Unaware of what it really meant at the time, I first went glamping on a trip to South Africa back in 1992. We were up in the Sabi Sand at a private game reserve called Kirkman’s Camp. It was quite a memorable experience since I left the U.S. single and returned engaged. I proposed during sundowners of the first safari my now wife and I ever went on.
We’ve been on dozens of game drives since, but certainly none as significant as that one. Yet each one is special in it’s own right. And it’s not always because of the wildlife that you see (or don’t see). There’s simply something incredibly alluring about being in the African bush that keeps you coming back.
So when I received an invitation to speak at a travel conference in Johannesburg last month, I gladly accepted – just as long as I could extend the trip and return to the South African savannah I love so much.
Now that I’m quite familiar with the term and have done my share of glamping both in and outside of Africa, I specifically looked for locations that not only offered high-quality game viewing, but tented accommodations that would bring me that much closer to the environment in which these animals roam. The Legends Lodges, situated in the Entabeni Safari Conservancy within the World Heritage “Waterberg Biosphere” wound up easily fitting the bill. Not only do it offer the opportunity to see the “Big Five”, they were less than a three-hour drive north of Johannesburg and in a malaria-free zone, which meant I didn’t have to deal with any anti-malaria medication.
Another reason I chose Legends was because it offered much more than just safari activities.
Besides its diversity of wildlife, world-class wines, culturally rich cities, and historic past, South Africa is also world-renowned for its golf. The Legend Golf & Safari Resort has a one-of-a-kind championship golf course designed by eighteen of the world’s top golfers. Set within the 22,000 hectare Entabeni Safari Conservancy, the course winds its way directly through the open grasslands and dense bush of the park. During the round that I played, I literally hit a tee-shoot into a heard of gemsbok and later, had to steer my golf cart around grazing zebra. Pretty cool. Best of all, the pristine bushveld environment has been preserved and the course remains one of the most environmentally sensitive in Africa.
The Resort also includes privately owned homes, a hotel, recreational facilities, a wellness center, a “Field of Legends” sports complex and a multi-functional conference facility. But I came here primarily to see the animals, so after my round of golf and fancy dining, I headed straight into the bush to completely immerse myself in the beauty of these natural surroundings.
The Entabeni Conservancy has four distinctly unique bush camps situated in the midst of the reserve, so visits by lions and other predators is an expected and accepted part of the experience. This reserve is also one of those places where you do not need to search for animals, as plains game is plentiful and diverse, with at least 15 different antelope species, more than 55 large mammal species, 300 flowers, 50 grasses, 140 trees, 380 birds and innumerable insects, reptiles and amphibians. And thanks to the highly trained rangers, there’s even a chance of seeing the Big Five up-close.
Meanwhile, the Conservancy is separated into an upper and lower escarpment. The upper, which offers majestic craggy rock formations and wide open grass plains, sits atop 1800 foot high cliffs. There you will find three of the five camps. Kingfisher and Lakeside Lodge, each sitting on the banks of Lake Entabeni, offer guests an intimate and tranquil setting that is nature at its undisturbed best. Ravineside Lodge, located under the shadow of Entabeni Mountain, is made of thatch and stone and is built on stilts hugging the cliff’s edge. It offers spectacular views of unspoilt ravines and wooded hillsides. Visitors can take advantage of the observatory and listen to a professional astronomer explain the mystery and vast beauty of the southern night sky.
The lower escarpment is about three degrees warmer and is comprised mainly of sandy wetlands. That’s where you’ll find the Hanglip and Wildside Safari Camps.
Hanglip, which evokes the romantic Africa of yesteryear, has ten luxury suites, each furnished in an African Baroque style, with private sun decks and breathtaking views across the wetlands and vast open plains. Guests can choose to go on game drives or guided bush walks. They can even opt for a horseback safari if they so choose. A wine cellar can also be rented out for the night to celebrate a special occasion.
I opted to stay at the Wildside Safari Camp, since that’s where they featured the en-suite glamping tents. The camp itself captured the essence of the unspoiled wilderness of the Waterberg region perfectly. The tents, which are permanently set to a wooden foundation and come in two or four-person “sizes”, are covered with a thatched roof and have fully functioning bathrooms (with semi-outdoor showers), very comfortable beds, a fridge, tea and coffee makers, and a small writing table to fill out the space.
But as alluring as the tents were, I found the pool to be a nice place to chill out and escape the heat of the afternoon sun. After the evening game drive, the open lounge/bar area and the roaring fire in the boma created the perfect end to yet another relaxed and memorable day in the bush.