's easy to see why. The visitor's book is full of people from near and far describing their stay as ‘the best holiday ever'. But it's just as much the perfect escape for couples. In my opinion, Lukimbi is the best 5 star lodge of its kind that I have visited thus far.
Be warned though, leaving isn't easy when you stay at Lukimbi, but it's not far to Johannesburg, a 5-hour drive - meaning it's also one of the most accessible Kruger lodges. Your best access point is via Malelane Gate. If you come from any other direction, make sure you're 100% clear on the directions. It's best to phone for instructions in advance if you're coming from Numbi Gate; this route is especially tricky and the map on their website is confusing.
If you do chance a visit to Lukimbi, you may wonder, as Gallmann did, ‘Does Venice really exist, and the evening fog from sleepy canals drift over ancient palaces?' Because out here, when you're this connected to nature, it is easy to imagine that this is all there is, and all there needs to be.